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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 67 · No. 4 > An Environmental Frontrunner

Jan/Feb 2004
Vol. 67 · No. 4

An Environmental Frontrunner

by James B. Struzzi II

A Pennsylvania engineering district is the first in the Nation to achieve ISO 14001 registration.

Photo of Falls Creek in Jefferson County, PA.
Erosion and sedimentation controls like these implemented on Falls Creek in Jefferson County, PA, are standard practice under ISO 14001 registration.
All photographs: PENNDOT

In December 2002, a highway engineering district in Pennsylvania became the first State transportation agency in the United States to be 14001 registered by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Serving as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's (PENNDOT) pilot organization for the ISO process, Engineering District 10 earned this distinction for its Maintenance Unit's implementation of a Strategic Environmental Management Program (SEMP) for winter materials, stockpile management, and erosion and sedimentation controls.

An organization achieves ISO 14001 registration by minimizing any harmful effects of its activities on the environment and continually improving its environmental performance. Since ISO registration requires evaluation by an independent third-party auditor, achieving 14001 was no easy task for a transportation district that is responsible for 5,117 kilometers (3,178 miles) of State highways, including two interstates and 1,617 bridges, in five Pennsylvania counties.

The achievement of most goals usually begins with a challenge. For PENNDOT's Engineering District 10, achieving the goal of ISO 14001 registration began with a challenge from the governor.

The Governor's Green Plan

In 1998 former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge issued the Governor's Green Plan, an executive order that called for State agencies to improve their environmental performance. PENNDOT's leadership further reinforced this order when they committed the organization to developing and implementing a program to improve environmental performance. This emphasis on environmental stewardship continues under Gov. Edward G. Rendell.

In the spring of 2001, District 10 began its journey to becoming the first U.S. transportation agency to receive the ISO 14001 registration. Through a cooperative effort with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), District 10 set a goal to achieve registration by December 2002.

District 10 covers Armstrong, Butler, Clarion, Indiana, and Jefferson counties. Residents of the area value their breathtaking landscapes and outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. Many State roads in the district are near trout streams, game lands, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

"We are proud of our district staff under the leadership of District Executive Richard H. Hogg for leading the way toward ISO registration," says PENNDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler. "Our ultimate goal is to build environmental sensitivity into everything we do and win the trust of our partners in the resource agencies. The benefit for our customers will be expedited and environmentally sound projects."

Developing a Strategic Environmental Management Program was the direct result of PENNDOT listening to the voices of its customers. "Quality of life and environmental stewardship are important to our customers," District Engineer Hogg explains, "and we must strive diligently to preserve and protect those aspects of the region we hold dear."

The district's journey to ISO registration began with the creation of a leadership team to drive the effort. Once the district team was formed, each maintenance office in District 10's five counties formed its own implementation team to ensure that a consistent message was conveyed at all levels throughout the organization.

"ISO 14001 registration confirms that an organization has developed and implemented an environmental management system that supports environmental protection and the prevention of pollution in balance with socioeconomic needs and is fully interwoven within the fabric of the organization's core business activities," says Richard T. Pavic, an environmental planner who became the SEMP process owner and coordinator of District 10's ISO effort.

A PENNDOT employee conducting a quality assurance check on winter stockpile.
A PENNDOT employee conducts a quality assurance check on a winter materials stockpile.

Process Creates Quality

"In order to obtain and maintain ISO 14001 registration, an organization must develop and implement detailed processes related to the performance and management of activities that have the potential of negatively impacting the environment," Pavic says. "Secondly, to ensure that the processes are implemented consistently, the organization must commit to conducting audits in the form of internal quality assurance/ quality control evaluations and internal surveillance audits that focus on whether the environmental management system is functioning accordingly or requires the implementation of corrective and preventative action plans to correct deficiencies within the system."

Although the official process to earn registration began in 2001, the actual work had started many years before. During the 1990s, recognizing its responsibility as an environmental steward, the district systematically incorporated environmental controls into its maintenance operations. The district created formal processes to monitor materials usage and established strict guidelines for erosion and sedimentation controls.

According to Pavic, ISO registration requires documented, visible evidence that all employees adhere to policies, procedures, and processes in their everyday work in all aspects of operations. In short, every employee in the organization must believe in a shared environmental vision. In District 10's case, this shared vision is manifested in adherence to policies and procedures pertaining to winter materials, stockpile management, and erosion and sedimentation controls.

Computer mounted in each PENNDOT truck helped operators how much winter materials are needed.
Technology like this GL400 computer mounted in each PENNDOT truck helps operators apply the correct amount of winter materials for the desired result.

The district began its effort by forming several committees under the direction of the SEMP leadership team and TLI Systems Inc., a consulting firm that assisted in the effort to earn ISO registration. Recognizing the need to communicate the organization's goal to employees at all levels, the team implemented the following measures to create awareness and shared responsibility: (1) developed a SEMP manual, (2) included specific SEMP goals and roles on employee performance reviews, and (3) formed a subcommittee designated to communicate SEMP throughout the organization, including every maintenance facility in the 9,244 square-kilometer (3,569 square-mile) district. The leadership team conducted systematic SEMP training, and the subcommittee created posters that were displayed in facilities around the district.

This unified message helped to create SEMP ownership with employees and instilled the basic principles of ISO registration. The district also created a system to police itself by selecting internal auditors to monitor SEMP processes.

Posters displayed to educate employees of their ISO 14001 responsibilities.
The transportation agency displayed posters like these around District 10 to educate employees about their ISO 14001 responsibilities.

A Goal Is Achieved

In the fall of 2002, the third-party review of District 10's SEMP effort to obtain ISO registration began. The organization's environmental processes underwent extensive scrutiny to verify validity, consistency, and full implementation across the district. Then, on December 31, 2002, PENNDOT Engineering District 10 met its goal by becoming the first transportation agency in the United States to receive the ISO 14001 registration.

Pavic says, "ISO 14001 registration represents confirmation that PENNDOT District 10's Maintenance Unit has developed and implemented an environmental management system within its core business plan that strives to minimize unavoidable environmental impacts associated with maintaining a safe and efficient transportation system."

Although the district was successful in its effort to achieve registration, the work to maintain environmental compliance has just begun. Registration represents a commitment to PENNDOT's customers to continual improvement and requires frequent audits with an emphasis on continual improvement.

"We, as a transportation agency serving our customers, the people of Pennsylvania, are committed to being sound environmental stewards," District Engineer Hogg says. "We will continue to improve our environmental efforts and preserve the quality of life in District 10."

Expedited Permitting

One of the goals associated with implementing an ISO 14001 registered environmental management system is acknowledgement on the part of Federal and State agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, in the form of an expedited permitting process.

"By demonstrating environmental stewardship through better management of our environmental responsibilities and demonstrated compliance with applicable Federal and State laws and regulations, District 10 is hoping for the development of environmental interagency agreements related to environmental clearance activities," Pavic says. "The interagency agreements would grant PENNDOT authority to approve specific environmental permits inhouse related to the performance of maintenance activities associated with maintaining our existing roadway system."

This streamlined permitting process could save Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars by reducing the time needed by the regulatory agencies to review and approve environmental permits.

Following District 10's lead, other PENNDOT engineering districts across the Commonwealth have begun the process to become ISO 14001 registered. The race is on for Pennsylvania to continue and expand its environmental leadership.

This zero-velocity spreader equipped with the GL400 computer help ensure that materials are not wasted or overused.
This zero-velocity spreader, along with the GL400 computer, helps ensure that materials are not wasted or overused.

Jim Struzzi is the community relations coordinator for PENNDOT Engineering District 10. He joined PENNDOT in 1999 after working for several years as a transportation reporter for a daily newspaper in Butler County, PA. Struzzi is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and is currently pursuing a master's degree in public administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Visit www.iso.ch for more information on ISO registration, or contact PENNDOT Engineering

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