Member spotlight: John Williams

We are excited to begin profiling some of our members so that we can share our brilliant network and create opportunities for members to connect and collaborate. This feature is on John Williams, CEO at Autocase. Thanks John for sharing your thoughts with us!

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is John Williams, I am CEO at Autocase and Board Chair for the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (the force behind the Envision Sustainability Rating System for Infrastructure).

Why did you take the ICSI Pledge?

I learned that decisions made around infrastructure projects could lead to lasting (spanning generations) positive or negative impacts to regional economies, the environment, and society. I want to do my part to set the stage for a future where my children and grandchildren will have access to the resources needed to live in a world where they will thrive. Sustainable infrastructure will provide life enhancing water, energy to power civilization, connectivity that enables commerce, and access to information that helps a diverse society share knowledge and collaborate to make life better. Climate-related threats present additional challenges to achieving a sustainable future.  ICSI and I, as a signature to the pledge, will be front and center in linking sustainability, resilience, and our responsibility to address climate change.

What is the relevance of sustainable and resilient infrastructure to your day-to-day role?

My life is dedicated to leaving the world better than I found it. My focus on sustainable and resilient infrastructure is connected to my passion, inherent gifts, and experience in project development. Infrastructure is the foundation for a healthy, happy, productive, and secure society. My days are consumed with understanding infrastructure costs and benefits, measuring them in terms people understand, and using that knowledge to make decisions that will result in maximum benefits and minimum negative impacts. I want to be a person known for giving more than I take, including the infrastructure projects I am associated with.

What contribution can you make to transformative change for our infrastructure systems?

Since 2007, my partners and I have focused on the use of economic analysis to measure the value associated with sustainable buildings and infrastructure. We created the Sustainable Return on Investment (SROI) Framework in 2007. SROI was the first objective means of measuring the value of “green.” Ten years ago, we created Autocase to focus on leveraging cloud-based computing to automate sophisticated economic and business case analysis. That capacity is now affordable and available for buildings and sites of all sizes and types. More infrastructure projects will be included in the future. Scores of infrastructure projects have benefitted from more than $100B in applied assessments that better informed design and investment decisions. Those assessments done in collaboration with the top AEC firms and asset owners around the world are evidence of the transformational nature of our work.

Give an example of something you consider to be best practice for sustainability or resilience? Or an example of something that must urgently change?

What needs to change is the role infrastructure plays in pushing vulnerable people away from the opportunities and resources they need to improve their lives. As for best practice, Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) should be a routine approach to determining who benefits and who loses because of infrastructure investments. I will go further to say that CBA should be a mandatory assessment used to address the allocation of resources in service to environmental justice and equity.

What has been your favorite sustainability or resilience project of the last year?

I was the Project Director for New York’s Empire State Development Corporation’s transformation of NYC’s Farley Post Office Building into Moynihan Train Hall. Moynihan dramatically expands the passenger capacity of NYC’s Penn Station for Amtrak service while expanding access to and from train platforms and making overdue improvements to passenger and operational resilience and safety.  Moynihan makes travel by train along the eastern seaboard more accessible, dependable, and pleasant. Thanks to Moynihan, current and future generations will have a better choice for long distance travel.

What sustainability and resilience guidance, tool, or standard are you most anticipating in the coming months?

LCCe (Life Cycle Cost effectiveness) will be at the center of federal guidelines for sustainable buildings and infrastructure. As federal funding finds its way to local infrastructure projects, there will be an expectation that investments of public resources be tested by a combination of Life Cycle Cost Analysis + Cost Benefit Analysis (value project externalities such as carbon) = LCCe. In the coming months, there will be more emphasis on making the case for investments in sustainable and resilient infrastructure. That is what our company does.

What leadership measures has your organization taken to promote sustainability and resilience/decarbonization/life cycle considerations/etc.?

Our company pioneered the use of comprehensive economic analysis to develop performance metrics and KPIs to assess the value of public costs and benefits associated with sustainable and resilient infrastructure. We provided leadership for lifecycle cost and economic assessment elements of the Envision, LEED, and RELi rating systems. We contributed to economic and lifecycle elements of the ASCE DRAFT Sustainable Infrastructure Standard. Autocase software democratizes economic analysis.

What are you looking forward to this year? Personally, or professionally?

This year will bring the realization that essential infrastructure is far more than bridges, highways, and treatment plants. It includes each of the elements that underpin an economy and productive society. We need broad access to information, quality childcare, education, healthcare, and elder care – all the requisite provisions that free up knowledge, skill, and physical capacity to grow, manufacture, invent, deliver, and acquire the goods and services we need to thrive. Essential infrastructure also includes the capacity to recover quickly from extreme events including redundancy, multi-purpose, and integrated systems that will lead us to create “antifragile” infrastructure that performs well while under stress and profitably during typical times.

What does this photo tell us about what matters to you?

This photo taken aboard our family boat, is a reminder that powerful engines, a state-of-the-art hull, the latest in radar and navigation technology are not enough to tame the seas of change. The most essential ingredients include sharp eyes on the horizon, and firm hands on the wheel to adjust our speed and course while managing the challenges posed by nature and time. Those are the jobs of infrastructure delivery professionals, to navigate hazards and changes en route to a sustainable, resilient, and climate-challenged world.


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