WASHINGTON -- When an agency that focuses primarily on developing large infrastructure projects, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does, wins an award for sustainability, that is a meaningful achievement.

That's how Dr. Todd Bridges, national lead for the Corps' Engineering With Nature initiative, felt when he received a phone call on July 30, 2019, from Stephen Yaeger, program manager with the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation, telling Bridges that the EWN initiative had won the RNRF's 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award.

"I think it's a great honor," Bridges said. "It stands out in the respect that an outside, non-government body is drawing attention to the Corps' commitment and progress in leveraging nature and natural resources to develop better infrastructure projects."

The EWN initiative was nominated for the award by the Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute (COPRI) Coastal Zone Management Committee, an institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers. "The award selection process involves review by an award jury panel made up of a subset of RNRF's Board of Directors," Yaeger said.

The RNRF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public policy research organization comprised of scientific, professional and educational groups. Its seven member organizations include the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Water Resources Association, the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the American Meteorological Association and the Geological Society of America. "These groups have significant stature in the U.S. as professional organizations," Bridges said. "The Corps engages these technical societies. These people are our technical community; it's just fantastic."

"This recognition helps promote communication with stakeholders both inside and outside the Corps; it promotes our credibility and helps us establish trust with our partners and stakeholders," Bridges said. "It yields practical dividends by extending our ability to reach out to others. It opens avenues of communication and partnership with others."

Bridges said that this is important because there are people and organizations with whom we want to collaborate to develop new solutions and future engineering practices.

"I think it's notable at this stage in our efforts that Engineering With Nature wasn't started by a piece of legislation, a policy or a directive ⸺ it started with an idea and a few people who saw merit in the idea," he said. "From that beginning, the Engineering With Nature team has grown to include talented professionals across the Corps and many other organizations committed to delivering projects that bring engineering, infrastructure and nature together. People are attracted to the concept of delivering a broader array of benefits and functions."

Bridges said that next year is the 10th anniversary for the initiative, and that there is a lifecycle for this kind of undertaking. "We've been at this for a while," he said. "For the first couple years of a new initiative you're almost invisible, and you just have to stick with it and press forward. Then you gain speed and momentum; you gain visibility, and acknowledgements as you achieve ⸺ first within your own organization, then with your close partners and stakeholders, and then with others."

Bridges said the fall 2018 publication of "Engineering With Nature: an Atlas," a book that showcases 56 EWN projects from around the world, including 26 Corps projects, helped bring recognition to the initiative. "The Atlas has been a phenomenal communication tool, and it played a role in the nomination for this award. It invited people to think in a substantive way about EWN and about the Corps in general.

"I've talked with a lot of people from other organizations about EWN over the last 10 years. One common pattern of response I've observed when people hear about what we're doing with EWN is that they express pleasant surprise, then curiosity, followed by enthusiasm for the fact that the Corps is leading this initiative.

"I frequently point out that the Corps has great project examples, going back decades, of what today we call EWN. Our goal is to make these exceptional projects of the past more commonplace in the future."

The formal award presentation will take place at Rockwood Manor in Potomac, Maryland, on November 12 with the RNRF Board of Directors.