Finding the Business Case for Sustainability

Aug. 4, 2011
Sustainable practices in the office and on the shop floor are providing measurable benefits to transit agencies and business partners for the industry.

Sustainable Business Practices and Sustainable Organizations, a session moderated by Jeff Wharton, president of IMPulse NC LLC, at the American Public Transportation Association's Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop looked at four different approaches to sustainability.

Danielle Willis, the planning team leader/sustainability coordinator for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) , talked about leveraging sustainability through employee engagement for a competitive future.

Initially they looked at defining sustainable operations. Employee/stakeholder engagement usually comes afterward, Willis said, GCRTA wanted employees to be the initial priority to ensure buy in to what would be accomplished.

For the policies and procedures, it was important that there were no mandates; it was to be a voluntary initiative. When translating objectives to employees, words like mandate, adherence and responsibility were removed and were replaced with ever green environment and sustainable options.

A culture change was established and a sustainable work process was developed. And at the center of everything they did were the employees, the stakeholders. Willis said, "When we talk about stakeholders and engagement, engagement drives sustainability and sustainability drives engagement."

To get buy in from the top, General Manager Joseph Calabrese's team was each given gift bags of organic products with the note, "Have some treats/tea on me while you digest sustainability." And of course everything in the bag was made from recycled materials and all contents were compostable or recyclable. Also inside was a review summary of a sustainable and environmental commitment work plan, proposed goals, and an employee commitment pledge they were asked to sign.

At the beginning, two volunteers were selected to serve as green team ambassadors. Currently they have 42.

The areas of focus developed were to:

Prioritize sustainable objectives that were important to employees

Create an educational and learning environment

Build momentum for each performance indicator

Allow employees to influence strategies and goals

Create innovative methods to keep employees engaged

The program was kick-started by objectives based on employee-suggested activities. And, people that composted or recycled at home were used as leaders, sharing their knowledge and their enthusiasm. Willis talked about the monthly workshops and facility challenges GCRTA has to keep the momentum going. Posters throughout also help with buy in by providing educational information on the benefits, one of my favorites being an image of ice cubes with water splashing on it and the tagline "It's better to refill than to landfill."

This entire sustainability program, Willis said, is based on the people – planet – profit – business model. For information on the GCRTA 10-year sustainability plan, visit

TransLink's sustainability governance was presented by Director of Corporate Sustainability Trish Webb. In Vancouver, she explained that they have taxations as well as revenues for funding sources. They already have a fairly transparent system to make it clear to people what they were doing with that money. Improving operations with sustainable practices is a practical step in utilizing the money in the best ways possible.

Nearly a year ago the organization went through major restructuring. They worked to align the operating divisions under a common mission, vision and values strongly focused around sustainability. This process has simplified the job of aligning them on their sustainability values and it has provided a better mechanism for working through initiatives.

The challenge now is integrating sustainability planning with business planning. The business plan is annual, transportation planning is every three years and sustainability needs to be in a similar frame so they can be refreshed every year, but looking out three years.

Webb said they are looking to nail down metrics for influence on the community, such as travel times for people in the region. There are a lot of things they would like to track annually, but don't have the capability to at this time.

Webb said as much as the transit industry talks about being a social pillar for communities, unless we show people what our role is in things that they can count, such as how long it takes them to get to work or how much their business loses because of congestion, we won't get to that place that we are seen as an integral part of their world.

She said a "next step" is to embed values. "The values of equality are embedded. If sustainability can get to that point, it just becomes good business practice, then we have won." When it is simply a value, it's no longer a program because it is so embedded in the culture of what we do.

From the business member side, New Flyer's Director of Marketing Amy Miller talked about their route toward sustainability.

"Sustainability to us is our capacity to endure as a group," she said. She added that it's so that they're here for the long haul. With customers needing OEMs to provide parts, service, training, it's a long-term relationship.

They are the only transit bus OEM certified to ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 and she said the way they frame up those programs is: A better product, a better workplace, a better world.

Setting out to create a better product, they heard from customers that they needed lower operating costs. Miller said with the Xcelsior they achieved a 10 percent reduction in weight, which translates to improved fuel economy. She added that it has achieved the best fuel economy recorded at Altoona, of 5.88 miles per gallon.

When it comes to a better workplace, they have launched a New Flyer institute for ongoing training and iBus, their employee intranet which includes a variety of ways for employees to connect, to catch the latest company news and a place for people to say thank you in a public forum.

Miller shared that since corporate changes were implemented, the grievance trend has dropped even though they now have more employees. Also noted were the decrease in lost time rate, the OSHA rate and the voluntary turnover.

New Flyer had initiated the 5S process, originally from Japan in the 40s, it is a part of lean manufacturing: Sort, straighten, standardize, shine and sustain. It's about organizing your workflow so there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

Mark Fisher, the Western Regional Sales Manager with New Flyer, said employees take to it in an amazing way. "They like the ease of finding things; it's contagious." He also said it gets tools away from employees that they don't need, so they don't need extra tools to "fix" things that instead they should be sending back so it also flushes out any quality issues.

With shadow boards highlighting the placement for tools in an area, taped off floors marking placement of everything on the shop floor, organization is taken to a new level. "Without 5S, waste is very difficult to see because the physical space is disorganized and distracting," Miller said.

The changes have saved the company millions of dollars and allowed them to stay in business five days a week and they have seen a labor efficiency increase of 7.5 percent.

An approach to a sustainable culture was presented by David Carlson, Parsons' VP- director of sustainable development. He said there were a lot of things already in their tool kit, they needed the ability to communicate more effectively and to better evaluate the effects and outcomes. "The public has gotten a lot more savvy," Carlson said. And with that, more demanding from what they want to see.

Sustainability was going to be a core value, along with the other core values, such as safety or integrity. They created working groups to focus on what that means and how they were going to implement this. And Carlson stressed, getting employee engagement in those committees creates ownership and increases the buy in.

Parsons created a sustainability handbook for employees, which focused on the triple bottom line: the creation or enhancement of environmental, economic and socio-cultural balance. Those goals are realized through client deliverables, business activities, employee actions and community engagement.

One thing he said they heard from employees was, "Weren't we doing this already?" Or, "We are already doing this." They focused on creating awareness, that to some extent they may have been doing some of these things, but it was never measured or counted. There was a period of discovery with people using the handbook to do project evaluation.

As for the delivery, just because you have a policy and a handbook, it doesn't mean you're getting delivery. Parsons incentivized staff certification to build up their numbers, such as for LEED certification. They also conducted training on the sustainability handbook.

Carlson said three keys to implementation are:

How do you translate goals and objectives into reality

What does sustainability look like?

Performance measures and demonstrations

Carlson stressed, "What gets measured gets counted."