Saturday, March 17, 2012

Obama Administration Pursues Uniform Infrastructure Sustainability Rating System

The Obama administration gathered construction industry and federal agency managers at a four hour closed door White House meeting March 9, 2012, to hash over ways to push some uniform sustainibility measurement standards into federal infrastructure procurement in the transportation, housing, federal office building, defense and urban development sectors. Jointly sponsored by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure, the private session was attended by federal bureaucrats from HUD, DOT, DOD, GSA, and OMB. DHS was not represented at the meeting.

Urging development of a uniform infrastructure sustainability standard siimilar to LEED for buildings, the Obama administration is pushing the Zofnass Program,  and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, together with industry groups including the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Works Association and the American Council of Engineering Companies to come up with standardized criteria the federal government could incorporate into infrastructure bid documents and requests for proposals on infrastructure projects.  According to Paul J. Zofnass, president of New York City based environmental consutaing firm EFCG, Inc., “We either learn to make infrastructure sustainable, or we’re toast.”

Some industry attendees at the meeting complained that federal agencies resist sustainability in procurement bidding because considering it is too difficult within the confines of a “lowest responsible bidder” statutory procurement  framework.  Michael W. Creed, CEO of North Carolina based engineering firm McKim & Creed, remarked, “Should we add ‘depletion’ costs for non-renewable resources consumed during construction projects and use that as part of a sustainability scorecard?”  Currently there are at least two competing sustainability rating systems: “Envision,” developed through the Zofnass Program and Harvard University, and the ISI’s system, developed with input from various engineering professiona societies. Leaders of development of the “Envision” system expect to publicly release a pre-planning sustainability checklist and a project sustainability economic assessment tool later this year.

While the White House effort is a laudable one, it stands little chance of adoption any time soon. In the current Congressional enviornment of cost cutting and tax reform, anything involving evaulation of sustainability soft costs in the procurement process is likely to meet political put downs as “funny math” or “another bridge to nowhere.”

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