A new web-based evaluation tool works via a plug-in available to Autodesks infrastructure design tools. It automates calculation of a proposed projects net present value based on its likely social, environmental and financial impacts.

A cancer diagnosis changes your life, says John Williams, chairman and CEO, Impact Infrastructure. When Williams learned he had the disease, he retired from his role as principal owner of an architecture and engineering firm on his 25th anniversary with the company.

He then chose a new quest: Supporting the industry's growing commitment to the creation of a sustainable built environment. The result is AutoCASE, a low-cost, web-based analysis tool, launched on Jan. 14, that automates the traditionally expensive process of analyzing a proposed project's social, environmental and financial impacts—known as triple-bottom-line analysis. Making TBL analysis affordable for smaller firms should help them compete for the grants that often are available for sustainable infrastructure projects, Williams says.

"Everyone says social and environmental benefits can't be factored, but they know the benefits are there," says Williams. "We actually can calculate them this way."

As a cloud-based plug-in for the Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite, AutoCASE lets users bring TBL analysis to AutoCAD Civil 3D building information models and continue sustainable planning through the design phase.

Williams says the first module released is only for stormwater projects, but he plans to release new modules for highways, buildings and other types of infrastructure as they are developed.

"This type of cost-benefit analysis is the gold standard and has been for years," says Williams. And TBL analysis is becoming increasingly necessary to win hyper-competitive, grant-supported infrastructure work. But at $50,000 to $150,000 per project, traditional TBL analysis usually can be afforded only by large firms on a per-project basis; however, Williams says, "Once it's done and the government nods its head, the study is never used again."

Typically, once grants are awarded, projects move to the planning and design phases, and the outcome ends up having little to do with the original cost-benefit analysis, he says.

Now, by automating TBL calculations through a Civil 3D plug-in, AutoCASE makes it possible to continue analyzing as the project evolves.

Several data sources are used in the calculations, but a key one comprises the 60 sustainability criteria used by Envision, a sustainable-infrastructure rating system managed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure.

"The one thing Envision really needed was an analytic tool to quantify its criteria," says Martin Janowitz, vice president, sustainable development, Stantec Inc., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Janowitz has tested AutoCASE on a number of projects, including a Tucson, Ariz., storm- water infrastructure project. He is looking for more projects to use it on, he says.