Why Plan for Sustainability?

January 21, 2011

On January 27, the SEPTA Board formally adopted SEPTA's first-ever sustainability plan. The document, entitled SEP-TAINABLE: The Route to Regional Sustainability, represents SEPTA's comprehensive strategy and enduring commitment to become a more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable organization.

But why plan for sustainability? And why now?

In fact, at SEPTA we believe there has never been a better time to plan for sustainability. As the calendar turns to 2011, lingering economic uncertainty and accelerating environmental degradation continue to touch every corner of the world. Heighted concerns over financial stability, resource scarcity, and national security cloud hopes for recovery. Locally, persistent unemployment and funding shortages have created fiscal deficits that threaten critically important projects and programs, at SEPTA and elsewhere.

SEPTA cannot afford to wait for funding fixes or economic recovery. The economic, social, and environmental challenges facing SEPTA as an organization, and Greater Philadelphia as a region, are far too important to depend on external influences to determine our fate.

SEP-TAINABLE is our plan for shaping this destiny - for both SEPTA and Greater Philadelphia. The plan recognizes that by improving fiscal stability, developing a versatile workforce, and mitigating environmental impacts, SEPTA will help to catalyze regional economic growth, build livable communities, and promote environmental stewardship. It recognizes that by becoming more sustainable now, SEPTA will be prepared for - and indeed help to create - a more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future for the entire region.

The linkage between organizational and regional sustainability is nothing new to SEPTA, where maintaining economic vitality, embracing social responsibility, and preserving the environment has been core to its mission of providing "public transportation" services for more than four decades. It is, quite simply, central to everything we do. And the linkage is particularly strong in Greater Philadelphia, a region that grew up around its famed streetcars and railroad stations and for years has been enriched by a legacy of transit investments.

But the world has changed since those investments were first made. SEP-TAINABLE recognizes the reality that while Greater Philadelphia grew up around its transit system, it has mostly aged around highways. It recognizes the ways in which this has challenged SEPTA, which inherited its assets in an era of low energy prices and policies encouraging decentralized growth and sprawl that made public transit - and many of the communities it served - less competitive.

But it also recognizes that the world is now changing again. Increasing resource scarcity, societal changes, and 21st-century policy shifts have renewed an appreciation of transit's value in promoting economic prosperity, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. The system SEPTA inherited, once considered obsolete, is increasingly receiving due recognition as the backbone of future regional sustainability and enhanced quality of life for all.

SEP-TAINABLE is about taking advantage of this evolving dynamic - reinvigorating SEPTA's role as an economic, social, and environmental sustainability solution for the region. The weekly series of postings to follow will establish context for the plan, describe its 12 goals and targets, and detail how its specific initiatives will help to achieve them.

The series will also detail the many ways in which SEPTA's sustainability program is designed to support other interrelated planning efforts. Internally, SEP-TAINABLE supports the organization's broader strategic business planning objectives. Externally, SEP-TAINABLE recognizes that SEPTA is not alone in planning for sustainability, and at its heart embraces a mutual responsibility for collaboration on shared regional priorities. SEPTA has been, and will continue to be, an active participant in broader regional sustainability agendas and will use its own program to support stakeholder initiatives.

So: Why plan for sustainability? Because only proactive planning can ensure a sustainable future. Greater Philadelphia's transit assets shaped its original development, but its desired resurgence will require strategic partnerships and renewed reinvestment. For this reason, SEP-TAINABLE is, above all else, a call to action - for SEPTA to assume a leadership position in making Greater Philadelphia the most sustainable, mobile, and competitive region in America.

Next Week: Sustainability in a "Fast and Ever-Changing World"