Implementing SEPTA's Sustainability Program

July 1, 2011

As SEPTA moves into the implementation phase of its Sustainability Program, the organization's well-established expertise in industry best management practices will serve as an important resource. SEPTA's versatile workforce will allow the organization to seamlessly incorporate emerging sustainability principles into strategic planning processes.

How are sustainability principles changing approaches to transit management? In many cases, traditional management approaches, which have emphasized consistency and narrow, near-term measures of efficiency, are being complemented - and in some cases replaced - with more forward-thinking management approaches that emphasize lifecycle analysis and broader, longer-term measures of regional impact. For SEPTA's part, a strong and versatile management team enables a seamless transition to this more progressive line of thinking, remaining at the vanguard of transit management practices as sustainability becomes a more central corporate objective.

Embracing Principles of Sustainability Management

One way that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is promoting more sustainable management approaches is by encouraging transit agencies to adopt Environmental Management Systems (EMS). EMS programs provide a centralized structure for managing environmental protection efforts, improving organizational efficiency and rule compliance by consolidating system-wide environmental programs and enabling interagency benchmarking.

The FTA supports agency adoption of EMS by offering periodic, competitive workshops that train agency managers on best practices in environmental management as established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) guidelines. SEPTA was selected to the 2011 workshop, an opportunity to leverage EMS as a way of formalizing sustainability management through a structured, measurable method for identifying and measuring its environmental impact in its transit facilities and buildings.

The anticipated outcomes of SEPTA's participation in the FTA EMS workshops will be a strategic management framework for:

  • Considering the actual and potential environmental aspects and impacts of its operations and activities at all project stages.
  • Setting EMS objectives and targets, and reviewing them periodically to enhance their EMS and environmental performance.
  • Establishing environmental procedures and programs that include: preventing pollution, conserving resources, and practicing sustainable development amidst continuing climate change.
  • Adhering to applicable environmental laws and regulations, in addition to their voluntary environmental commitments.
  • Exercising utmost diligence in order to minimize or, if possible, remove adverse environmental effects projects might have on employees, contractors, customers, communities where their projects are located, and on the global environment.
  • Documenting, implementing, and maintaining the EMS on an ongoing basis.
  • Conveying EMS and environmental policy to all CPM employees, to others working on their behalf, and to the public.
  • Sharing experience and expertise with stakeholder agencies and partner organizations.

Next week, we will provide an update on SEPTA's progress to-date in developing and implementing the EMS at its pilot location based on its first six months of FTA training.

Rethinking the ROI

Sustainability demands an evolution to the criteria by which investments are made. Traditional Return on Investment (ROI) calculations fall short of providing a comprehensive framework by which projects can be evaluated. The Sustainable ROI (SROI) model offers an alternative to determine the value of projects towards economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

Including externalities in a ROI is not a new concept at SEPTA. For example, SEPTA's decision to purchase 472 hybrid-electric buses beginning in 2002 was based on a triple bottom line understanding of transit's impacts across economic, social, and environmental lines. In this case, a strict financial ROI may yield a modest net loss over the lifetime of each hybrid vehicle, and yet the overwhelmingly positive social and environmental benefits of the hybrid-electric technology provided additional justification for the incremental investment. Redefining the ROI standards in this way gives SEPTA management the opportunity to standardize something that has already become practice, and to become a true leader among transit agencies in sustainable thinking.

Still, the incorporation of sustainable principles into ROI analysis must be grounded in financial reality. The funding challenges described in last week's journal article have strained SEPTA's capital budget and make it increasingly difficult to find financial resources for forward-thinking investments. Without long-term, inflation sensitive, dedicated and predictable funding, SEPTA's ability to pursue above-grade sustainability will be compromised.

Source: New York MTA

Internal Oversight & External Engagement

Internally, focused oversight is a crucial element of implementation. The scope of SEPTA's sustainability program spans every department, and oversight will be distributed appropriately. SEPTA's Sustainability Working Group will serve as a guide, acting as a liaison to departments as they complete their designated initiatives and monitoring SEPTA's overall progress toward programmatic goals.

Externally, SEPTA will publish an annual report that tracks its progress towards programmatic goals and initiatives. This annual report will ensure transparency and accountability to all stakeholders. Quantitative indicators will provide tangible evidence of SEPTA's progress, while anecdotal updates on specific initiatives will highlight the various ways in which the plan is impacting SEPTA's management and operations in more qualitative but equally important ways.

Conclusion & What's Next

SEPTA's Sustainability Program stands apart from other planning agendas in the breadth of its investigation into transit's region-building role. Through each of its twelve goals, the program considers SEPTA as a mover, an employer, a consumer, a producer, and a provider. Many who know the system can appreciate these often intangible benefits, SEP-TAINABLE offers a glimpse for everyone else to consider the true value of SEPTA in their own lives.

The program is in part internally focused, calling for waste reductions, process analyses, and capital investments. SEP-TAINABLE challenges SEPTA to streamline its own operations today so that it is prepared to take on a larger role in the region's development tomorrow.

But its lasting value will be determined by SEPTA's ability to communicate transit's value in Greater Philadelphia's transformation into a world-class region. It is now incumbent upon SEPTA and its stakeholders to join forces to see this plan through, to make real progress towards shared goals, and ensure the best days for SEPTA, and for the region, are still to come.

As we now move into the second half of 2011, this journal will transition into a series of articles highlighting early initiatives designed to move SEPTA's Sustainability Program from concept to reality. First up: SEPTA's efforts to develop and implement an Environmental Management System. This new management approach, described above, is designed to institutionalize sustainable principles and practices by creating a more formal and standardized structure around SEPTA's environmental performance. Next week, we'll describe the early stages of this EMS development process in greater detail.

Next Week: Developing SEPTA's Environmental Management System