This week, ASCE News celebrates Earth Day with a series of stories about sustainability and green engineering. Check ASCE News each day for updates and visit ASCE’s hub of sustainability resources, where you can take action to engineer a sustainable future.
For Karen Kabbes, the Envision rating system represents everything that attracted her to civil engineering in the first place.
“I actually started in anthropology and biology and became interested in civil works when I was in college,” said Kabbes, who was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. “A new dam for water supply was proposed near my university, and there was a lot of public environmental opposition to it. Then it hit me, ‘Oh my gosh, civil engineers are the ones who make these infrastructure decisions! So if I’m interested in society making better environmental and social and economic decisions, I should become a civil engineer.’”
Kabbes, P.E., D.WRE, ENV SP, F.ASCE, did just that and years later chaired the ASCE committee that helped the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure develop the Envision Rating System, a framework of 60 sustainability criteria that consider the environmental, social, and economic effects of a project through the entire design, construction, and operation process.
She now serves as one of the ISI-approved trainers who lead Envision workshops to help other engineers earn their own ENV SP – an Envision Sustainability Professional credential.
“When this sustainability rating system came about and incorporated all those factors – the economic issues along with the social and environmental issues – I thought, ‘This is what I have been looking for. This is why I became a civil engineer.’”
The Envision credential requires a training session – either through seven online modules of about one hour each or one full-day in-person workshop – and then a requisite score on the exam. Kabbes has been teaching the in-person workshops for two years. She can’t impart all the secrets of sustainability in seven hours, but she hopes to inspire a new mindset in her attendees.
“I see the Envision rating system as providing a framework for a new way of approaching our profession,” Kabbes said. “When you start sharing how we practice through the lens of Envision, it suddenly starts opening all these new ideas in our practicing engineers, and they realize how many opportunities there are to develop better projects and be more competitive in the marketplace by simply approaching the project from a different perspective.”
Kabbes emphasizes that the Envision approach begins before the project starts. Sustainability considerations can alter not only how civil engineers work on projects but which projects civil engineers recommend to satisfy short and long term public needs.
“It’s a changing perspective on how we do our work,” Kabbes said. “It also puts us in a mind to take the leadership role in project development, being the leaders of sustainability teams where we incorporate folks from other disciplines to imagine and build better projects.”
The credential is especially attractive to students just beginning their careers.
“I’m trying to find new avenues for sustainability in construction,” said Dan Rasteiu, S.M.ASCE, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Envision looks like a really good opportunity for the future.”
Rasteiu attended the workshop Kabbes taught last fall in Portland, OR. He sat side by side with industry leaders, including Jim Gilliland, Ph.D., P.Eng., LEED AP, MCSCE, president of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, and Anthony Bartolomeo, P.E., F.ASCE, president and CEO of Pennoni.
It’s that mix of youth and experience that makes the Envision workshops so fulfilling for Kabbes.
“I became a civil engineer because I want to help people,” Kabbes said. “We’re a people-serving profession.”