The utility industry is entering an era that will transform infrastructure as we know it. Stakeholder involvement and demands for more sustainable business practices are quickly becoming inevitable, and for good reason. The population is depleting natural resources and creating pollutants at an unsustainable pace. The path forward must change — and companies like Burns & McDonnell are in a position to help make those changes a reality.
We’ve been passionate about encouraging sustainable building practices in the utility industry for several years and to help continue to lead the sustainability conversation, we’ve become a charter member of the nonprofit organization Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). ISI has developed Envision™, a rating system that provides new guidance and metrics to gauge the sustainability of an infrastructure project by evaluating the contributions to the following categories: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk. The ultimate goal is to reduce or, in some cases reverse, the negative impacts of a project.
More About Envision™
Envision™ has been designed to encompass all types of civil infrastructure, including transmission lines and substations. It gives utility companies an opportunity to enhance project performance and sustainability without a major sacrifice to schedule or budget. As an additional commitment and to help promote sustainable design and development, Burns & McDonnell has committed to credential over 100 Envision™ Sustainability Professionals before the end of 2013.
While opportunities exist for new design and planning strategies, many utilities are already employing measures that fall within the Envision™ best practices envelope as determined by 60 sustainability criteria, called credits, that are divided into five sections: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk. These credits can help determine where a project falls in Envision’s™ infrastructure rating system and may enable projects to become eligible for an Envision™ award.
Many credits focus on stakeholder involvement and reducing negative impacts to the community, which is common practice for utilities. Other credits may involve more extensive documentation and front end work to earn points. If adopted during the early planning stages, it’s anticipated that most projects can confidently earn lower tier ratings without making major adjustments. The projects that garner complete project team buy-in, demonstrate a commitment to innovation and strive for the more difficult credits could earn top-tier ratings.
What Does It Cost?
Cost is always an issue, but the cost of incorporating Envision™ principles is anticipated to be low compared to overall project costs. Equally as important, the project schedule should be largely unaffected. The life cycle and resiliency of materials will be assessed in the hope that they will extend the longevity of the infrastructure even in an increasingly harsh climate.
Sustainable Business Practices Help Utilities Stay Competitive
Rate payers and stakeholders are beginning to demand these sustainable business practices from their utilities, and Envision™ will not only assist in these practices but also provide recognition of those efforts. With the FERC 1000 changes to right of first refusal, utility companies are going to see increasing competition from innovative developers, and Envision™ will help them stay at the top of the game. What do you think about the importance of sustainable business practices as they relate to the utility industry?
Will Kirby is a transmission engineer in the Burns & McDonnell Transmission & Distribution Group. He is among the first at Burns & McDonnell to receive the provisional Envision™ credential, which he plans to apply to his transmission engineering work, including the first utility industry project to use the Envision™ rating system. If you have questions or would like more information, email Will.
Image via ASCE