Envisioning Smart Cities through Sustainable Infrastructure

by Apr 2, 2014Smart Cities

Meghna Tare

Meghna is the Executive Director, Institute for Sustainability and Global Impact at the University of Texas at Arlington where she has initiated and spearheaded many successful cross functional sustainability projects related to policy implementation, buildings and development, green procurement, transportation, employee engagement, waste management, GRI reporting, and carbon management. She is a TEDx UTA speaker, was featured as Women in CSR by TriplePundit, has done various radio shows on sustainability, is an active blogger, and graduated with an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @meghnatare.


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Smart Cities take years of planning and innovative thinking and the approach varies depending on each cities stage of development, location, culture, demographics, and funding. According to research conducted by Alcatel-Lucent – there are three main motivators for smart city projects:

  • An economic motivator reflecting the need to construct or invent a new economic model.
  • An eco-sustainability motivator reflecting the need or desire to reduce energy consumption.
  • A social motivator reflecting the need to improve the quality of life in a city environment.


Sustainable infrastructure is one such economic motivator and part of a new economic model adopted by cities planning departments integrating sustainable techniques in infrastructure design and construction.

What is Envision?

After the success of U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for green buildings and SITES for sustainable landscape, The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) launched the Sustainable infrastructure rating system Envision™ in January 2012. Envision™ is the product of a strategic alliance between The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), a nonprofit organization co-founded by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Works Association, and the American Council of Engineering Companies; and Harvard University’s Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure.  Envision has similarities to the LEED rating system for sustainable building but with a broader focus on civil infrastructure and how projects integrate with community goals and policies, economic goals and the environment.

In contrast to traditional sector-specific methods that focus solely on sustainability within one type of infrastructure (streets, for example), Envision™ takes a new approach by establishing a holistic framework for evaluating and rating infrastructure projects ensuring that sustainable development is addressed by considering the entire life cycle of projects at a systems level.  Nationwide, several prominent communities are exploring the benefits of the tool on their projects.  The City of Berkeley, California is proposing to use Envision™ for prioritizing street and watershed improvements and the City of Edina, MN, is using it in its draft Living Streets policy. Envision™ can be used by design teams, infrastructure owners, urban planners, community groups, regulators, environmental organizations and policy makers to

  • Meet their sustainability goals as outlined in the planning document or strategic plans
  • Be publicly recognized for high levels of achievement in sustainability similar to LEED or SITES
  • Help communities and consultants/engineers to collaborate and understand if they are on the right track and making the right decisions
  • Make choices about the investment of scarce resources and natural capital like water.
  • Involve community in civil infrastructure projects


In addition, this infrastructure rating system encourages and rewards sustainability performance by recognizing efforts that restore natural capital and ecosystems. The system has ratings for design and planning, construction, operations, and decommissioning.

The Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) was specifically created to develop this industry-wide rating system. ISI prepared the Envision rating tool, using five categories – quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, natural world, and climate and risk – with 60 possible credits. Within each category, a project is scored based on its performance. This is done on a graduated Performance Level scale that ranges from Improved to Enhanced to Superior to Conserving to Restorative. Importantly, not every performance level can be achieved for every credit.

How it Works

The system has four levels of assessment tools:

  • Stage 1 is a self-assessment checklist and educational tool that helps familiarize people involved in infrastructure projects with the sustainability aspects of the project. The Envision Self ‐Assessment Checklist (Checklist) is an educational tool that helps users become familiar with the sustainability aspects of infrastructure project design. It can be used as a stand ‐ alone assessment to quickly compare project alternatives or to prepare for a more detailed assessment using the full Envision rating system. The checklist is structured as a survey with Yes/No questions.
  • Stage 2 is a third-party, objective rating verification that allows the owner or project team to submit the project for independent verification and recognition. The tool includes a comprehensive guidance document and score calculator.
  • Stage 3 released in 2013, focuses on large multi-scale projects
  • Stage 4 due out in 2014, is an optimization support tool and will be able to assess multiple projects for an entire region.

Training and Education

ISI is also education and training sustainability professionals who are trained in the use of the system called Sustainability Professionals (ENV SP). ENV SPs are credentialed by ISI to be an integral part of a project team who guides the team in the implementation of the rating system. They also document project success and accomplishments, and submit the project for recognition.

The New Normal?

The United Nations (UN) Millennium Ecosystem Assessment acknowledged that over the past 40 years, the current rate of consumption of natural resources does not support renewal to meet the needs of future generations. The construction industry accounts for 30% of the energy consumed in the U.S. while contributing 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. The construction industry needs to evaluate and measure the environmental performance of projects. The Envision Rating Program Model is very progressive and innovative in many areas and is worth a try! Of course it will evolve and modify over time as we learn from our experiences!

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