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Fairfax County Team Members "Envision" the Future

This entry is a re-post from the Fairfax County internal employee blog. Written by Irene Haske, Public Information Officer for Fairfax County.

Caption: Denise Nelson, PE, Environmental Engineer with the Berkley Group, taught the Envision class.

Members of the Environmental Sustainability Team (EST) and other DPWES, Park Authority and Vehicle Services employees reached another milestone through training in Envision on November 2 and 3. Chris Meoli, Engineer III, Solid Waste Management Program, and chair of the Environmental Sustainability Team, took the lead in arranging for county employees to take the Envision training. Envision is a groundbreaking resource for professionals involved in planning, designing, building and maintaining civil infrastructure, according to the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) which developed the tool in collaboration with Harvard University’s Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure. Twenty three employees participated in the training on the first day and their knowledge was tested on the second day.

Envision is:

  1. A rating system for sustainable infrastructure. It provides the public works industry with detailed guidance and metrics to help infrastructure projects of every type and size become more sustainable.

  2. A decision-making guide not a set of prescriptive measures. It guides owners, communities, designers, builders, regulators and policy makers in collaborating to make more informed decisions about the sustainability of infrastructure.

Caption: Jonathan Okafor (left) and Chris Meoli (right) worked on a case study during the Envision training class.

Through Envision an agency involved in infrastructure design, construction or operation - like DPWES - can form a unique community of partners, practitioners, other government agencies and contractors. For example, the City of Roanoke’s Stormwater Utility intends to incorporate sustainable practices and measures into all of their future stormwater infrastructure projects through the use of the Envision rating system. “Envision is for infrastructure what LEED is for buildings,” states the ISI web page. Envision was created by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure and focuses on the importance of sustainability and protecting the environment. To quote the City of Roanoke web page, “Using Envision in the various stages of stormwater improvement projects will enhance the health of streams and reduce flooding and will move Roanoke toward a more sustainable and resilient future.”

“We think Envision can assist us in our quest for a holistic approach to sustainable infrastructure and service provision which is at the heart of our mission to improve quality of life, and protect the health and environment in Fairfax County,” said Juan Reyes, Assistant Director, Business Support Services, DPWES.

Denise Nelson, P.E., ENV SP, and LEED AP, of the Berkley Group taught the class. “It was an honor to introduce Envision as a tool to support Fairfax County, a leader in the industry with a strong commitment to sustainable infrastructure practices,” Denise said. Envision encourages collaboration among departments and stakeholders, provides a common language for transparency, includes metrics for quantifying impacts, and encourages life cycle considerations. “Using Envision will expand the county’s procedures for a more holistic and comprehensive approach to meeting community goals,” she said.

Denise is a leading expert on the Envision system. While at Greeley and Hansen in Richmond, she was one of the first people to earn the ENV SP credential, become an ISI-approved Envision trainer (one of only two in Virginia), and become a third-party project reviewer and she reviewed the first project to receive an Envision award. Later she joined ISI staff to serve as the “Face of Envision.” In her role as ISI Vice President of Public Education, she was responsible for all education, outreach and marketing efforts. She also served as the manager of the third-party review and recognition program. In her current role at the Berkley Group, she provides Envision training and support in integrating Envision concepts into infrastructure development procedures. To date she has trained 230 professionals to earn the Envision credential including staff at Roanoke, Newport News and Blacksburg.

James Patteson, Director DPWES, said, “I’m excited to get this many folks trained (in Envision). Each business area is taking a couple of projects through the program next year and then we are going to do a ‘lessons learned’ review and decide on our next steps from there.” The Environmental Sustainability Team and trained ENV SPs will be working with business areas in the coming months to select projects to evaluate and rate using Envision. The Huntington Levee project, now under construction, has already been formally evaluated using Envision and an application for an award has been submitted to ISI.

The first step in using Envision is to create a report card or benchmark for recently completed projects. These are rated under Envision’s five key categories: quality of life; leadership; resource allocation; natural world; climate and risk. There are 60 envision subcategories in which rating points are available for credit. Benchmarking projects - or taking a ‘snap shot’ of projects - is essential to ensure future infrastructure improvement projects are sustainable and resilient.

Caption: Juan Reyes (left) and Magdalena Springer (right) were among the employees who took the Envision training on November 3.

Once the benchmark evaluation is complete, a summary of the findings includes recommendations for future projects. The recommendations may span all phases of a project, including planning, design and construction. For example, in the planning phase a recommendation may be made to update the capital project rating system; in the design phase a recommendation to incorporate street trees may be made; in the construction phase it may be recommended that only regional materials be used and to maximize the use of recycled products. At that point the process includes applying the recommendations to projects that are already designed but await funding, so changes can be made to a current design before the project goes out to bid.

“We learned through training and credentialing how powerful a tool Envision can become to influence decision making to help integrate sustainability in public works infrastructure projects,” Chris Meoli said.

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