January 19, 2009
Transit Professionals Make a Commitment to Sustainability
By Rich Weaver
APTA Senior Program Manager-Planning and Programs
January 2009 marks the launch of the one-year pilot phase of APTA’s Sustainability Commitment.
The concept of sustainability comes from an understanding of the significant social and environmental impacts from human activities imposing economic, ecological, and social costs on communities. The public transportation industry is increasingly aware of sustainability, recognizing its importance to the future well-being of all communities. Its challenge lies in minimizing these costs while offering strong transportation benefits.
“Increasing public and political attention is being paid to the role of transportation in addressing climate change and energy security issues, while also improving the livability of our communities,” said Fred Hansen, chair of the APTA Sustainability Task Force. “For this reason, it is particularly important to have a large majority of APTA members sign on to this commitment if we are to credibly promote the sustainability credentials of the transit industry in the eyes of a new Congress and new administration, as well as the public at large.”
Across the U.S., public transportation systems and businesses are looking closely at their mission and incorporating sustainability practices into their planning, construction, and operations[h1]. And yet, transit is, in itself, a vital component of a sustainable community.
APTA Sustainability Commitment
Under Hansen’s leadership, APTA developed the Sustainability Commitment. Open to all APTA members—in both the public and private sectors—this is a commitment to a set of actions on sustainability.
“Working together through the APTA Sustainability Commitment, the public and private sectors can provide national leadership in promoting a greener future. This is an important opportunity for our industry to tangibly demonstrate our respect for the needs of future generations,” said Diana Mendes, chair of the APTA Policy and Planning Committee and senior vice president and director of strategic investments for AECOM Transportation.
Susannah Kerr Adler, vice president and manager-architecture and buildings resource center, Parsons Brinckerhoff, agreed: “APTA’s Sustainability Commitment is seen as a way to enable the promotion and development of an organization’s sustainable mindset. By creating an industry-wide definition, we can then establish a baseline that is understood by all, and encourage both public and private members to embrace a culture of sustainability that is meaningful to that particular organization.”
Why sustainability now?” asked Michael S. Townes, president/chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Transit in Hampton, VA, the first APTA member to sign up for the Sustainability Commitment. “For Hampton Roads Transit, acting sustainably is just good business. There may be some upfront investment costs but the return on investment is tremendous. Having our staff focus on the more efficient use of energy has already been well-repaid, for example.”
The pilot phase will allow APTA members to concentrate on refining elements of the commitment and testing base requirements and prerequisites to ensure appropriate measures for each level. Action items create quantifiable goals for short- and medium-term (one to three years) plans in operation, maintenance and capital, products and services, and in education and outreach. Reduction targets are set for key environmental, social, and economic indicators to meet the minimum requirements. Lastly, stretch goals are longer-term (four to six years) programmatic and process goals that challenge the organizations.
APTA has created a checklist of conforming processes and reduction targets to help members achieve one of five commitment levels. These include:
Entry: Committing to base principles, including making sustainability an organizational goal and inventorying such sustainability indicators as water usage, carbon emissions, energy use, and recycling levels, within one year of signing.
Bronze: Meeting Entry level requirements along with six action items including establishing “Green Teams” and energy efficiency targets for products and achieving reduction targets in sustainability indicators, such as waste or electricity use, of 2 percent over baseline within one year.
Silver: Meeting both Entry and Bronze level requirements, achieving a total of 18 action items, reduction targets of 5 percent over baseline, and three stretch goals, such as ensuring all new construction meets LEED-like principles within three years.
Gold: On top of achieving the first three goal levels, an additional 18 action items, reduction targets—reducing an organization’s carbon footprint in terms of emissions per passenger mile—of 10 percent over baseline and three additional stretch goals within three years.
Platinum: All 36 action items achieved plus six stretch goals. Platinum members will increase reduction targets, such as reducing water pollutant discharge and water use per vehicle mile, by a minimum of 20 percent over baseline and adding three more stretch goals within a maximum of six years.
For further information on the sustainability commitment, contact Rich Weaver at email@example.com or Petra Mollet at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.apta.com/research/sustainability.