Sustainability Programs: A Triple (Bottom Line) Threat

Posted on February 12, 2013 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

Implementing sustainability plans not only allows transit authorities to demonstrate their commitment to being socially and environmentally responsible; adhering to these programs can also help agencies reap financial benefits. In other words, being green can save green — dollars, that is.

This is the third year of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) formal Sustainability Program and its pursuit of a "triple bottom-line" strategy: becoming environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

Adopted by SEPTA’s board in 2011 and put into action in 2012, the agency’s Sustainability Program uses innovative strategies to capture wasted resources and put them back into productive use to add environmental, social and economic value. SEPTA’s recently released Sustainability Annual Report demonstrates how a variety of previously untapped assets are making a difference in the agency’s daily operations.

For example, by instituting a single-stream, source separated recycling program at all of its employee locations, passenger stations on the Broad Street, Market-Frankford and Trolley Lines and its downtown Philadelphia and Philadelphia International Airport Line Regional Rail Stations, SEPTA has projected an average cost reduction of 17% (more than $100,000) per year. Before recycling, the agency paid more than $800,000 per year for trash disposal services.

Under the new hauling contract, SEPTA’s projected cost of each ton of trash and recycling disposed is $107 and $2, respectively, due to lower transportation costs and rebates for the cardboard, paper, plastic, aluminum and glass. For this reason, the price of the new five-year hauling contract is almost the same as the previous three-year hauling contract.

Essentially, SEPTA received two years of complimentary hauling services by implementing its comprehensive program.

SEPTA captures, stores  and reuses braking trains’ energy.
SEPTA captures, stores  and reuses braking trains’ energy.

In addition to recycling tangible commodities like cardboard, paper and aluminum, SEPTA is also recycling energy created by braking trains. On the Broad Street (subway) Line, propulsion control boxes reduced energy consumption by more than 8 million kilowatt hours in 2011 — a savings of more than $700,000 per year at the agency’s current price for electricity.

On the Market-Frankford (subway-elevated) Line, increased voltage levels associated with regenerative braking, coupled with SEPTA’s wayside energy storage project, saved $250,000 in its first year. The two grant-funded wayside energy storage devices the agency is currently installing on the line could result in up to $440,000 in new economic value by capturing and reusing regenerated energy from braking trains. These initiatives will save SEPTA millions of dollars each year in ongoing operating costs.

With its buses, SEPTA is replacing the traditional mechanically-driven engine cooling function with an electronically-driven system to improve its fuel economy. Two pilot units had an 8% to 10% fuel saving.
With its buses, SEPTA is replacing the traditional mechanically-driven engine cooling function with an electronically-driven system to improve its fuel economy. Two pilot units had an 8% to 10% fuel saving.

With its buses, SEPTA is replacing the traditional mechanically-driven engine cooling function with an electronically-driven system to improve its fuel economy. Two pilot units had an 8% to 10% fuel savings (approximately $3,000 in annual fuel savings per bus at $3.00 per gallon).

All of the agency’s new buses will be equipped with electric engine cooling upon arrival and SEPTA is now seeking grant funding to retrofit its existing fleet vehicles.

As a result of its diligence, four of SEPTA’s 12 sustainability performance targets have already achieved the triple-bottom-line focuses. The program is not rigid — its progress is re-evaluated continually and adjustments are made to ensure further success. After two years, the Sustainability Program has demonstrated that opportunities still exist to advance projects that add value to SEPTA and its region.

With the current shortfall in federal, state and local funding, any time transit agencies can make their dollars stretch while demonstrating good citizenship is a bonus.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "'SEPTA beefs up its social assets" here.

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