Social Sustainability Assessment Tool Case Study: Humanitarian Engineering

Social Sustainability Assessment Tool Case Study: Humanitarian Engineering

Guest post by Diana Kapanzhi, Parker Capps, and Cristiane Surbeck

One assessment tool is working to bridge the gap between sustainable infrastructure and community culture.

EnvisionTM, a rating system developed by the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure, looks at infrastructure projects and evaluates their sustainability on many aspects, including the culture of the community they are built in. It takes into consideration what a community needs, how to solve those needs, as well as how the community itself can sustain the solutions to those needs. The entire life cycle of a project is studied, so that once the engineers have completed a project and left, the community will likely be able to provide the upkeep necessary. EnvisionTM assesses and awards credits on projects based on five categories: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk.


The two social subcategories of this rating system are Quality of Life and Leadership. These two categories really take into account how a community responds to a project and how they interact with the engineers during the life of a project. Quality of Life has three rating components that address a project’s impact on the community: purpose, community, and wellbeing. Leadership also has three rating components that address the communication and life of the community and the project: collaboration, management, and planning.

An example of EnvisionTM evaluating these two social subcategories in a community project is in the Hedome village of the Vogan region in Togo, West Africa. The University of Mississippi chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UM) has been fostering a relationship with this community for several years and a project was initiated in 2012. The goal was to help the village with all aspects of constructing a school building for the children in Hedome and surrounding communities. EWB-UM finished construction on three classrooms of the school building in 2014, closely following EWB-USA guidelines on sustainability, which are well aligned with EnvisionTM.

Under the EnvisionTM Quality of Life section, the first assessment credit (QL1.1) is Improve Community Quality of Life. Its three questions are designed to make sure that the project team has worked with the community to address their issues. For the Togo project, only two of the three questions were applicable and both were answered with a yes. Yes, the community’s needs were being addressed and yes, the project received broad community endorsement. This ensures that the project is accepted and that the community is involved in all aspects of the project.


 Under the Leadership section, credit LD1.4 addresses the need for stakeholder (community) involvement. It is vital that the project team builds a solid relationship with the community and that the community feels that is, indeed, their project. For the Hedome project, all assessment questions were answered with a yes. The team has kept an open and ongoing line of communication with the village, ensuring continued involvement. Credit LD3.3, Extend Useful Life, is given for projects that are built in a durable and resilient manner. The school building was designed according to the United States building requirements. Its simple design also ensures easy repair in the future.

As seen from a few of these assessment questions, the EWB-UM Togo project has been carefully considering social sustainability in an infrastructure project. Without the support and pride of the community, any work would not be long lasting. It is in addressing the way a community responds to infrastructure projects that ensures its sustainability. Moreover, EWB-USA headquarters has issued project guidelines for many years that align directly with social sustainability.