APTA | Passenger Transport
August 3, 2009

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» SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES
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SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES

Corporate Sustainability: How Green Is My Venture?
BY DIANA C. MENDES, Senior Vice President, AECOM Transportation, and Chair, APTA Policy and Planning Committee

“I never worry about action, but only about inaction,” reflected Winston Churchill as the Second World War loomed. If applied to our own impending climate change crisis, Churchill’s words would be as prescient today as they were in London in the 1930s.

No silver bullet can resolve this situation; if one existed, we’d use it. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. So, we must act.

Addressing climate change is complex, personal, and occasionally even uncomfortable. Sometimes it can also be very simple: a small act can mean a lot.

For larger entities such as corporations, though, the matter has an added dimension. Corporations, like society as a whole, must raise awareness and change their own culture to effect change within and around them. They must provide global strategic focus along with ultimately practical actions. And that’s where we’ve focused our efforts.

“We’re working to make sure that sustainability is more than just a buzzword,” explained Richard Wolsfeld, president of AECOM’s Transportation Group. “Sustainability is an essential component of our business, one that we, as much as possible, build into our projects—from the Second Avenue Subway in New York City, to Terminal A at Logan International Airport in Boston, to Central Corridor Light Rail Transit in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“Just this month,” he continued, “the staff at 605 Third Ave. [AECOM’s New York City office] earned ISO 14001 certification—an accreditation given to businesses that measure and successfully reduce the impacts of their actions on the environment. During the year-long accreditation effort, the 605 staff learned how little changes such as recycling, turning off unused computers and copiers, and switching from disposable cups to mugs could come up big in terms of preserving the environment,” Wolsfeld added: “This accreditation is the first major step in our goal to attain ISO certification in ATG’s offices nationwide—and the first step in a transformation that will reshape the way we think about and use our resources.”

These efforts are being emulated throughout AECOM. One question that often arises is: why formalize the process through certification? Why not simply make sustainability the official policy and call it a day?

Well, as I mentioned previously, much of the issue involves raising awareness and changing culture. Formal, impartial certifications provide great incentives and advantages in that regard. Not only do they promote a sense of camaraderie and pride, certifications provide tangible goals and benchmarks for progress. A great example is the APTA Sustainability Commitment program.

Calling on APTA members to “commit to a set of actions on sustainability,” the APTA Sustainability Commitment program provides a “checklist of processes to conform to and reduction targets to meet the criteria of sustainability.” Taking that commitment most seriously, AECOM Transportation has applied voluntarily as a founding signatory for Silver status for the 2009 pilot program. To achieve silver status, we have formally committed to the following:

* Making sustainability a part of our organization’s strategic objectives;
* Identifying a sustainability champion within our organization, and providing the necessary human and financial resources and mandates;
* Establishing an outreach program (awareness-raising and education) on sustainability for all staff; and
* Establishing a baseline measurement for several key indicators, particularly the following:
   o Water usage;
   o Carbon emissions;
   o Energy use (electricity, fuel); and
   o Recycling levels/waste.

If one theme resonates through all of these efforts, it is commitment from leadership. Few global efforts work without dynamic, active leadership; action combined with commitment from the top ensures success. In that regard, we have been most fortunate. We are seeing vigorous and comprehensive support from the top of the organization.

As a result, AECOM now adheres to a set of principles to serve current needs and accommodate future demand while carefully balancing existing and projected social, economic, and environmental considerations. Also, we enthusiastically and aggressively incorporate green technologies wherever practicable and effective. That is all a direct result of commitment from our leadership to make this ideal a living, guiding, working principle. Now this ideal infuses everything we do on a project level, a professional level, and even a personal level.

It’s true that no silver bullet exists for the environmental crisis we face, so we must act. When Churchill made his comment on action and inaction in the 1930s, England and the world could not afford inaction. Similarly, when it comes to dealing with the current environmental crisis and climate change, we can’t afford inaction today.

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