The FHWA Sustainable Pavements Technical Working Group (SPTWG) met on June 3 and the virtual roundtable discussion presented what organizers called a guided exploration of what the FHWA’s Sustainable Pavements Program has accomplished over the last 10 years.

The web conference also explored how the current situation may be affecting implementation efforts, and what we can do in the future to continue advancing the program’s goals. Much of the discussion focused on progress with the development and use of Environmental Product Declarations* and an update on the FHWA life cycle assessment (LCA) tool.

“The SPWG represents a broad cross-section of the pavement community – agency, industry, academia, consultants, etc.,” says Leif Wathne, who represented ACPA and the concrete pavement industry.  “The group allows for honest and spirited exchanges and has made progress increasing the visibility of sustainable practices and in raising awareness about life cycle assessment, including the very important use-phase.”

“Even, so we are still not focusing appropriately on some primary drivers,” he says, noting that the current economic realities, increased attention among lawmakers, and other factors will continue to influence decision-making.

“The current economic realities mirror those of the Great Recession of 2007.  Sustainability efforts lost some steam because economic realities caused first cost to dominate,” he says, adding, “in addition, there are political obstacles that sometimes hamper progress on sustainability efforts. In the near term, it may make sense to shift toward a focus on the economic aspects of sustainability – as economic messages still very much resonate, and economically sustainable practices are typically also environmentally sustainable.  Also, we anticipate a gradual shift toward resilience. As resilience is tied very closely to economic sustainability and responsible resource use (i.e., environmental sustainability).”

“Although we are encouraged by FHWA’s continued focus on life cycle thinking, our industry continues to be somewhat concerned about FHWA launching an LCA tool that omits use-phase impacts, which in some cases can be quite dominant, particularly as there are already other pavement LCA tools available that do factor in use-phase impacts,” he says. Leif cautioned that the FHWA must make it “abundantly clear to the user that the use-phase is not included in its LCA tool, and must guide the user to understand that the LCA tool can be used only for a very narrow set of circumstances.”

The LCA 2020 conference originally scheduled for last week has been postponed until January 13-15, 2021, in Davis, CA.

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* Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) provides quantifiable environmental data to compare products that fulfill the same function. In order to create comparable EPDs, they must follow the rules and guidelines called for in the associated Product category rules (PCRs), which are a set of specific rules, requirements, and guidelines, for developing environmental declarations for one or more products that can fulfill equivalent functions.