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Envision and Greenroads: Which Sustainability Certification Is Best for Your Infrastructure Project?

When sustainability certification makes sense for your infrastructure projects, where do you turn? Should you go with Greenroads®? Are you better off with Envision®?

We’ll give you some guidance by comparing these two leading bodies. (And here’s a bonus: even if you don’t go after certification, just diving into the process can help improve your project and strengthen the bonds among your team.)

LEEDing the way

First, a little background on environmental certification, courtesy of the architects. They and the U.S. Green Building Council created the global standard for high-performance sustainability certification: the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

While LEED adds to the upfront cost, it reduces the long-term cost and it benefits the spectrum of stakeholders. People understand its power.

In 2016, an estimated 40-48% of new nonresidential constructionwill be certified green. (That’s $120-145 billion worth of projects.) Clearly, LEED has become a transformative movement for “vertical” buildings. Now, your “horizontal” projects—such as roads, parks and pipelines—can also earn valuable certification.

Sustainable approaches are on the rise as more municipalities recognize the long-term economic benefits of saving energy, water and other resources while promoting greater health.

To use an example from another Harris post, when public agencies compete for funding from the Washington Transportation Improvement Board, they get 15 points for using sustainable approaches including low-impact development, on-site pavement recycling such as FDR/CIPR/HIPR and low energy or solar lighting.

Natural Environment + Healthy Communities + Economic Vitality = SustainabilityCompare and Contrast

Two organizations in our field have developed rating systems that are leading the way in sustainable certification. They’re equally focused on improving development, but they differ in scope, requirements and which projects benefit from their application.

  • The Greenroads® Rating System is an easy way to measure and manage sustainability on roadway design and construction. This tight focus on roads has led to its emergence as a valuable tool for fundamentally changing these projects.

Greenroads is a collection of sustainability best practices called “credits.” Achieving these credits can earn points toward a project’s total score, which can generally be used as an indicator of sustainability for the roadway.

The four certification levels are determined in a transparent, rigorous assessment by a third-party evaluator certified as a Sustainable Transportation Professional (STP).The STP exam is open to anyone 18 or older.

Greenroads is the product of research at the University of Washington, with initial funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration/University Transportation Centers. The nonprofit Greenroads International implements the system.

  • The Envision® Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System is for of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects. It assesses the community, environmental and economic benefits—the “Triple Bottom Line”—and evaluates, grades and gives recognition to projects that use transformational, collaborative approaches to sustainability.

Envision tools help the project design team:

  • Assess costs and benefits over the project lifecycle
  • Evaluate the Triple Bottom Line
  • Use outcome-based objectives
  • Reach higher levels of sustainability achievement

Even for the most complex projects, Envision has a simple checklist for reviewing a project’s features. You can self-assess your level of sustainability; however, you need verification by an Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) for official certification, along with additional documentation.

Due to Envision’s broad reach, the exam for an ENV SP covers a wider range of knowledge and is more stringent than Greenroads: It’s only open to those with an engineering degree or Professional Engineer certification.

Envision is the product of a collaboration between the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), which implements the ratings system. ISI was founded by the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Public Works Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Harris & Associates is a founding member of ISI because sustainability is embedded in our work. Our leaders see that sustainability is crucial to our country’s ongoing success and Envision covers the variety of projects that our teams handle.

Which Way Should You Go?

Your project type will factor heavily into your decision. Anything more than a road project would require Envision.

But for road projects, you have the option: Envision or Greenroads. Cost could become a consideration. For example, on a $10 million project, the fees for project certification with ISI Envision could cost over $10,000 more than Greenroads.

One choice you should always make: Talk to your trusted A/E/C consultant first about certification to see if it makes sense for your project. Good consultants will give you smart guidance to determine the if and the who for going green.

Do you have any preferences with certification or good experiences with sustainable approaches? Any surprises? What would you have done differently? We’d love to hear your take on the topic.


Tapas Dutta, PE, ENV SP, QSD

Tapas Dutta has more than 25 years of experience helping communities on both coasts keep their people and goods moving safely and efficiently, with expertise in highway design, traffic engineering, project management, QA/QC and operations. An award-winning California-registered civil engineer, he understands the intricacies of the public and private sectors, having worked for both. Tapas is a Board Member of the ACEC Orange County Chapter.


Randall G. Berry, PE

Randy ensures that water and traffic go where they should, often with breathtaking results. One example is his team’s work on the picture-perfect Sunset Strip Beautification Project, which earned Outstanding Community Improvement Project Awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers’ LA Section and at the state level Region 9. Drawing on three decades of experience for 50 public agencies, Randy specializes in storm drain, roadway and sewer design projects—shepherding them from the competitive proposal stage, to PS&E preparation stage, and through construction.

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