Report on the International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure
6-9th November 2014
Long Beach, California, USA
By Josey Wardle (PhD student, TORG, Newcastle University)
The attended the first International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) 2014 organised by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), where I presented my paper entitled “The provision of public recharging infrastructure for Electric Vehicles in North East England – is there life after subsidies?”. My presentation was both well attended and well received, and led to subsequent discussions about how the region has made these achievements to date and how we might allocate value to the social and environmental benefits of this provision in the future.
This was the first international conference on sustainability to be organised by the ASCR. The 3 day conference provided a platform for project owners, practitioners, researchers and decision makers from the US, Canada, Europe and China to learn about and discuss a diverse range of sustainable infrastructure projects from around the world. It was attended by over 200 people across a mixture of plenary sessions, workshops, posters and presentation sessions. Topics included climate change, water resources, transportation, eco-cities, solar power, adaptation, extreme hazards, education, ethics, developing world issues and infrastructure resiliency. The conference also included an interesting tour of the Port of Long Beach, the second busiest port in the USA, which through its “Green Port Policy” created in 2005 has become a landmark for the practical adoption of sustainable infrastructure projects. The conference focussed heavily on the search for and development of appropriate tools, standards and methodologies needed for future success in sustainable infrastructure deployment. Applications of the Envision™ rating system were presented in many different infrastructure contexts.
The importance of infrastructure to the global economy was stressed by the opening day session speakers from the World Bank, US state officials, Chinese and Canadian bodies. James Close of The World Bank stated that “investing in sustainable infrastructure is key to sustainable growth”, and explained the role of the World Bank’s new Global Infrastructure Facility to encourage financing for low and middle income countries. He stressed that the infrastructure developments made in the next 10-20 years are likely to determine whether our children and grandchildren can lead a good quality of life. The role of carbon pricing policies was discussed as part of wider economic, fiscal and financial measures, through which high carbon pollutants may be made uncompetitive. James believes that scenario approaches will be required to value sustainable infrastructure developments for the future. He called on the public sector to actively engage in sustainable infrastructure development projects, and to operate a genuine risk sharing approach in the demonstration of green technologies which will drive the way forward and lead to greater private sector engagement in the future. Governments must take the policy level risks and leave the constructors to manage the practical risks of delivery.
The needs of the massive and fast growing urban population in China were also highlighted, leading to unprecedented infrastructure requirements and their associated environmental challenges which will have global implications if sustainable principles are not adhered to.
Joanne Mahoney of Onondaga County, New York, spoke passionately about their “Save the Rain” green infrastructure strategy, a comprehensive storm-water management plan reducing pollution to Onondaga Lake and its tributaries.
Reg Andres of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers spoke about Canada’s challenges to balance environmental, economic and social sustainability in a country whose GDP is heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry. This has led to the development of the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card which is now driving the development of a Sustainability Rating System, similar to the US EnvisionTM system (see below for a description of this system). Reg stressed that “Respect, Recognition and Responsibility” are three critical aspects of Sustainability and that our civil engineers must therefore recognise and respect Social Value in all of its diverse forms in order to deliver the best solutions. This was explained by reference to practical examples of infrastructure projects delivered for the indigenous populations in Canada. Reg also stressed the role of civil engineers in promoting the importance of social value to future generations through education and the need to empower them to act accordingly.
The Port of Long Beach launched its Green Port Policy in 2005. Fundamental aspects of this include; California’s first cable-stayed vehicular bridge, the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement project, and the US’s first electrified and fully automated container yard, the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project, currently under construction. As part of its green truck action plan all trucking companies working within the port must achieve the highest standards for clean emissions, and platooning techniques are also in active use. The port has also engaged with the local community awarding over $18 million in grants for community projects over the last 5 years, and is developing the employees of the future with internships and educational programmes. In total $4 billion improvement programmes are being delivered which aim to double the productivity and halve the emissions of this busy port area.
The importance of considering the interdependencies between different types of infrastructure ran throughout the presentations, as did the continuing uncertainties of climate science and the difficulties this presents to engineers in creating models to predict future activity and inform actions. The need to consult with the local population was stressed throughout as a key element of the analysis and decision making process.
The role of the civil engineer was discussed throughout the conference, concluding that we serve both the population and the planet and that we therefore need to provide leadership to support society for the future. It was generally agreed that the civil engineer is responsible for doing things which make people’s lives better, and that this should therefore include not just the traditional concerns of health and safety but also within the category of welfare we must provide solutions which will sustain quality of life going forward.
The final day included a detailed session on the role of education in embedding sustainability into future generations. There was a call for a change in traditional engineering education to include a broader range of skills that encompass all the aspects and interdependencies of sustainability, incorporating flexibility for the management of increasing complexity and the ability to continuously adapt to emerging changes in the total value chain pipeline. Appropriate communicate was highlighted as key to successful infrastructure development, understanding how best to engage with relevant and wide ranging stakeholder groups is critical to successful deployment. Therefore an understanding of elements such as sociology, ecology and economics is also required by future engineers.
The EnvisionTM tool
Many of the workshop presentations and posters on display during the conference described the use of the Envision™ system in the delivery of their projects.
EnvisionTM was developed in joint collaboration between the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI)  and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The ISI is a not-for-profit education and research organization, dedicated to developing and maintaining a civil infrastructure rating system. ISI was founded by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the American Public Works Association (APWA), and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Each of ISI’s founding organizations was developing a sustainable infrastructure program and saw the need for a standardized framework for classification of sustainability practices. The organizations decided to work together to form ISI to produce and administer a sustainable infrastructure rating system. ISI membership is complementary to full time academics and students.
Envision™ provides a holistic framework for evaluating and rating the community, environmental and economic benefits of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects. It evaluates, grades, and gives recognition to infrastructure projects that use transformational, collaborative approaches to assess the sustainability indicators over the course of the project’s life cycle.
The Envision™ rating system is a project assessment and guidance tool for sustainable infrastructure design. It is an objective framework of criteria and performance achievements that helps users identify ways in which sustainable approaches can be used to plan, design, construct, and operate infrastructure projects. The goal is to improve the sustainable performance of infrastructure projects in terms of the technical performance and also from social, environmental, and economic perspectives.
Envision™ has 60 sustainability criteria, called credits, divided into five sections: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk. Each credit is described in a 2-page write-up that includes the intent, metric, levels of achievement, description, an explanation of how to advance to a higher achievement level, evaluation criteria and documentation, sources, and related credits.
There are two main Envision™ tools;
- The EnvisionTM Checklist – This is an educational tool that helps users become familiar with the sustainability aspects of infrastructure project design. It can be used as a stand-alone assessment to quickly compare project alternatives or to prepare for a more detailed assessment. This is structured as a series of Yes/No questions based on the Envision™ rating system. It is organized into five categories and fourteen subcategories. Every infrastructure project has an important impact on all five Envision™ categories.
- Envision™ sustainable infrastructure Rating System – allowing a fully detailed assessment to be completed. May enable projects to become eligible for an Envision™ award. Used by the project team to self-assess the project, or to gain a third-party objective review of the project’s sustainability.
I intend to review the elements of this tool to assess if they may be suitable for use in developing a social and environmental business model for the continuing provision of public EV recharging infrastructure.
2016 ASCE International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure
The next conference will be held in Beijing, China in 2016 (date yet to be released). The Chinese Academy of Engineers (CAE), the Tsinghua University and the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES) will organise this, with support from the Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences (RCEES, CAS).
The 2014 organizing committee indicated that further examples of the UK’s approach to sustainable infrastructure would be very welcome at this conference.
 ASCE. (2014, 05/12/2014). International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure 2014 Available: http://content.asce.org/conferences/icsi2014/index.html
 J. Wardle, Y. Huebner, P. T. Blythe, and J. Gibbon, “The provision of public recharging infrastructure for Electric Vehicles in North East England – is there life after subsidies?,” presented at the ASCE International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure, Long Beach, California, USA, 2014.
 Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. (05/12/2014). Envision™ Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System. Available: http://sustainableinfrastructure.org/rating/index.cfm
 The World Bank. (2014, 05/12/2014). Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF).
 Joanne M. Mahoney County Executive Onondaga County. (05/12/2014). Save the Rain. Available: http://savetherain.us/
 Port of Long Beach California. (05/12/2014). Green Port Policy. Available: http://www.polb.com/environment/green_port_policy/default.asp
 Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. (05/12/2014). Available: http://www.sustainableinfrastructure.org/index.cfm
 Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. (12/12/2014). Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure Available: http://research.gsd.harvard.edu/zofnass/menu/about/