Engineering Influence welcomes Anthony Kane, the President & CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure to discuss the Envision program for engineers and the projects they design.  Learn more about ISI at


Host: Hello and welcome to another episode of Engineering Influence - a podcast by the American Council of Engineering Companies. This morning we are pleased to welcome Anthony Kane to the show. Anthony is the president and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. Based in Washington, ISI was established in 2009 by the American Public Works Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers and yours truly, the American Council of Engineering Companies who collaborated with the Zofnass program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design to develop Envision - a frameworks for sustainable infrastructure development. Anthony, welcome to the show.

Anthony Kane: Thank you.

Host: So how did the Envision framework come to be and kind of tell us a little bit more about ISI, your background, and how you came into all this.

Anthony Kane: Absolutely. Well, Envision as you noted was really a collaboration, which is exciting from the beginning. It was about working together and coming to a consensus. So both on the ISI side where ASAE, ACEC and APWA got together and decided to collaborate in creating envision. At the same time, I was formerly with the softness program at Harvard working on a sustainability rating system for them as well. And the two organizations, the softness program at Harvard and ISI got together and decided that it would really be productive for us to combine our work. And it's very exciting because I think at that time we each had very good content, very good ideas, but it was through that collaboration and merging of the two tools that the sort of another level of value was realized in the system. And that was Envision version two that was launched in 2012. And so that was very successful and, and had a long run and we just now recently released Envision version three really following on that success. We released that in 2018.

Host: So in your experience from coming from the academic side and then industry, I mean is this something which has happened in, in your experience a lot where you have maybe the trade associations or the groups that are engaged on the industry side of things, reaching out and trying to work with academia to, you know, improve or to set kind of a standard practice or, or kind of a framework to help guide a lot of their best practices or formalization of tools and talents for professionals?

Anthony Kane: I wouldn't say that it's common, at least in my experience. I hadn't seen it happen very often but I think it is happening more than it used to and it is really exciting because I think there's a lot of opportunities there. And that was really one of the draws that incentivized me to come from the research end because it's very enjoyable doing university research. But this feeling of when you're partnered with the industry and practitioners, there's a realization that your research, the work that you're doing can have a direct impact on the world, which is often what's missing on the academic side. So I think that marriage is really important and brings a lot of value to these types of collaborations.

Host: So you're on version three right now for Envision. So what are, what are the core pieces of that? What's the framework of the Envision platform?

Anthony Kane: So Envision encompasses 64 sustainability indicators, which we call credits. And those are divided into five categories of quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, natural world and climate and resilience. And part of the genesis around envision version three was one that Envision version two was six years old at that time, kind of needed a little bit of an updating, but at the same time had been developed and written prior to Hurricane Sandy, some of the natural disasters that we had seen. And we realized that over that six years are as an industry, our understanding of resilience and different sustainability criteria had really changed and evolved. And it was time for envision to take all of that knowledge and new experience and incorporated into indicators that the rest of the industry can use.

Host: That was an interesting time because I think that, and at the time I was, I was involved but not on the Hill but, but I had watched everything happen with Sandy and that seemed to be a really shift. That was a moment of a shift in perception of even from the policy side, but also I guess industry side about, okay, how do we actually build so that we can anticipate these things because the storm was so remarkable in its destructive power. Also in the geography of where it hit. And it. was kind of a game changer in that, in that respect. How, how did that influence a lot of the work that went around that?

Anthony Kane: Sure. Well, I think what we realized was that something that we probably intrinsically knew, which is that these systems are the interconnections and the interdependencies of these systems are far more complex than we probably appreciate it. I'd say don't say we didn't know. I think we knew, but we maybe didn't appreciate how important the interconnectedness is. And so that's where we've really changed and evolved our understanding of resilience from an early concept of maybe just sort of withstanding these things on a individual basis, can my project withstand a hurricane?

Anthony Kane: Or can it withstand a flood? Can it survive or rebound and evolving this concept of resilience into something much more than that, which is how does my project, my system interact with the other systems? How are they dependent? How is the failure of one system in a certain way going to impact the ability of my system to provide services or to function in the long term? So I think we're, we're just developing this sort of more robust understanding of the issue.

Host: A network approach instead of just a single project approach. So as I kind of, with the Envision platform, if I call it a platform, but it's, it's that, that idea kinda has two core pieces that kinda hit the engineer itself. It's at that professional credential. But then also project validation and engineers that are engaged in this kind of makeup the ISI network. How big is the network currently and you know, where, where does that stand?

New Speaker: Sure. So in terms of the envision sustainability professionals, that credentialed individuals, we've credentialed around 9,000 individuals. That's primarily within the U S and Canada, although we also now have a large user group in Italy. And then sprinkling of credentialed people in sort of about 30 countries around the world. Small numbers, but again, primarily US, Canada and Italy. We have verified about 90 projects with another hundred that are registered, meaning that they're going to pursue the verification. And those total about 23 and a half billion dollars worth of infrastructure that have completed the process and another 20 to 22 billion that are the registered projects coming through. So we do see a pretty big intake. And then the membership, which is just one caliber for ISI, we don't necessarily require membership. But if people want to receive discounts or participate more with the Institute, we have a membership program. And right now that's about 300 companies, which primarily are the engineering firms, but also construction firms and different groups. We have a sprinkling of other associations and nonprofit organizations and then about a hundred government agencies. So sometimes it's a city government, county government, a department or bureau, airport authority, things like that, that are public sector members. And then about 25 universities that participate as members and support through teaching Envision in schools.

Host: Have you seen a is there a geographic, kind of a divide between the public agencies that have, that have signed on and, and have become part of the network? Are you seeing more coastal or is it, is a kind of across the board?

Anthony Kane: Yes and no. So I think we do see a very broad distribution. There's an Envision project in Alaska is an Envision project in Hawaii. Kansas city is a big user, Florida, so we see broad distribution at, at at least an initial level. But certainly we do see depth of use in, in key areas like Southern California, Los Angeles, New York City. I think areas where they may be already had very robust sustainability programs in place, they were able to just very quickly take, Envision, adapt it, apply it and run with it. So we see a lot of projects in Southern California and New York, Miami is also coming up as a big key area for us. And then as I mentioned, Kansas City, some Midwestern cities have also been big adopters. And then now the Pacific Northwest. So Sound Transit and Seattle area. And I should say I'm talking about the US but we also have big use in Canada. So Vancouver is, is a major area as well as Montreal for us.

Host: Okay. So if you're an engineer and you do want to get involved in this and you're looking at the credential, what's involved in earning that? And how is that kind of managed through ISI?

Anthony Kane: And I might start with saying, you know, maybe why would you want to do that? We really see two values with envision for, for both the public and the private sector. So when we created Envision, there was this realization that some of the public agencies they want to do sustainable infrastructure. They don't maybe know how they don't have the in house expertise and it's a big lift to say, okay, we're going to totally change how we do things and we're going to come up with a framework and we saw a lot of RFPs going out asking the companies to kind of come up with the frameworks and the ratings for these different public agencies. And so we created Envision as in a way to be an a kit of parts, a toolbox, just an off the shelf thing that any public agency with no costs can just grab it and say this is going to be our sustainability framework.

Anthony Kane: And it comes with an education program as we discussed the credential, it comes with a third party review if you want it, and that's a real value to the public sector users. I think where that benefits the companies as well is we saw the industry headed down this route again of every client having their own sustainability criteria, their own custom sustainability program. And that was just going to create a real burden on the consultants at the firms that every client you have, you're going to have to have a different way of doing stuff. So we think the real value, again with this collaboration and partnership between the private firms and the public sector agencies is that if we're all on the same page, it's a value to both agencies. It's a huge cost saving effort, saving and we can devote all that time and money and resources into just doing the sustainable project rather than figuring out how we're going to do this sustainable.

Host: ...or defining what it would be.

Anthony Kane: Exactly. So if ISI can help by just taking that first step off the table and saying here, why don't you guys just start with step two? That's where we really see our role and the value that we can provide and that's where going to get the credential. If that's something that you're interested in or if you think there's value in that, having the credential just means that you've invested the time you've studied envision and you probably know how then to go ahead and apply it on projects, whether you're on the public side or the private side, you have that extra knowledge. And so it's a fairly straightforward process.

Anthony Kane: We have an online course which is seven one hour modules self-paced. You can watch however you like. There are also certified trainers around the world who teach in-person classes if you prefer learning in an in person setting. Those are offered as well. And then there is an exam and I say that, you know, we try to, it's not a kind of memorize this thing, go to a testing facility really since it's an online course, open open note exam. It's really designed to test that you've read the material and that you can review, envision. So they're kind of problem questions that you work through. And it's really the second part of the education program is the exam. And then you pass that and you've received your credential.

Host: And then on the project side also you can have a project that's been that's been verified by the envision program. Give us kind of a snapshot about how that works and if you have a good real world kind of example.

Anthony Kane: Sure. And we stress that we don't require the third party verification. So Envision is free to download and to use. A lot of public sector agencies use it and they do self-assessments and we encourage that. And again, as a, as a 501c3 nonprofit, our mission is sustainable infrastructure. So if people want to do self assessments, that's great. But there is a value in oftentimes public sector agencies and companies find value in having that third party recognition. So whether it's through accountability or or demonstrating to the community ratepayers, taxpayers that you did a good job, you know, it's not just us saying this. And then sometimes it's, it's to receive the award and, and also a learning process going through the review is a learning process for the project teams themselves. Have they applied, Envision the same way that ISI would apply it?

Anthony Kane: Have we documented performance? So for those that do choose to go through the third party verification we see a range of projects from large projects like LaGuardia airport extension, a multibillion dollar projects all the way down to a couple of million dollar projects. Madison metropolitan sewage districts, pump station, small parks, and we see projects like that. So it applies to a full range of projects across different sectors as well. So we see a lot of projects in water and transportation right now, but energy is growing. It's probably our fastest growing sector of Envision uses energy. And then other sectors like environmental, parks, things like that. So we see a wide distribution. The process is fairly straight forward. It's all done through our online system. So credentialed individuals can go in, they can assign their levels of achievement they provide their documentation demonstrating why they met those achievements. And then it goes through a third party review process where ISI partners with our third party certified verifiers. So always there's a team of active professional in the industry with an ISI staff who review the submission.

Host: That's great. I mean, that's, that's important. And I think that, you know, having it helps you know, they say, you know, rising tide lifts all boats kind of ideas. I mean, if you go for more verified projects and you have, you know, greater number out there and in, in existence, and that credential helps raise that profile and, and spread the word so that hopefully over time, you know, you have more engineers of course that are, that are credentialed, you have more projects are being verified and you get more adoption of those standard procedures. So that there is a, there's a guidebook to, to raise sustainability which will improve infrastructure in general. So it's a great mission. And that's, you know, it all ties together with that general idea of, of kind of the buzzwords. You know, it's just not engineering, but it's all over the place. The ideas of sustainability, resiliency, adaptability, and of course for engineering it has particular meaning.

Host: You know, from your perspective, both in academia and then also working with industry, how have you seen over the past few years, even just the industry respond and evolve to really embrace these ideas of, you know, sustainability, resiliency, you know, it's become more of a, just, you know, something to put on promotional material.

Anthony Kane: Right. And I think what I've seen that's been the biggest shift in the mindset is because sustainability was sort of born out of the environmental movement. There was an initial perception that this was sort of an environmentalist thing, right? And you know, all the typical term, you know, you're tree huggers and this and that. I think there's been a shift more into the mainstream now where a recognition that when you look at sustainability as being, you know, better for the social, environmental, economic aspects, you know, so it improves, community, provides better services, protects the environment, uses resources efficiently, drives a stronger economy. When you really boil that down, it's just better. It, it's not this add on. I think that's the shift. We need to move away from that sustainability that we're going to design a conventional project and then we're going to decide whether sustainability gets added on or not.

Anthony Kane: The core of sustainability is that this is better infrastructure and so the question isn't do we add quality on at the end? We would never say that. We would never say, okay, we're going to design a sort of bare minimum project and then we're going to decide at the end whether we're going to make it good or not. Right. We don't think that way and I think that's the shift that is happening and needs to still kind of happen a little bit more is that sustainability is about quality, infrastructure, good infrastructure and I see it as an avenue, as an industry to break out of what has become unfortunately this process of kind of designing to minimum standards and I don't think anyone is happy with that and we want to do better, we want to do more and it's about also encouraging the public sector owners to demand more and better and higher quality. And I think sustainability and resilience is an avenue towards that. And to have them recognize that there's a value in this and that they should pay for it, obviously, and that the engineering community can provide that.

Host: Yeah. I think that kind of ties into a lot of the things that we're trying to do internally with the association. It's the idea of even if you're building a water project free municipality, it's that recognition that it's it's not just an end in itself. It's part of a larger system. And that impacts on, that could have downstream impacts that may not be foreseeable if you're looking at the project a box. But if you take a holistic approach and say, you know, this is how it would affect a system and this is why it would be better from a cost of just public safety and just quality perspective, you know, as, as from our perspective with, with the consulting engineers and their clients and the relationship, it's that trusted advisor relationship of being able to say, you want X, but let's talk about what that end result is.

Host: And then being able to provide that experience and that perspective of why you would want to improve it or look at it differently. And that's where the value comes in. And that's also the argument against the whole idea of not just designed to minimum standards but looking at engineering services as a, as a product instead of an actual service. And that's the, of course a commoditization argument that because you have these like the Envision framework is a good example is that you have this experience which was gained through either the credential or just of the bedrock principles of the platform. There's a lot of of value just there alone, which, which enables the engineer to become more of a, more of a participant, active participant and just someone who's going to be designing a product. So that, that altogether is critically important. If there's an engineer out there, there's an ACC member who's very interested in exploring this and learning more about it where should they go?

Anthony Kane: So they can go to the ISI website, which is just and from there you can read on our website or you can create a free account, no charge. And from our account you can download the complete envision manual. You can see the different options to become credentialed. So it's a pretty low barrier to entry for people who are interested in learning more about it. I'd say just go ahead, download the manual and look it over.

Host: Yeah. And then you were also in the office last week with the larger groups. So you do have, you know, you know, in person events, if you're in the area, in Washington you know, there's a, there's a chance that you could come in person and, and talk to some people.

Anthony Kane: Well, our door is always open for people who, if you happen to be in the DC area to come by and we'd be happy to talk with you. But you mentioned, yes, there are a, we hold a quarterly in person training events here in DC just because we're here and our staff is here. But there are, as I mentioned, certified trainers around the country. So if you're interested, you could also contact us and we might be able to put you in touch with a trainer in your area. If you are interested in hosting an event, we do find that if interested as an individual, the online courses, a very great way to go. But sometimes it's, there's a real value in getting a team together and you develop this sort of okay culture of we're doing this as a team. And an in person training event is really great for that. We see a lot of public sector agencies that prefer the, the in person training because again, they're thinking of this as a culture shift, a program that they want to roll out and they get a whole team of people together.

Host: Well, it's a fantastic initiative and a great objective. And Anthony, thank you very much for being on the show. We, hopefully you can come back on a kind of a, a maybe an update, you know, just a general update in the next year about where things stand and, and things that might be coming up. And if you ever have news or anything you want a break, just please just let us know and we'll, we'll have you on. Thank you. Thanks for having me on up. Thank you. Have a great holiday and new year and we'll see you in 2020.

Anthony Kane: Thanks.


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