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Environmental Expert Solves Clients’ Sustainability Challenges

By Rebecca Colone

April 28, 2021

Photo of Rikki Vela who is an Aviation Practice environmental specialist.

Rikki Vela’s passion for solving each client’s unique sustainability challenge is quickly recognized by anyone who works alongside her.

An Aviation Practice environmental specialist with experience across markets in areas like Envision, LEED and more, Rikki can quickly identify areas of improvement for each project.

Because of her dedication to the environment, surrounding communities and those she works with, Rikki always begins the planning process with the same principle of thought.

“We need to determine not only that we are doing the right project, but also that we’re doing the project right.”


Using Envision To Build the Future

One area of Rikki’s expertise lies in her knowledge of the Envision Rating system – a framework that encourages and rewards sustainable infrastructure design developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI).

“Unlike more occupant-focused sustainable accreditations like LEED and WELL, Envision can be applied to infrastructure like airfields, roadways, highways and more,” said Rikki. “Where other sustainable metrics can be limiting for infrastructure, Envision allows our clients across markets to build sustainably, too.”

Rikki seamlessly leverages her knowledge to determine the areas where clients can be rewarded for sustainable actions through the Envision Rating system.

Once verified, an overall score is applied to project submissions, recognizing them as Envision Verified, Envision Silver, Envision Gold or Envision Platinum.

“The unique aspect of Envision is that while it’s best to begin the design with Envision in mind, points can be awarded to projects retroactively as well,” said Rikki. “Clients can get points for things they may not immediately recognize as sustainable, like holding a public forum and taking thorough notes.”

Ultimately, Rikki works with each client to help create sustainable baselines and establish attainable goals.


Working Across Markets

Rikki has built a strong center of knowledge around sustainable design, and she credits that knowledge to the continuing opportunities to grow.

A flexible member of any team, Rikki has worked on projects for airports, municipalities, cities and buildings – taking new lessons from each experience.

“My exposure to different projects has equipped me with the ability to come up with creative solutions,” said Rikki. “Having so many experiences to pull from has given me a strong foundation.”

Navigating sustainability work necessitates an understanding of the different standards and requirements associated with different projects. While a corporate building may have minimum LEED targets, airports differ in what is required environmentally.

Rikki’s talent lies in her ability to see the sustainable planning process holistically, rather than taking an isolated approach.


Sustainability Becoming Key in Planning

In addition to her work with Envision, LEED, WELL and federal guidelines, Rikki integrates sustainable solutions within plans to address the industry’s rising challenges.

“I’ve been largely focused on helping airports become more resilient,” said Rikki. “With issues like climate change and the pandemic, it’s important we find ways for our airports to be more resilient to any disruptions in normal business.”

As a part of the Aviation Environmental Stewardship and Resiliency service group with roots in the master planning process, Rikki helps map out key targets based on in-depth client conversations, ensuring that sustainability is integrated within the process from the start whenever possible.

“Sustainability planning doesn’t have to be an appendix to a master plan,” said Rikki. “It can be done throughout the process, beginning in the visioning stage based off an airport’s initial sustainability goals.”

Rikki’s approach to sustainable planning comes from the philosophy that it should be a gradual, “baby step process” – not a complete overhaul.

“I work from start to finish with clients to look at what they’re already doing with that sustainability lens,” said Rikki. “Collaboration, education and designing around specific needs based on understanding creates a lot of value.”


The Growth of Sustainability – At RS&H and Beyond

Along with the quantifiable benefits of sustainable design, Rikki’s passion for sustainability also comes from knowing that this direction is simply the right thing to do.

As individuals expect more from their cities’ buildings and infrastructure, environmental sustainability will become a cornerstone of impactful design – and Rikki will play a role in driving it forward.

“We’re moving away from a culture of just ‘checking off a few boxes,’’ said Rikki. “Today, we’re moving toward a culture that prioritizes sustainability for the health and wellbeing of our communities.”

Learn more about how RS&H can enhance your projects with sustainable solutions.


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Topics: Our People, Aviation, Our Culture, Environmental, Buildings, News, Resiliency

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About the Author

Rebecca is a corporate communications specialist with a love for good stories – and RS&H is full of them.

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