Sustainable Infrastructure Committee

Sustainable infrastructure enhances the long term economic, social, and environmental outcomes of development and infrastructure within the greater West Houston Association region. The committee’s mission is to advocate for the use of sustainable infrastructure concepts through the education of members and stakeholders and recognition of projects and practices.

Prior development in our area used traditional approaches to design and implement infrastructure that was functional and relevant, improving the quality of life in West Houston. Population growth, increasing resource constraints, aging and failing infrastructure, and environmental and climatic changes pose new challenges for the Greater West Houston region. Infrastructure designers and owners must now innovate to construct projects that provide better economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

The traditional infrastructure development paradigm will shift as planners, designers, and project sponsors partner with elected officials and other policy-makers to create and implement new policies and strategies to promote a network of sustainable, resilient infrastructure in the region.

Why Sustainable Infrastructure is Important in West Houston

Here are reasons why sustainable infrastructure is important to West Houston and the West Houston Association.

The committee created the Sustainability Stars Award to recognize and encourage sustainable practices while also serving as a means to gather insights and reliable information on the value provided by sustainable infrastructure and development practices.

Project sponsors generally seek a low level of risk and occasionally try new planning and design approaches.

Public Education & Outreach. Organizations, like West Houston Association (WHA), should work with project sponsors on sustainable planning and design approaches. Programming and awards that celebrate and recognize early success will increase knowledge and the region’s willingness to try new things.

Many existing public and private infrastructure projects are nearing the end of, or in many cases exceeding, their design lives impairing the levels of service, quality of life, and economic performance of the region.

Asset Management & Life Cycle Considerations. Project owners must quickly adopt asset management programs that facilitate preventative and predictive maintenance and rehabilitation that extend the life of existing infrastructure. Going forward, public and private project owners should build more adaptable, resilient, and sustainable infrastructure, which lasts longer and performs better throughout its life cycle.

There are finite fundamental resources, such as water, energy, and land. Across the United States, the price of water is rising faster than any other commodity. Contiguous greenfield development is becoming costlier in Greater West Houston.

Conservation & Reuse. Conservation, innovation, and thoughtful design must be built into developments throughout our region. Redeveloping brownfields and buildings at the end of their useful life will be a critical and potentially lucrative strategy in coping with demand for residential and commercial development in Greater West Houston. Innovative design and use (and re-use) of materials can reduce costs and harm to the environment, making conservation business as usual.

Current approaches to funding infrastructure are practiced with limited initial capital cost, delayed maintenance, and costly replacements.

Triple-Bottom Line. Putting more thought into infrastructure procurement may increase initial costs but provide considerable saving and returns over life-cycles. Project sponsors, especially in the public sector, should evaluate projects using a present value analysis over the entire project lifespan. Project decisions should consider internal and external social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits (the Triple Bottom Line).

Prescriptive requirements often frustrate planning, design creativity, project delivery, and taxable values. Some current legal and regulatory mandates constrain and prohibit sustainable infrastructure. An example is natural drainage stormwater improvements, which face difficulty obtaining bond reimbursement approval from the TCEQ because of unclear language in the Texas Water Code. Another example is the City of Houston’s stormwater fee, which is determined using solely impermeable cover as opposed to post-development run-off volumes.

Improve Standards & Policy. Permitting authorities should use continuous improvement to update and enhance codes and standards that allow for reasonable flexibility and innovation. Correctly implemented, performance-based standards instead of prescriptive regulations lead to improved project delivery, life-cycles, perceptions of regulators, and tax revenue. The Texas Water Code should be clearer. The City of Houston could impose a detention requirement using a more nuanced approach that considers the pre- and post-development runoff flows and volumes. This would serve to encourage the use of natural drainage systems.

Vice Chair

Natalie Chaney RPS Group

Sustainable Infrastructure Committee Video

Sustainable infrastructure enhances the long term economic, social, and environmental outcomes of development and infrastructure within the greater West Hous…