Envision’s ability to capture the interlocking benefits and trade-offs of infrastructure improvement options, clearly and compellingly, is one of its key strengths. By setting a common language and metrics, the framework is valuable in stakeholder decision-making, as practical experience—and now research—is demonstrating.
One example is a new study looking at how aiding the public to construct preferences may help increase their willingness to support green stormwater infrastructure (e.g., incorporating elements like bioswales, rain gardens, and permeable pavements) over conventional stormwater infrastructure.
Mo Hu, an assistant professor in the department of construction science, Texas A&M School of Architecture and her co-author conducted a national survey with 946 participants in the U.S. Their views were sought on two stormwater management options: one using traditional pipes and pumps and another using natural systems.
Half of the participants were encouraged to think about sustainable design before making a decision, based on a prompt developed using questions from Envision. This group was presented with five Envision credits that were applicable to the case study, as well as an Envision stormwater project example (Buffalo’s Willert Park Green Infrastructure Project), as a guide.
Helping to shape preferences
Among the findings: those who were encouraged to think about the advantages of sustainable design rated the green infrastructure option as significantly more beneficial, and were more likely to recommend it. (When the participants in this experiment were engineers, in a 2022 study by the researchers, the results were similar).
The latest finding is noteworthy, because decision-makers with little prior knowledge or experience tend to construct preferences as they evaluate options, write the authors. Other impediments can also arise. In one study, Krisha Dhakal and Lizette Chevalier showed that people tend to fixate on the traditional functions of stormwater runoff reduction, which can lead to a more pro-traditional mindset.
Professor Hu and Professor Tripp Shealy from Virginia Tech, write that their findings help illustrate how “interventions to this preference construction process for the public can help encourage them to adopt more green infrastructure design.”
[Note: The authors, who are not affiliated with ISI, published the study in J. Env. Psych, June 2023]
On a wide variety of infrastructure projects, the Envision framework is providing a consensus-based system and a common language around sustainable design objectives, and similarly with this study, considering sustainable design earlier encourages support for sustainable infrastructure by offering an attractive, well-articulated justification for decision-makers.
In this study, simply asking the public to consider how each option contributes to achieving predefined sustainability goals prior to making other judgements about cost, risk, or benefits “significantly increases their preference for the more sustainable design option.”