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How is Sustainability Measured?

Sustainability is measured by assessing performance of Social, Environmental, and Economic principles. While a balanced treatment of all three is an ideal goal, it is not always achievable.

As sustainability has gained attention in the last few decades, organizations are placing more emphasis on how to measure sustainability. One method for measuring the sustainability of highways is to assess a program or project against existing best practices. The sustainability best practices included within INVEST go beyond the basic requirements. Using sustainability as a metric generally means an expansion of the traditional business reporting framework to take into account social and environmental performance in addition to economic performance (the Triple Bottom Line). These three key principles should be measured, but they do not, of themselves, provide a measurement system. Therefore, many organizations are developing organization-specific or industry-specific measurement tools and best practices to help them achieve the appropriate balance across Social, Environmental and Economic principles.

While balancing the triple bottom line principles to achieve sustainability is an ideal goal, and may help guide the decision making process, it will not be achievable in every project. However, this goal of obtaining balance becomes more achievable when these principles are applied across a portfolio of projects or to an entire system planning program or operations and maintenance program.

What about Our Other Project Goals?

Highway and road projects are built and operated for many different reasons and are designed to accomplish many different goals. Sustainability can support the multiple goals of effective transportation projects. Sustainability objectives such as safety, mobility, environmental protection, livable communities, asset management also help achieve transportation project goals. It is an important lens through which to view a transportation project, and enables transportation agencies and project sponsors to make decisions that benefit the future as well as the present. The idea of sustainability does not limit the value or importance placed on individual goals for a project or organization. Decisions about policy, projects and operations should consider balancing the principles of sustainability but there is no requirement to do so for each and every decision. INVEST provides an opportunity to consider sustainability with other performance measures in the decision making process without attempting to mandate values or choices.


For FHWA, safety has a unique role in sustainability as a key component of the social principle of the triple bottom line. FHWA’s Safety Program is committed to work with State and Local partners and others in the transportation community to develop and promote programs and technologies to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our Nation’s roadways. FHWA’s emphasis on safety fits within the overall sustainability definition and recognizes that an organization may choose to emphasize specific sustainability components, such as safety. Like some other important transportation objectives, safety also stands by itself as a way to measure or evaluate a project. The Highway and Traffic Safety best practices that are included in INVEST represent the latest approaches to evaluate safety performance and mitigate risks. Using these approaches goes above and beyond past methods.


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