A change in attitude

Oct 30, 2017

Sustainable design is becoming a must, but you need to drill down to the roots of every project to get the most out of the process.

First, full disclosure, I have never been a “climate change” advocate. I can accept the fact that our climate does change or is changing, but I’ve never been a strong believer that we are causing the changes. However, my perspective changed recently due to my active role as a design professional.

Here at Pennoni, we are making a strong push to have our staff become Envision Sustainability Professional certified. I decided that being part of our leadership team meant that I should lead by example and take the course to pass the exam and obtain my certification. I accomplished this goal in February, leading me to this – the certification process caused me to think differently in my personal approach to projects and how much more we need to do as engineers, architects, and scientists to do our part to protect the environment.

Envision teaches us to drill down on every project and look at the following criteria:

  • Quality of life
  • Leadership
  • Resource allocation
  • Natural world
  • Climate and risk

Each of these criteria have many subsets of factors that need to be considered as part of our design. Each of these factors are then evaluated in terms of how we can improve upon them, moving from conventional design practices to hierarchies of improved, enhanced, superior, conserving, and restorative.

The interesting thing about the Envision process is that it is not a “no growth” alternative. It takes into account that growth will happen and considers how it should be managed. For example, under the “quality of life” criteria, one of the subsets is “stimulate sustainable growth and development.” In the “improved” level of achievement, “the economics of the project are the only contribution to economic growth and development” while in the “restorative” level, “the project owner and project team work with the community to identify existing community assets that if restored would improve the economic growth and development capacity of the community.”

In the “natural world” criteria, there is a subset dealing with the “diversion of waste generated by the project from landfills.” Under conventional design practices, engineers would very rarely (if ever) get involved in considering the disposal of waste from a project (assuming the project is one that does not deal with hazardous waste or is a Superfund site). In the “improved” level we now know to prepare a plan to divert 25 percent of the waste to a facility to recycle or reuse.

If we could move the project to the “conserving” level, our design would include a plan to divert 100 percent of the waste to be recycled or reused. Climate change believer or not, we can make a difference as a company in how we treat the environment, and these steps help us organize and accomplish just that.

Overall the process has been very enlightening and embraced by our staff. We see environmental awareness/ assessment of project impact as a responsibility we all have when wearing our design hats. No doubt that we have limited resources on the planet. Projects all over the world are now using the Envision process and obtaining Envision certification.

As the population continues to grow worldwide we must embrace processes like Envision that teach us to do more with less, to conserve our resources, and to look for new sources of energy to power our projects both during the design process and once they are commissioned. We have always had the responsibility to protect the environment in our work, but the Envision process forces us to take that deeper dive and hold our actions accountable.

Joseph Viscuso is Pennoni’s senior vice president and director of strategic growth. He can be reached at jviscuso@pennoni.com.

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