Helping set the standard for green infrastructure in the U.S.

10/4/2016 4:28 PM CET

In the U.S., it is common to have buildings certified to a green rating system, such as LEED. But with civil infrastructure like highways, transit lines and power plants, there has not been a widely used green infrastructure rating system like CEEQUAL from the UK. But Envision is quickly filling that gap, and Skanska has a leading role in guiding this system's development.

Los Angeles' Expo Line light-rail extension – which a Skanska-led joint venture designed and built – is the first transit project to be certified under Envision, a green infrastructure rating system gaining in popularity in the U.S. The 10.6-km (6.6-mile) extension was certified at Envision's highest level, Platinum.

If you watch a bridge or light rail line being built, you might not think such a project can have a minimal impact on the environment, and potentially even benefit its surroundings. After all, such projects often involve moving many truckloads of soil and placing huge quantities of concrete and steel – activities that change local landscapes in major ways for decades.

U.S. civil infrastructure projects in many ways have been green, but they have lacked a way to measure and guide their green activities. Envision provides a holistic framework to do that, enabling projects to aim for higher levels of green performance while also helping achieve broader sustainability goals over the long term.

"We believe that eco-certification helps drive innovation and efficiency, which is positive for everyone involved: our customers, the local communities and the environment, as well as our business," says Greg Chant-Hall, head of sustainability for Skanska Infrastructure Development.

For all types and sizes of infrastructure projects

Similar to LEED for building construction and inspired by CEEQUAL, Envision evaluates and rates the community, environmental and economic benefits of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects. Administered by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), Envision consists of a broad range of criteria that address a project's impact on the surrounding community and environment, technical considerations regarding materials and processes, and other critical choices spanning the project's lifecycle. In key ways, Envision aligns with how Skanska defines sustainability.

Skanska sees much potential for Envision in the U.S., and potentially in other countries too.

"LEED is the predominate green metric with building construction, and we fully expect that Envision will be the predominate green metric with infrastructure construction," says Skanska USA Chief Sustainability Officer Beth Heider.

Skanska ExpoLine

"We believe that eco-certification helps drive innovation and efficiency," says Greg Chant-Hall, head of sustainability for Skanska Infrastructure Development. Shown is the Envision Platinum-certified Expo Line Phase 2 in Los Angeles.

Deep commitment

As we are on a Journey to Deep Green™, Skanska has made a strong commitment to integrate Envision into our U.S. civil infrastructure projects, similar to how we were among the first to embrace LEED when it was launched in 1998. We are a charter member of ISI, we are part of the ISI review board that oversees Envision, and we have supported more than 60 employees in achieving the Envision Sustainability Professional designation.

Furthermore, all of our public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the U.S. must be either Envision or LEED certified, and by 2020 all of our U.S. civil infrastructure projects will seek Envision certification.

Anything can be built green

Skanska recently celebrated our first project achieving Envision certification.

In Los Angeles, California, the 10.6-km (6.6-mile) extension of the Expo Line light rail was recently certified at Envision's highest level, Platinum. A Skanska-led joint venture was responsible for the design and construction of this project, which for the first time in 63 years makes it possible for people to take a train between downtown L.A. and the Santa Monica beach. Expo Line Phase 2 is the first transit project to receive Envision certification, and, at more than USD 700 million, it is the largest project by contract value to be Envision certified.

Enabling the Platinum certification included such specific project aspects as significant hiring of local craft labor, sourcing regional materials to the highest standards of the Envision program and integrating the new rail line with other means of transit, from bus systems to bike paths.

"This is a significant milestone for every stakeholder involved in this project," Beth says. "Envision certification shows that no matter what you're building, it can be built green."

Expo Line Phase 2 is featured in this week's Greenbuild Conference & Expo in Los Angeles – it is the first time an infrastructure project has been included in the event's program.

I-4, Orlando

The I-4 Ultimate public-private partnership (PPP) project in Orlando, Florida, is targeting Envision Platinum. Skanska’s consortium is responsible for financing, design, construction, operations and maintenance on this 34 km (21 mile) highway widening and reconstruction project.

Helping reshape Envision

As beneficial as Envision is, the current version is focused on the planning and design phases of a project, with little focus on construction. For the next version of Envision due out in 2018, Skanska has a key role in incorporating construction aspects throughout the system, and in leading the development of four credits focused on construction activities.

Ryan Prime, Skanska USA Civil's sustainability director, chairs the ISI group overseeing the extension of Envision into construction. He finds his involvement "hugely motivating".

"Week by week, it is becoming clear that Envision is gaining more and more traction in the industry," Ryan says. "It makes me very proud to work for Skanska, which affords me the opportunity to be part of a major industry shift like this."

Ryan adds: "I am also proud of how Skanska does business, particularly with our focus on values. It truly positions us to be a leader in sustainability."