Envision v3 – Our Comments

by | Oct 25, 2017 | Economics

The Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) is seeking feedback on the draft credits in its latest version of the Envision sustainable infrastructure framework, known as Envision v3. Here’s some …

In the Leadership credit category, for Credit LD3.3 – Conduct a Lifecycle Economic Evaluation in Section 3 (pp.69-71 in the electronic version or pp.64-66 of the print version of the draft) we think ISI is advocating correctly for economic analysis but is missing recent developments in determining the triple bottom line effects on people, planet and profits that have made economic analysis relevant and useful for sustainability analysis.

While cost benefit analysis (CBA) is widely used, the credit language doesn’t mention triple bottom line cost benefit analysis (TBL-CBA).  Our recommendation is to include language in the credit for TBL-CBA to capture this more robust analysis within LD3.3.

We suggest that ISI either replace CBA with TBL-CBA, or at the very least, include TBL-CBA as an additional type of analysis to be used, in conjunction with CBA, to earn the points (i.e. using language such as “the project team may use CBA or TBL-CBA in the assessment of the broader impacts to the project or design alternatives”).

There are a variety of merits that TBL-CBA provides:

  1. USGBC uses TBL-CBA explicitly in its LEED v4 innovation credit – “Informing Design Using Triple Bottom Line Analysis”, so this would align with another recognized industry sustainability rating system.
  2. This analysis is clearly defined and available. See here for resources:

More broadly, there is a long list of additional considerations in support for TBL-CBA over just CBA:

  • By using CBA for each of the financial, social and environmental bottom lines, TBL-CBA expands and enhances the value of CBA.
  • Envision asks not only “is this the right project” but “is it done right”? The former question is an absolute – the answer is “yes” or “no”. The second question is relative – it depends on your perspective. A road project could benefit the owner (a government, for example, that collects tolls on the road). And yet the same road may hurt the community it bisects while, at the same time, benefitting the communities connected by it. A new or expanded road could also damage the local environment, by adding dirty air and water, and the global environment by increasing carbon emissions. The absolute questions of road or transit or alignment A vs. B are answered by CBA. The Envision relative question of “is it done right” is answered by TBL-CBA.
  • CBA provides only a societal perspective whereas TBL-CBA effectively does a mini-CBA for each of three bottom lines. TBL-CBA uses multiple account cost benefit analysis to provide a breakdown of the costs and benefits to each account type (e.g. TBL categories of financial, social, environmental (or profit/people/planet).
  • TBL-CBA considers costs and benefits that may cancel out in a CBA but may be very important to a stakeholder or sector. TBL-CBA’s approach means that a cost and benefit breakdown by stakeholder can be done. Examples of this may be by project owner, user and non-user, or government and local community. Or, by Envision category such as quality of life, leadership, climate and risk, natural world or resource allocation. Where costs and benefits are in more than one category, these would be considered transfers in a CBA and hence excluded. By doing a multiple account analysis a TBL-CBA counts these costs and benefits and this also facilitates mapping to Envision categories.

Project owners have realized the benefits of TBL-CBA over CBA and have been requesting its use on major infrastructure and building projects:

  • Some of the largest real estate and infrastructure owners use TBL-CBA in house.
  • A growing number of financial institutions incorporate a triple bottom line approach in their work, though often use the term “Environmental, Social, and Governance” instead of TBL. One example is the CDP network of investors, which represents $100 trillion in assets, and requests data from corporate entities on their climate, water, and other sustainability performance measures on an annual basis. TBL-CBA will be piloted in the CDP Cities questionnaire.
  • It is in use by the largest industrial real estate company, Prologis, across its North American facilities.
  • The 5th largest city in the U.S., City of Phoenix, includes in its 2017 Requests for Information when they state that they are “looking for a firm with experience in cost-benefit analyses” and calling out TBL-CBA as an acceptable means to qualify.
  • MTA NY City Transit and Dewberry used the triple bottom line, which they call a “proven cost-benefit analysis-based approach”.
  • “NYC Capital Planning now requires a triple bottom line analysis, and we need tools to do it.”- NYC Director of Capital Planning, 2015
  • The 7th busiest airport in the U.S., San Francisco International Airport specified TBL-CBA in their 2015 RFP for redevelopment of Terminal 1.

Feedback to ISI  must be done through an online survey.  For background – start here, click on the link for #3 to provide feedback in the online survey. Or go directly to the survey. The comments above are for a credit in the Leadership category and if you don’t want to comment on other areas of the new rating system , you can quickly click through those areas. The survey is anonymous.

We hope you will join us in contributing your feedback to ISI before November 1st.


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