Transit agencies increasingly want third-party validation of their sustainability efforts. They understand that to make improvements, they need to measure what they’re doing. And, that takes special skills and a trained eye.
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But, finding just the right fit between an agency and an outside advisor/auditor can be challenge. When it comes to being green, major civil engineering projects have unique qualities that make reviews using building-centric rating systems difficult.
In some states, transit agencies don’t have a choice when it comes to accreditation. In California, all transit construction must follow CalGreen, which is part of the state building code. In many ways, it’s similar to LEED but reviewed by local code officials instead of the United States Green Building Council.
Some California agencies go even further. At Sellen Sustainability, we’re helping a large Southern California transit agency evaluate whether its bus and rail maintenance bases can achieve LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification.
While LEED works for some agencies, it has limitations. For example, LEED sets out “minimum program requirements,” such as the building, must be occupied. If an agency is building an unmanned rail station, that can be a problem. Transit facilities are often large and multi-use, and don’t always fit with LEED guidelines for a project campus.
Another rating system has emerged for large projects. Envision, a joint collaboration between the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at Harvard University and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, provides guidance and a rating system to improve sustainability of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects.
So far, there’s a lot of interest in Envision, but it’s new and no project has been fully certified.
Construction of the Denver International Airport rail station. Photo courtesy Denver RTD.
A third path for transit agencies is the tailor-made approach. Sellen Sustainability serves as a consultant to Eagle P3
, a $2.1 billion public-private commuter rail project for the Denver Regional Transportation District
and designed, built and operated by Denver Transit Partners.
Although we are not an independent third party, we work very closely with the Eagle P3’s design, construction and operations teams to set goals, devise policy, assist with data collection and provide timely feedback on sustainability performance. The consulting provides a custom dataset that informs decisions on efficient operations and long-term investments.
For example, we measure fuel usage — gas, diesel, natural gas and electricity. When we noticed big diesel bills, we helped institute a new “no idling” policy for drivers. Now, stickers in every truck window remind people behind the wheel to turn off the engine when not needed. We measure water usage, and the team found ways that non-potable water could be transported off-site to a nearby manufacturer who needed dust suppression.
And, we track the project’s employment of disadvantaged and small business enterprises (MBE and DBE) to verify that public dollars are re-invested back into the community and to build the skills, experience and capacity for these firms.
Every year, we help produce a Sustainability Report that details efforts in project management, design, procurement, construction, and operations and maintenance. The 2012 report noted that we were able to procure 61% of the project materials from the region, investing in nearby businesses while greatly reducing the embodied energy and emissions impact from shipping materials to the jobsite — an impressive metric for any construction project.
Large transit projects are public projects, and within every agency, there is a relentless focus on making sure taxpayers get the most bang for the buck. As such, there are always voices who suggest that sustainability and community-reinvestment doesn’t build another foot of rail or shave years from decades-long projects.
But, sustainability efforts pay for themselves both in real dollars and political capital. In the end, the net benefit to the community creates a solid foundation for future work.
It’s all about testing, measuring, and getting results.
About the Author:
David Walsh is a project manager with Sellen Sustainability. A LEED-accredited architect with experience with both design and construction, Walsh is a longtime sustainability advocate who helps clients meet their sustainability goals and develop sustainability plans.
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Rating systems have become the currency of sustainability. The right sustainability ratings system provides an important third-party verification of your agency’s commitment to creating facilities that reduce carbon emissions, save water, create healthier work environments for your employees and have a positive impact on the communities they serve.
Everyone needs to take a mental and physical break at some point in the workday, whether they’ve been concentrating on a computer screen, the road, or the underside of a bus, truck or train car. The tricky part for transit agencies is that each of these activities takes place in different surroundings, lighting conditions, room temperature and noise levels. With that in mind, consider the following factors in your facility design.
Shifts are long and varying, and facilities are often inadequate for transit employees to truly recharge and stay sharp on the job. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The quality of the environment within facilities can be designed to support shift workers and those with jobs that don’t follow traditional 9-to-5 schedules. Two key elements that can be utilized to support vehicle operator health; creating spaces with adaptability for varied activities and quality lighting that supports the adaptability of the space.
Most transit facilities have a break room for operators to use between shifts — typically an artificially lit space with a TV, vending machines, and cafeteria-style tables and chairs. The trouble is, every person has a different way of relaxing. Besides exposure to daylight and nature, key components of wellbeing are social cohesion and a sense of empowerment. The key here then is to empower employees to choose the best way to relieve their own stress around shifts.
A health and wellness revolution is underway in America. Concurrently, there is a growing public health initiative to promote safer, more accessible recreation facilities and active transit options. Transit agencies are uniquely positioned in the overlap of these two movements. By promoting health and well-being, agencies have an opportunity to show leadership and innovation in a truly holistic approach to total worker health, while benefiting workforce productivity and happiness.