Embracing Environmental & Sustainability Management

July 8, 2011

SEPTA's Sustainability Program is a framework for implementing new and innovative solutions to age-old problems. But advancing an agenda of economic prosperity, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship in an era of budgetary constraints and limited resources requires proactive planning and creative approaches for implementation. Recognizing this, a component of SEPTA's Sustainability Program implementation strategy will focus on management systems - squeezing more out of less by making institutional processes more efficient.

Today, we'll describe one way that SEPTA is institutionalizing sustainability in this way: the development and implementation of an "Environmental Management System."

In 2010, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded SEPTA a position in its federally sponsored Environmental Management System (EMS) training and assistance program for public transportation agencies. FTA's training, now in its third round, is designed to help agencies develop and implement EMS using the 14001 standard of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The 14001 Standard is a toolbox of management techniques to minimize harm to the environment and serves as the basis of the EMS training. The program, which began in February 2011, will extend over two years.

FTA's assistance includes training workshops, on-site technical support visits, electronic materials and resources, and consultation. SEPTA and nine other participant agencies are offered the services and resources of the Virginia Tech Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement, recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Public Entity Environmental Management System Resource (PEER) Center, specifically designed to aid local, county, and state entities that are in the process of implementing EMS.


SEPTA's participation in the FTA's EMS training and assistance program reflects its commitment to its sustainability program, and in particularly to developing the sort of management systems necessary to improve environmental stewardship and performance. A collaborative multi-departmental team of planners, system safety officers, mechanics, and engineers has been established to develop SEPTA's EMS based on the IS0 14001 standard, which is based upon the methodology known as "plan-do-check-act":

  • Plan: Establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the organization's environmental policy
  • Do: Implement the process
  • Check: Monitor and measure processes against environmental policy, objectives, targets, legal and other requirements, and report the results
  • Act: Take actions to continually improve performance of the environmental management system

The plan-do-check-act cycle is built upon a foundation of 17 elements that make up the ISO 14001 standard for environmental management:

  • Environmental Policy: Public declaration of SEPTA's commitment to environmental stewardship
  • Environmental Aspects: List of activities, products, and services that have (or can have) an impact on the environment
  • Legal & Other Requirements: Legal, regulatory, and industry-based requirements that relate to environmental aspects
  • Objectives, Targets & Programs: Goals and action plans to address environmental aspects that are consistent with the environmental policy, link to legal & other requirements, and include quantifiable indicators to measure progress
  • Resources, Roles, Responsibility & Authority: Clarification of personnel functions to support the development, implementation, and ongoing administration of the EMS
  • Competence, Training & Awareness: Provision of appropriate education, training or experience of responsible parties to the EMS
  • Communication: Strategy for internal coordination and external outreach
  • Documentation: Compilation of all documents and records required by the ISO 14001 Standard
  • Control of Documents: Strategy for reviewing, updating, and approving EMS-related documents
  • Operational Control: Establishment of standard operating procedures and other controls to ensure that environmental objectives are met
  • Emergency Preparedness & Response: Plans to prepare for potential emergency situations that can have an impact on the environment
  • Monitoring & Measurement: Indicators to verify performance toward EMS goals and objectives
  • Evaluation of Compliance: Procedures to periodically evaluate and ensure compliance with EMS program
  • Nonconformity, Corrective Action & Preventive Action: Procedures to deal with actual and potential nonconformities and actions to avoid their occurrence
  • Control of Records: Procedures for the identification, storage, protection, retrieval, retention and disposal of records
  • Internal Audit: Regular reviews, at planned intervals, to ensure conformity of EMS with the ISO 14001 Standard
  • Management Review: Regular reviews, at planned intervals, to ensure continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of EMS policy, objectives and targets
ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS) Framework
Source: Virginia Tech Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement

For its EMS pilot facility, SEPTA has selected the Berridge Shop in North Philadelphia. The diversity of day-to-day activities, products, and services at Berridge result in a degree of management complexity that will serve SEPTA well in its efforts to expand implementation of its EMS system-wide. Success at Berridge, a facility that houses bus overhaul, printing services, and other administrative functions, will greatly facilitate SEPTA's efforts to scale-up its EMS implementation at other facilities across the SEPTA system.

By the end of 2012, SEPTA expects to have a fully operational EMS in place at Berridge, at which time it will evaluate prospects of applying to become the next of 50,000-some ISO-certified facilities across the world. And yet, SEPTA expects the dividends of its EMS to extend well beyond improved environmental stewardship - or even prestigious ISO certification. The principles of the ISO 14001 Standard are, above all, good business practice, and SEPTA will be implementing its EMS with an eye towards application of globally recognized best management principles across all parts of the organization.

In fact, SEPTA has already taken to calling the EMS its ESMS - an environmental and sustainability management system - reflecting the program's broader potential to improve the efficiency of all organizational management structures and processes. In so doing, ESMS promises to become a central tool for SEPTA's Sustainability Program and supporting the implementation of its various initiatives that reflect the new management approach.

What's Next

Over the course of 2011 and 2012, this Journal will be providing regular updates on the development and implementation of SEPTA's ESMS at Berridge Shop, reporting on the pilot project's measurable progress and tangible outcomes as they come to fruition.

In the meantime, we'll turn to progress updates on several other sustainability initiatives already underway. Next week, an update on SEPTA's progress on a partnership project for which it has received national recognition: the Wayside Energy Storage Project.

Next Week: Wayside Energy Storage Project Update