“Envisioning” a Sustainable Future

October 8, 2021


Larry Alewine, P.E., ENV SP
Project Manager/Engineer at Stantec

I am a licensed Civil Engineer (and huge sustainability nerd) and have been working out of the Raleigh area on municipal water and sewer projects since 2017. When I’m not working, I love walking/hiking the local greenways and regional trails with my girlfriend and cooking elaborate meals that may or may not turn out correctly!


Envision has 64 indicators of sustainability and resilience, known as “credits,” that are organized around five categories: Quality of Life, Resource Allocation, Natural World, Climate and Resilience, and Leadership. Envision helps planners and engineers optimize projects by assessing the life-cycle costs and benefits of the civil infrastructure (such as roads, public transportation projects, airports or renewable energy facilities), including components such as the choice of materials, total emissions, energy usage, conservation and effects on community development, ecology and human wellbeing.

When it comes to the design and implementation of sustainable civil infrastructure, a relatively new tool is seeing increased use by both municipalities and design engineers: the Envision® sustainability framework. Created in 2012 by the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, Envision is used to guide the planning, design and delivery of sustainable, resilient infrastructure.

If that sounds similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) framework, you’re not wrong. They complement each other wonderfully. While LEED is also a world-renowned sustainable design framework, it is focused more on the design of buildings and structures with people and nature in mind, not something like a water reclamation facility or roadway expansion constructed in Raleigh to meet the needs of a fast-growing community. Envision bridges that gap by providing a design framework for engineers and owners to approach infrastructure new and old with whole life-cycle planning and long-term sustainability at the forefront. As the Envision Guidance Manual says, “Envision not only asks, ‘Are we doing the project right?’ but also, ‘Are we doing the right project?’”

With a sustainable project completed and commissioned, owners can take the extra step of having it rated and certified by the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure. Much like LEED, a rating system exists to demonstrate the success of any given infrastructure project in utilizing the sustainable design framework, prepared by an independent third party.

We are staring down a climate crisis these days, but not everyone is standing idly by. NC GreenPower donations are proof of a community willing to step up and make their mark by providing sustainable energy sources and STEM education for children. I think Envision represents yet another tool in an expanding toolbox to meet the needs of the future for our community, with two projects already certified in North Carolina (Hope Mills Dam in Fayetteville and University Pointe Boulevard in Charlotte). I had the opportunity to use the Envision framework on a project in Naples, Florida, several years ago, and I can say without a doubt that the project delivered a heightened range of environmental, social and economic benefits to the host and affected communities. Why would I spend my time doing anything else?