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Harper Corporation, Envision, and the Greening of Infrastructure


Solar panels cover the roof of the Harper Corporation building. The company provides an electric car charging station, and there are seven LEED Accredited Professionals on staff. The company’s headquarters are located in –wait for it– Greenville. Is there a theme here? Possibly we needn’t add that sustainability is one of Harper Corporation’s missions. This 65 year-old company has the environmental mojo of a 20-something activist.

 “When we look at a project, one of the things we do look at is how it's going to impact the community or neighborhood overall,” says Anne-Marie Moehring of Harper Corporation’s Environmental Systems Division. “Part of that evaluation is sustainability. Most of our projects are within 50 to 100 miles of our offices, so we have a vested interest in making sure that the community we work, live, and play in sees the benefit of what we do.”

 In fact, Ms. Moehring recently earned her Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) credential, making her one of the first such credentialed professionals in South Carolina, and Harper Corporation’s clients the lucky recipients of her expertise. The credential is earned through the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure

What exactly is Envision certification? Is it similar to LEED?

“Sustainability is part of the culture of Harper Corporation,” Moehring emphasizes. “Envision  certification is similar to LEED in that it looks at the project's impact on a community from anenvironmental standpoint.”

 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the internationally accepted green building rating system established in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The Envision certification, administered by the nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure was created in 2008, in collaboration with the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. 

While LEED is the widely accepted rating system for Green buildings (“…from homes to corporate headquarters,” as the LEED site states), Envision concerns itself with the systems that underpin our built environment. 

 “Envision is different from LEED in that it's specifically geared toward infrastructure projects. Water treatment, wastewater treatment, highways, roads, parks, bridges; these would all lend themselves to the Envision rating system. Also, LEED has a checklist; if you add a bike rack, you get a point. If you install this kind of lighting, you get a point,” Moehring says.

 “Envision is a little more holistic, a little bit more subjective in its evaluations. You submit a proposal after you finish the design of a project, and you basically outline how you meet Envision's categories. So, they look at community. They look at nature. They look at lifecycle.”

 According to their website, Envision examines an infrastructure project through a prism of five criteria: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk. These criteria can be considered during the earliest planning stages of a project to look at infrastructure sustainability options for that project.

 When a project completes, Envision provides a basis for a project sustainability evaluation, helping stakeholders understand exactly how and why the project succeeded according to the Envision benchmarks. The hope is that, over time, these sustainability considerations become native to the process of designing and upgrading our infrastructure.

“Effectively, my role is to look at a project and how it benefits Harper and benefits the engineers we work with. I'll sit down with either Harper staff if we're trying to win a project, or with the engineer and the owner, and basically evaluate the project’s viability for Envision certification.”

 But there is more to applying the Envision model than just evaluating sustainability, says Moehring.

 “Does the project benefit the quality of life for the community? Did the project conversation involve, or how can we involve, leaders in the community?” she says. “So Envision is also about making sure that the project fits the overall needs of the community.”

 At 65 years young, Greenville, South Carolina’s Harper Corporation is part of a new vanguard of designers and builders who are reframing infrastructure as a Green pursuit. Anne-Marie Moehring, one of South Carolina’s few certificated Environmental Sustainability Professionals, is helping to lead that charge. As these new green measures continue to change the industry, some projects will meet the defined sustainability threshold and others won’t. And that’s just part of the evolution of the sector, Moehring says.

“Envision is not meant to be for every single project. It's meant to be a guideline for how to build a sustainable project. That's my role in it. To look at a project and ask, ‘Is this an appropriate candidate, and if so, how do we achieve sustainability?’”