Environmental Stewardship: Everyone’s Responsibility

From climate change and recycling, to pollution and air quality, issues surrounding the environment have become major international political topics of our time.  Some experts suggest that confronting these environmental issues presents the greatest challenge we have ever faced as a global community.

The government targets for the UK encourage the reduction of damaging greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from burning fossil fuels like coal for power generation, whilst planning to increase the use of renewable energy sources.  The Climate Change Act 2008 commits to cutting emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

Carbon emissions cost society £4 billion per year.  Traffic on highways up and down the country is contributing to the problem, with cars and vans being the most popular form of transport for journeys over one mile long (DfT).

It is a critical time to address the pressures that growing transport demands are placing on the global environment.  As well as turning to alternative fuels to power our cars and using greener forms of transport, this also means changes to highway maintenance.

Highways and the Environment: What’s the Problem?

Certain methods and practices used in highways maintenance have been linked to raising the level of GHGs such as carbon dioxide.  This is known as the industry’s carbon footprint.
According to one report (ASI Solutions/ Best Foot Forward Limited) resurfacing around 25 million square metres of UK roads – about the average for one year – produces in the region of 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). That is the same amount churned out by approximately 300,000 cars.  This carbon footprint directly contributes to the global warming effect.  Some of the causes are easy to identify.

In repairing potholes and road surfaces, traditional practice involves digging out the damaged area using jackhammers and then transporting old materials to landfill or recycling plants, before manufacturing and bringing in new asphalt and aggregate. These traditional methods generate a daily stream of waste materials excavated in the course of patching, resurfacing and other works.

Although the bulk of carbon emissions associated with the highway network derive from the millions of vehicles that use the roads, the construction, maintenance and operation of this infrastructure also gulps large quantities of resources.  Producing and transporting these materials to site equally carries an environmental cost.  HTMA plans to help reduce the impact of this footprint.

HTMA’s Goal

In 2008 we launched our Green Driving Booklet with useful tips and advice for motorists on how to be more environmentally responsible and aware on the roads.

HTMA’s Sustainability Working Group is working hard to help our member companies adopt environmental best practices.  HTMA members have been measuring and reporting their carbon footprint for years, finding that 90% of their emissions has been through the use of fuel for plant and vehicles but the amount varies depending of the type of work carried out.

One of the challenges facing this group is to further define the carbon footprint for selected techniques within the highways maintenance industry, whilst producing guidelines for companies to use for things such as fuel usage.

HTMA explore various ways for the industry to be sustainable, for example, recycling techniques available to the industry and better monitoring water usage and consumption through the use of the water toolkit HTMA has developed.

The Sustainability working group looks at industry-specific consequential effects of climate change and encourage member companies to go beyond legislation and take voluntary actions to make their operations more sustainable.

The group provide the HTMA with a common and coordinated approach to compliance that can be spread right across the industry.  HTMA also assesses new and proposed legislation to establish its aims and potential impact on highways maintenance, and issues a response where necessary.

What Action is HTMA Taking?

A training DVD has been produced which addresses environmental management within highways maintenance activities.

With good management and planning, the effects of this environmental impact can be minimised.  One idea is to simply get more trucks and traffic off the roads in order to reduce not only congestion and pollution from vehicles, but also to cut the need for more maintenance work.

Cars stuck in traffic produce far more carbon emissions running their engines than cars driving along at a normal, steady speed.  But there is also great progress being made in developing and deploying new techniques and technologies that reduce the environmental impact of highways maintenance.  In theory, if these initiatives can eliminate practically all of the carbon produced from maintenance activities, this alone would equate to removing as many as 500,000 cars from the road every year.

The recycling of material in the highways maintenance industry is growing ever more common.  The use of recycled materials such as using a 100% recycled aggregate base, significantly reduces the demand for primary aggregates, as well as the need to tip the old material. This ultimately means consuming less energy in production than traditional materials, thereby reducing emissions.

In the winter, highways depots, spreading vehicles and de-icing agents also contribute to the environmental problem, as does the use of salt, which can damage plants and trees on the verge, cause pollution and change the properties of soil. To reduce the environmental impact and conserve the salt stocks, more contractors are adopting an effective salting technique called pre-wetted salt. This uses about 25% less salt and less bouncing of salt to the roadside verge during spreading, thereby less impact on the surrounding environment.

More recycling initiatives within the industry, and better understanding, can help to ease this wastage.

HTMA members are increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment and have strengthened resources in this area, taking steps to reduce their own carbon footprint by raising the level of recycling.  In some cases, the recovery rate for waste materials from road maintenance is approaching 90%. These wastes are recycled and reused in ongoing road maintenance work.  It means significant volumes of waste are being diverted from landfill sites, while the extraction of virgin materials is avoided, along with additional taxes on landfill and aggregates.

New innovations in road working can also make an impact on the industry’s overall carbon footprint.  According to surveys conducted by those active in this area, techniques using surface technology to help preserve the condition of roads for longer periods could ultimately yield massive CO2 savings compared to conventional processes.  Lower usage of new asphalt in repair work and the extended life of existing surfaces play a part in these savings, though other significant factors include reduced transport and energy impacts.  As well as the environmental benefits, these new surfacing techniques can trim costs for both clients and contractors.

Environmental issues continue to grow in importance for the highways maintenance industry, with a significant focus on climate change and energy consumption, as well as waste management.
HTMA plans to continue to take an active and leading role in coordinating an industry-wide response to the threats, challenges and opportunities posed by global warming and the environment.