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Green is the New Black: How to Build Infrastructure the Sustainable Way

Infrastructure

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“To meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs…"

The World Commission on Environment & Development's 1987 definition of sustainability offers a mantra that resonates with today's fears about climate change. The need for eco-friendly construction and infrastructure solutions is real. Their application is about more than simply 'green-washing' to seemingly do the right thing. It's about building a better future for the planet and its inhabitants.

According to the European Energy Centre buildings use around 40% of global energy, 25% of global water and 40% of global resources; while they emit approximately 1/3 of GHG emissions. Earth911 notes that in the U.S. alone, an estimated 251 million tons of consumer solid waste is generated annually but less than a third is recycled or composted. Tellingly, as much as 40% of this waste comes from construction projects, which produce a surplus of unused building materials.

Focus on greener civil infrastructure

A recent LEED study on Delivering Urban Resilience found that green infrastructure can save cities billions of dollars by applying strategies such as green roofs, urban forestry, and permeable pavements. Deploying these wisely can reap dividends across the so-called 'triple bottom line': economy, equity, and the environment.

When harnessing impact-driven tools like LEED, the USGBC recommends a series of guiding principles for best practice. It advises green infrastructure initiatives are more likely to be effective when they’re data-driven, place-based, integrated with other initiatives, and aligned with structural adjustments.

Currently, more than 90 cities and communities across the globe are using LEED to create resilient, green, and smart cities. A Water Research Foundation report shows that third-party certification, provided by the likes of LEED, can become an incentive for developers and property owners to support green infrastructure, as it promises a competitive advantage and public recognition.

The Johnson Controls Asia-Pacific headquarters in Shanghai, for example, has been recognized as one of the most sustainable corporate complexes in the Asia region. When it opened in the summer of 2017, the campus became the first building in China to win 3 green certifications. It achieved both LEED Platinum and EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) verification, along with China's own Green Building Design Label. This recognition was thanks to a design with predicted energy savings of 45%, water savings of 42% and embodied energy savings of 21%.

Horry County Schools Think Energy Positive set the green standard for accommodating rapid development while making environmental protection a priority. Image courtesy of Thomas & Hutton.

Sustainable infrastructure with Envision and LEED

Two standards agencies are at the forefront of increasing the adoption of sustainable practices: Envision, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) offered through the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Both help organizations get serious about conserving energy, making better building material choices, increasing innovation around sustainability, and saving money.

Envision verifies how well an infrastructure project (from energy and water to waste and transport) contributes to the efficiency and long-term sustainability of the communities it serves. It offers a rating toolbest practice resources, and programs to support sustainable development.

How does Envision recognize green infrastructure projects? The recent reconstruction of Oregon Avenue in Washington D.C., for example, earned the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) the Envision Silver Award. The redesign (engineered by landscape architects Volkert) fixed problems along a 1.7 mile stretch of highway, including roadway geometry, sidewalk deterioration, and roadway lighting. 

“In addition to addressing challenges associated with degrading infrastructure, the reconstruction of Oregon Avenue serves to protect and enhance conditions within and around Rock Creek Park. The project design minimizes environmental impacts in several ways, including integrating stormwater management within the roadway by using bioretention cells, permeable pavements, and incorporating a sidewalk design that minimizes disturbance to existing trees and natural features."

—John Stanton, President, ISI

 

Rendering of CyberCity, India's largest integrated business district. Image courtesy of Dawn Digital.

Save, save, save: Green infrastructure's bottom line

A recent LEED study on Delivering Urban Resilience found that green infrastructure can save cities billions of dollars by applying strategies such as green roofs, urban forestry, and permeable pavements. Deploying these wisely can reap dividends across the so-called 'triple bottom line': economy, equity, and the environment.

USGBC's Green Infrastructure Menu of State Policy Options offers many legislative options for state lawmakers to push sustainability. When harnessing impact-driven tools like LEED, the USGBC recommends a series of guiding principles for best practice. Green infrastructure initiatives are more likely to be effective, it explains, when they’re data-driven, place-based, integrated with other initiatives, and aligned with structural adjustments.

Currently, more than 90 cities and communities across the globe are using LEED to create resilient, green, and smart cities. A Water Research Foundation report shows that third-party certification, provided by the likes of LEED, can become an incentive for developers and property owners to support green infrastructure, as it promises a competitive advantage and public recognition.

The Johnson Controls Asia-Pacific headquarters in Shanghai, for example, has been recognized as one of the most sustainable corporate complexes in the Asia region. When it opened in the summer of 2017, the campus became the first building in China to win 3 green certifications. It achieved both LEED Platinum and EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) verification, along with China's own Green Building Design Label.

Trending now: Green infrastructure expansion

The World Green Building Trends 2018 report by Dodge Data & Analytics identified 3 emerging trends in green-building technology:

  1. The use of energy-analysis tools at every project stage
  2. The promise of generative design
  3. The use of data throughout the project's entire lifecycle

According to the report, 47% of industry professionals expect more than 60% of their projects to be green by 2021. While green building approaches lead the sustainability movement in the construction industry, the green movement in civil infrastructure projects has only just begun. There's still room for green improvement in all infrastructure disciplines.

Gradually green: Challenges to adoption

There’s a lack of data on long-term green infrastructure performance borne out by the fact that, as of April 10, there were just 55 projects listed as certified on the Envision Project Awards Directory. In comparison, there have been 37,570 new buildings certified LEED BD+C in the same time period. There are several reasons why infrastructure has been slow to catch up:
  • Regulators lack necessary experience/knowledge in the installation of green practices
  • Regulatory approval processes limit flexibility
  • Green infrastructure projects cost more than traditional features (real or perceived costs)
  • There’s a lack of standardized protocols and technical specifications for green infrastructure across jurisdictions.

There’s a need for more protocols to boost implementation. Barring legislation, organizations will be required to be proactive, to self-educate, and to sell the benefits for their projects.

Bogotá’s new Metro line will be complete in 2027. Image courtesy EMB/FDN.

Eco-friendly success

In Colombia, Bogotà's Metro Project represents an “ecological transition" for the city. Their electric-powered metro will pollute less than the diesel bus system and provide an eco-friendly way to meet mass-transit demand. Paris-based, urban-transportation engineering and design firm SYSTRA developed a global BIM model of the project's infrastructure. Integrating the surrounding urban development, along with the 62-mile bus system, was key in evaluating the environmental impact of the planned elevated route.

SYSTRA used InfraWorks which enables AEC professionals to contextualize, conceptualize, optimize, and visualize projects –all within a real-world view of the built and natural environment. The firm's work on a BIM tender design for the entire system infrastructure (also using Autodesk RevitCivil 3DNavisworks, and Dynamo) was recognized at Le Moniteur's 2018 BIM d'Or celebration, where SYSTRA received the BIM d'Argent award.

Greener results with retrofit and reuse

Industry leaders recognize that the green infrastructure movement involves much more than shiny new projects: “Sustainable infrastructure design isn’t just about new infrastructure. It is about rehabilitation, reuse, or optimization of existing infrastructure, which is consistent with the principles of urban sustainability and global sustainable development," explains Peter Chamley, Arup's Region Board Chairman in Australasia.

The infrastructure design practitioner has long pushed the boundaries on projects that applied Autodesk software. Arup has been recognized at the Autodesk Hong Kong BIM Awards for 3 infrastructure projects, including the Shatin to Central Link Hong Kong Section. The Section involved the construction of the new Exhibition station and a 1.8 km twin railway tunnel, where the use of BIM helped the team keep a commitment to minimize excavation and reduce waste.

Chamley believes civil engineers and planners have a responsibility to set standards of design that will benefit the environment. Ultimately, he hopes that sustainability will become the expected norm of any good design: “This encompasses infrastructure renewal, long-term economic analysis of infrastructure, energy use and reduced infrastructure costs, the protection of existing infrastructure from environmental degradation, material selection for sustainability, quality, durability and energy conservation, minimizing waste and materials and the redesign of infrastructure in light of global climate change, and the remediation of environmentally damaged soils and water," Chamley says.

"Clearly, sustainable infrastructure should lead to improved socio-economics. Responsible design needs to balance social, economic, and environmental issues."

That responsibility is ours, so its time that infrastructure projects wore their green colors with pride.

Freeway Interchange in Los Angeles, CA.

Following the green road to responsible design

Industry leaders recognize that the green infrastructure movement involves much more than shiny new projects: “Sustainable infrastructure design isn’t just about new infrastructure. It is about rehabilitation, reuse, or optimization of existing infrastructure, which is consistent with the principles of urban sustainability and global sustainable development," explains Peter Chamley, Arup's Region Board Chairman in Australasia.

The infrastructure design practitioner has long pushed the boundaries on projects that applied Autodesk software. Arup has been recognized at the Autodesk Hong Kong BIM Awards for 3 infrastructure projects, including the Shatin to Central Link Hong Kong Section. The Section involved the construction of the new Exhibition station and a 1.8 km twin railway tunnel, where the use of BIM helped the team keep a commitment to minimize excavation and reduce waste.

Chamley believes civil engineers and planners have a responsibility to set standards of design that will benefit the environment. Ultimately, he hopes that sustainability will become the expected norm of any good design: “This encompasses infrastructure renewal, long-term economic analysis of infrastructure, energy use and reduced infrastructure costs, the protection of existing infrastructure from environmental degradation, material selection for sustainability, quality, durability and energy conservation, minimizing waste and materials and the redesign of infrastructure in light of global climate change, and the remediation of environmentally damaged soils and water," Chamley says.

"Clearly, sustainable infrastructure should lead to improved socio-economics. Responsible design needs to balance social, economic, and environmental issues."