SEP-TAINABLE: The Route to Regional Sustainability

February 11, 2011

Over the past two weeks, we've set the context for SEPTA's sustainability program by taking a look at various byproducts of our "fast and ever-changing world." Shifting development patterns, policies, and demographics have created an increasingly uncertain operating environment. Transit agencies must take proactive measures to be prepared. Those that plan ahead will be ready to confront new obstacles and opportunities that arise. Those that don't will fall behind.

This week, we describe our response to these challenges: SEP-TAINABLE, a comprehensive strategy for SEPTA to proactively prepare for any future scenario that comes its way.


SEP-TAINABLE stands apart from other planning agendas in the breadth of its investigation into transit's region-building role. Through its goals and initiatives, the plan considers SEPTA as an employer, a consumer, a producer, and a provider. Many who know the system can appreciate these often intangible benefits. SEP-TAINABLE offers a glimpse for everyone else: to consider the true value of SEPTA in their own lives.

The plan is in part internally focused, calling for waste reductions, process analyses, and cost efficiencies. SEP-TAINABLE challenges SEPTA to streamline its own operations today so that it is prepared to take on a larger role in the region's development tomorrow.

But the lasting value of SEP-TAINABLE will be determined by its ability to communicate transit's value in Greater Philadelphia's transformation into a world-class region. It is now incumbent upon SEPTA and its stakeholders to join forces to see this plan through, and to make real progress towards shared objectives.

Three-Pronged Approach

SEP-TAINABLE's approach is based on the "triple bottom line" - accounting for economic, social, and environmental organizational needs and regional opportunities. SEPTA will use this three-pronged approach to drive sustainable decision-making at SEPTA and for partnering to build a more sustainable region.

Economic. SEPTA is an economic catalyst. As one of the region's largest employers, SEPTA supports tens of thousands of jobs and pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the regional economy each year. Just as important is our vast service network that connects Greater Philadelphia to places where people live, work, and play. Moving more than 400,000 people each weekday, SEPTA keeps the regional economy moving.

Social. SEPTA helps to build livable communities. An expansive regional transit network supports the existence and creation of compact, high-quality, and affordable transit-oriented development. Reverse commute and employment programs ensure equal access to this network for all.

Environmental. SEPTA advances environmental stewardship. By displacing greenhouse gas emissions, its system and services provide a mobility alternative that improves air quality and shrinks our carbon footprint, moving the region towards a more energy efficient future.

Twelve Goals & Targets

Each of SEP-TAINABLE's pillars - economic, social, and environmental - is associated with four goals, two internally focused and two externally focused. The twelve goals were designed to be measurable and are associated with targets deemed to be aspirational, yet achievable. They include:


  • Goal 1: Improve greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria air pollutant performance
  • Goal 2: Improve water use and pollutant discharge performance
  • Goal 3: Improve energy intensity performance
  • Goal 4: Reduce and reuse waste


  • Goal 5: Integrate with livable communities
  • Goal 6: Improve access to local food via transit
  • Goal 7: Develop a highly-skilled, healthy and versatile workforce
  • Goal 8: Support regional business equity


  • Goal 9: Increase transit mode share
  • Goal 10: Improve infrastructure state of good repair
  • Goal 11: Improve operating expense performance
  • Goal 12: Achieve the Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee recommended funding levels

The chart below summarizes each of these twelve goals in the context of their sustainability pillar, baseline measurement, and target result.

Integration With Other Plans

SEP-TAINABLE's goals and initiatives intentionally draw from other key planning initiatives - at SEPTA, in the region, and across the transit industry:

SEPTA Strategic Business Plan. Sustainability is a natural fit as a core objective within SEPTA's Five-Year Strategic Business Plan, which set forth a vision for SEPTA to become the region's premier choice for transportation by:

  • Connecting the region for integrated mobility;
  • Sustaining the environment and preserving the system for future generations;
  • Committing to continuous improvement and innovation; and
  • Providing excellent service by a team of dedicated employees.

Released in March 2009, the plan highlights sustainability's interrelationship with six other strategic focus areas: customer service; safety and security; human capital development; new technologies; ridership growth; and rebuilding the system. The plan elevates sustainability as a regional imperative for which SEPTA has a leadership responsibility. SEPTA's three-pronged approach to sustainability is designed to fully integrate with the Strategic Business Plan. Each of the sustainability plan's 12 goals and targets overlap with SEPTA's six other strategic focus areas.

Greenworks Philadelphia. SEP-TAINABLE provides a direct linkage between SEPTA's sustainability objectives and those in the City's own plan. SEPTA's Greenworks-related initiatives include:

  • Greenworks Target: Improve Air Quality Toward Attainment of Federal Standards (SEPTA Initiative: Purchase Hybrid Diesel Buses)
  • Greenworks Target: Divert 70 percent of Solid Waste from Landfills (SEPTA Initiative: Expand Recycling at Transit Stations)
  • Greenworks Target: Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (SEPTA Initiatives: Develop New Fare Card Technologies; Further Improve Service and Safety; Invest in Current Transit Infrastructure; Ensure Sustained Transit Funding; Plan for an Expanded System)
  • Greenworks Target: Increase the State of Good Repair in Resilient Infrastructure (SEPTA Initiative: Acknowledge Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning)

APTA Sustainability Commitment. SEP-TAINABLE is designed to fully integrate with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Sustainability Commitment. The core principles of this commitment are:

  • Making sustainability a part of SEPTA's strategic objectives;
  • Indentifying a sustainability champion within SEPTA coupled with the proper human and/or financial resources and mandates;
  • Establishing an outreach program (awareness-raising and education) on sustainability for all SEPTA staff; and
  • Undertaking a sustainability inventory of SEPTA.

SEPTA's sustainability goals and targets adapt APTA's recommended indicators to meet its own planning purposes. SEPTA intends to commit as a signatory during plan implementation.

What's Next

Over the course of the next several months, we will take a more in-depth look at SEPTA's current performance across these twelve goals and specific initiatives designed to achieve them. Next week, we'll begin with Goal 1: Improve greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria air pollutant performance.

Next Week: SEPTA's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory