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Partnerships for Sustainability: A New Approach to Highway Material
A Report on the Houston Workshop

I. Background

The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) International Technology Scanning Program sponsored a scanning tour to Denmark, Sweden Germany, the Netherlands, and France from the 10th to the 26th of September 1999. This scan was also sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials through their National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Panel 20-36 on "Highway Research and Technology -- International Information Sharing" and by the RMRC.

The International Technology Scanning Program's mission is to benchmark foreign technical and managerial practices for the benefit of the U.S. highway community. The objective of the Recycle Scan was to review and document innovative recycling policies, programs and techniques. The delegation met with over 100 representatives from European Transportation and Environmental Ministries, research organizations, contractors, and material producers involved with recycling programs.

The delegation concluded that the European practices were of sufficient importance that they should be presented and evaluated in the U.S. at a national workshop.

A Steering Committee of key scan members was formed and set the following objectives:

  • Share knowledge on both U.S. and European experiences
  • Find common ground and areas of interest and concern
  • Build new alliances and partnerships

The Steering Committee, building off the European experience, saw two payoffs in such a workshop:

  • To partner with their environmental agency counterparts
  • To identify, prioritize and achieve consensus on needs and develop a common agenda.
  • To reframe recycled practices in terms of sustainability so the they might better be understood and resolved.

Sustainability is an emerging concept in specific highway construction and materials disciplines. In 1987 the United Nation's Brundtland Commission Report identified sustainability as: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." As stated in various United Nation documents, sustainable development, at its simplest, is development based on patterns of production and consumption that can be pursued into the distant future without degrading the human or natural environment. It requires, within each nation's technological and social capabilities, the wise management of resources and the equitable sharing of the economic benefits.

The American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) in their publication "The Role of Engineering in Sustainable Development" stated that "human civilization has crossed a historical divide where, to endure our long-term survival, we must learn to 'meet the needs of the present without compromising the means for future generations to meet their own needs.'" This publication was the result of a combined effort of the AAES and the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable Development. The object of this alliance was to inform practicing engineers, engineering students, and the general public of the importance of sustainable development.

The AAES also published action principles for the engineering profession. They include 1) engineer engagement in shaping decisions; 2) sustainable development education for the profession and the public; 3) integrated systems thinking and synthesis; 4) new environmental-economic measures and analysis; 4) sustainable technologies and processes; and 5) expanded multidisciplinary partnerships. More information on AAES can be found at

The Netherlands has a very noteworthy sustainability policy that requires economic policy, spatial planning policy, and environmental policy to be developed together. The underlying principle is that economic growth should only occur if pollution declines at the same time. They are very deliberate in merging various national policy lines together.

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John Bukowski
Office of Asset Management, Pavements, and Construction
E-mail John

Updated: 02/20/2015

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration