Taking Credit

June 8, 2010

Greenroads is a tool that will change the roads we drive on.

Greenroads is a tool that will change the roads we drive on.

Created and developed by the collaborative effort of the University of Washington and industry partner CH2M HILL, the sustainability performance metric is gaining traction in the U.S. and around the world. Greenroads provides a simple way to implement and practice sustainable transportation system design and construction. The rating system provides an easy-to-use, concise checklist to let project teams, agencies, contractors and consultants demonstrate how well they actually measure up to green ideals for their roadway construction projects.

Doing some good
There are a number of rating systems available for roadway design and construction at varying levels of completion, thoroughness and applicability to roadway project types. However, many of these tools do not go beyond recognition of routine work or design practice. The Greenroads program seeks to recognize the projects that actually go beyond minimum compliance, with the ultimate goal of “doing good.” In the long run, everyone benefits from more sustainable choices made today.

Using a metric like Greenroads allows the introduction of sustainability to an industry where recognition for our contribution to quality of life goes heavily unnoticed. Like the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System by the U.S. Green Building Council, Greenroads offers the convenience of a checklist with open-ended flexibility for adding and recognizing innovation. While a single checklist for sustainability does have its limitations, for roadway systems there is currently no consensus on any one established metric. So how do we share what we are doing on a daily basis for sustainability to our clients or to the public?

Beneficial 16
Communicating sustainability to public stakeholders is easy using Greenroads. Greenroads offers a convenient list of more sustainable choices and practices that can be implemented on roadway projects. Each of these choices has been carefully researched and selected because of the amount of empirical or practical evidence showing that they are (1) viable and (2) have qualitatively or quantitatively measureable sustainability benefits. Greenroads has 16 distinct, measurable benefits, which act as common threads o tie the rating system together. These benefits can be understood as features or traits that are commonly considered to be more sustainable than not.

These benefits are:

  • Reduce raw materials use;
  • Reduce fossil energy use;
  • Reduce water use;
  • Reduce air emissions;
  • Reduce wastewater emissions;
  • Reduce soil/solid waste emissions;
  • Optimize habitat and land use;
  • Improve human health and safety ;
  • Improve access and mobility;
  • Improve business practice;
  • Increase life-cycle savings;
  • Increase life-cycle service;
  • Increase awareness;
  • Increase aesthetics;
  • Create new information; and
  • Create energy.

Each project requirement and voluntary credit is mapped to one or more of the 16 benefits above. This feature may be particularly helpful for agencies or project teams that have predefined sustainability goals, values or internal benchmarks to meet.

Cost friendly
A good place to start meeting these agency benchmarks is by looking at specific Greenroads practices that address a common critical issue: cost. One of the specific benefits of Greenroads is “increase life-cycle savings.” Nearly half (5 of 11) of the project requirements help reduce life-cycle costs through informing the decision-making process. Beyond that, project teams also can earn points to reduce life-cycle costs. Ten voluntary credits also can be used to reduce cost, worth a total of 32 points. This means that if all 10 credits are successfully implemented, a roadway project would earn the minimum project certification level of Greenroads Certified and result in substantially reduced life-cycle costs.

For example, designing for long-life or perpetual pavements can reduce life-cycle costs (Pavement Technologies Credit PT-1 Long-Life Pavement is worth 5 points). The cost savings in this design strategy have been well documented and show that costly future maintenance or rehabilitation could be avoided or significantly reduced. This cost savings also reduces fossil fuel use over the long term, which both reduces greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) and improves the durability of the pavement section.

Reduction friendly
Speaking of GHG, similar reductions can be realized by selectively attempting credits that address two other specific benefits identified by Greenroads: reduce air emissions and reduce fossil energy use. The table on p 31 lists credits that have a noted direct or indirect benefit associated with reducing GHG emissions. “Direct” means a clear reduction of fossil fuel use through transport distance reduction, mode change, fuel modification or other material substitution. An indirect classification means that a reduction in fossil fuel use (or use of other sources that generate GHG emissions) is likely to result if a particular practice is implemented though this reduction may not be easily quantifiable.

Seven project requirements help reduce GHG indirectly, while 21 voluntary credits directly (13 credits) or indirectly (8 credits) help reduce GHG. These voluntary credits total 69 points, enough to earn an Evergreen rating if successfully implemented. Furthermore, pursuit of many of these credits also would improve human health and the environment. This is because many of the Greenroads practices achieve multiple benefits. For example, switching to biofuel in place of diesel fuel on a construction site can have a great benefit for human health for workers and also direct GHG reductions.

Note that achieving GHG emissions reduction goals is both a technological and a regulatory challenge. It is currently difficult to forecast the magnitude of reductions that may actually result from using sustainability metrics like Greenroads. This is because Greenroads can capture both direct and indirect GHG reductions from initial roadway construction as well as future avoided maintenance processes. Also, there is no established baseline for what is a “reasonably achievable” GHG reduction level or amount for roadway projects in design and construction. GHG emissions reductions, like other large-scale and long-term agency goals, are likely to be most successfully and effectively achieved through multiple means. Greenroads is a tool that can contribute to this complex process.

Achievement friendly
A sustainable and effective transportation network of roads and bridges must approach current challenges from a broader perspective but with localized applications—one that encompasses environmental stewardship, quality of life and economic tradeoffs. However, sustainability is not rocket science. Ultimately, sustainability represents the successful balance of natural laws and human values, as well as the synergistic results of collaboration by individuals and organizations. This balance must be achieved practically and systematically in order to be meaningful, especially on a project level. Greenroads offers a unique way for stakeholder agencies, owners and the public to forward sustainability and to recognize the everyday efforts and innovative ideas of these individuals and organizations.

Many transportation agencies are well on their way toward setting sustainability goals. So, the next step, really, is raising the standards of practice to incorporate more sustainable design and construction practices. The time is ripe for change. So, how does your roadway project measure up?

You can find more information about Greenroads, including useful tools like the Greenroads Manual and resources, at www.greenroads.us.

About The Author: Anderson is with the University of Washington’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Department.

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