TriMet, Portland, Oregon, USA
A Natural Step Network Case Study
TriMet is the public transit agency for the Portland metropolitan area. It is a municipal corporation that provides public transportation for much of the three counties in the Portland area. The agency's services cover 600 square miles and include 100 bus routes and a 38-mile light-rail system. The organization has 2600 employees and operates 665 buses and 78 light rail vehicles. Its operating budget in 2002 was $275 million.
In 2000 TriMet received a technical assistance grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help create and implement an environmental management system (EMS). Most recently this EMS has been enhanced with the use of the Natural Step framework to guide the agency toward a vision of full sustainability.
TriMet's roots go back to the early days of trolley service when the Portland Traction Company was taken over in 1956 by Rose City Transit. Ridership continued declining from 60 million in 1950 to 18 million in 1969. In that year the City of Portland created the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon ("TriMet") to take over the failing public transit system.
Since its formation TriMet has received national and international notice for its innovative policies, including the introduction of Fareless Square in the downtown core in 1975, a 22 block Downtown Transit Mall in 1978, and the restoration of light-rail passenger service with the opening of the line between Portland and Gresham in 1986. In 1989 TriMet was named "America's Best Large Transit Agency" by the American Public Transit Association. Ridership increased to almost 90 million trips in 2002, a five-fold increase from the time the agency was created.
Environmental issues have been a part of TriMet's strategies since the agency's conception. Air quality in the Portland metro area has been a particular concern due to the fact that the area has come close to violating EPA standards. Community leaders recognized that increasing public transit ridership could help keep the region in compliance and avoid the imposition of multimillion-dollar investments in additional emission controls by local businesses.
Initially TriMet's environmental focus was on regulatory compliance, an activity that added to Facilities Management's list of responsibilities over time as regulations increased. In 1997, in order to give more attention to environmental issues, TriMet approved an environmental engineer position for the department and hired a recent graduate in environmental science, Kevin Considine, to fill the spot. Some of Considine's first assignments related to documenting hazardous waste reduction results and later stormwater management. Further elevating the importance of environmental issues was the appointment in 1998 of Fred Hansen as General Manager of TriMet. As a former director of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality and deputy director of the U.S. EPA, Hansen brought a strong environmental focus to TriMet and stated that he wanted TriMet to be an environmental leader.
Introduction to The Natural Step
One of the first people at TriMet to become aware of the Natural Step was Carolyn Young, now Executive Director of Programs and Communications. She attended an introductory Natural Step workshop at Nike in June 1997. Afterwards she began discussing it with other members of the senior staff as a concept TriMet should explore. Later after Kevin Considine joined TriMet, Mary Huff, facilities director, encouraged Considine to learn more about The Natural Step framework as a possible concept the agency might use.
Considine attended a basic TNS workshop in October 1999 and came away quite excited. He felt that the Natural Step framework offered him a clearer understanding of where environmental regulations were headed. With this perspective, he felt that he could now guide the organization's environmental activities with more of a proactive focus versus the reactive, compliance perspective the agency had previously used.
Aligning the Company with The Natural Step Framework
Given the size of TriMet, Kevin realized that a more proactive environmental program would require a more rigorous management approach. Consequently, he recommended that TriMet install an environmental management system (EMS) similar to ISO14001. Carolyn Young and Fred Hansen encouraged Consadine to participate in an EMS pilot program sponsored by EPA. TriMet became one of half a dozen state and local governments to participate in the EPA pilot program. TriMet was the only transit agency to do so.
As planning for the EMS pilot program got underway in 2000, Considine became aware that it lacked a larger, long-term goal or framework to guide its activities. Considine suggested to top management that the Natural Step system conditions could provide the necessary framework. Consequently, he asked Duke Castle from the Oregon Natural Step Network to conduct a twohour briefing for the senior management team on the Natural Step framework. This event solidified management support. Four months later, a new environmental policy was approved by Fred Hansen stating, "TriMet's goal is to be an environmental leader .. [with the intention of moving] toward a long-term goal of sustainability using The Natural Step framework as guidance." A copy of the new environmental policy was distributed to all employees with their paychecks, placed on the organization's Intranet and external Web site and printed on computer mouse pads that Considine handed out. (A copy of the full environmental policy is attached to this case study.)
With approval of an environmental policy, Considine began working with a steering committee to organize and implement the remaining components of the EMS. The group decided to install
the EMS within TriMet's maintenance operations first and then later expand it throughout the rest of the organization.
While the effort to install the EMS was underway, Kevin continued making sustainability and the Natural Step principles an element of what the agency was doing. He sponsored a half-day
workshop on the Natural Step principles for bus and light rail maintenance supervisors in January 2001, made presentations on the Natural Step and sustainability at TriMet University (an internal training program), and encouraged a number of TriMet employees to attend Oregon Natural Step Network events and conferences.
Application of TNS Principles
By the spring of 2002, the installation of the EMS was fairly complete, and Considine and his steering committee turned their attention toward incorporating sustainability principles into their
environmental management process. The group hired outside consultants to implement the ABCD sustainability planning process, a four-step program developed by TNS founder Karl Henrick Robèrt. The process uses the Natural Step framework to develop a vision of full sustainability and then uses that vision as a component to guide the ongoing work of the organization.
With the blessing of Fred Hansen and Carolyn Young, the steering committee decided to use the ABCD process with the maintenance operations and later expand the effort to the rest of TriMet. This process also was made a part of TriMet's Process Improvement Program (PIP), a highly successful methodology TriMet uses to introduce new work programs within the organization.
This inclusion made the process credible to employees and assured those participating that their work would find practical application. The ABCD planning process was started in the fall of 2002 and completed in May 2003. As a result, TriMet now has a vision of what a fully sustainable maintenance operation would look like and has laid out a plan of multi-year actions that will move the agency toward reaching that vision.
Considine is pleased with the progress TriMet has made. With 2600 employees, any new program is a big challenge to implement. One pleasant surprise is how enthusiastic the maintenance supervisors have been in support of this program. They are seeing things more broadly and coming up with a greater variety of suggestions than Considine would have anticipated.
Applying TNS principles has caused employees to look more deeply at the environmental impact of the maintenance operations. As an example, decisions to use new chemicals used to be fairly loose. Now potential users must first research the toxicity and environmental impact of a chemical before it is purchased. Using Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), employees need to answer such questions as, "Does this chemical cause cancer?" If it does, what other alternatives are there and why can't they be used? Vendors are not allowed to leave samples until a sufficient case has been made to justify their usage.
The purchase of routine products such as paper and office supplies also has been scrutinized. TriMet now uses the green purchasing guidelines developed by the State of Oregon and has worked with its two biggest vendors, Office Depot and Boise Cascade, to insure that green products are displayed first on their online purchasing system.
TriMet has been using re-refined oil for all of its bus fleet for several years; once used, the oil is picked up by a company that takes it to its refinery for re-refining. This "closed-loop" system insures that the oil TriMet uses is used over and over again.
Power and water usage are getting more attention. One maintenance supervisor began posting copies of their electric bill on the elevator each month. The result was that the monthly electricity bill decreased by $17,000 over the next six months.
Fuel efficiency has been an ongoing area of interest. For some time TriMet has kept track of bus route efficiency with an eye toward how much idling or dead time there is. In the process of doing this it concluded that the buses didn't need to be idled for as long as they were. For example, he maintenance division learned from the manufacturer that five minutes was adequate for bus warm-up rather than the 30 that had been normal practice. This is now the standard that is used in driver training. As a result of this change, fuel consumption has decreased over the last 6 months.
Overall Considine feels employees and supervisors see things differently. The group resonated with the idea that they are unsustainably taking things from the earth's crust. They now recognize that fossil fuels are a dead-end solution and actively support alternatives such as fuel cell buses or interim solutions such as biodiesel or electric hybrid combinations.
The organization is in the process of developing sustainability metrics. The EMS had a list of eighteen objectives and targets. As sustainability factors are incorporated into the EMS, this list will most likely change so that it aligns with The Natural Step system conditions. These sustainability metrics will allow TriMet to assess its performance each year
Costs and Benefits
Considine is not sure of the total cost of developing the EMS and ABCD process, but his best estimate is $30,000 over three years. And while TriMet has not yet tracked all of its savings,
Considine believes that it is saving money in resource usage.
The process has invigorated employees. Front line employees are excited because they can see that their recommendations are seriously considered. They have union support for what they are doing and are passing on numerous improvement suggestions to a senior management team that is willing to act.
Because TriMet is one of the first Portland area organizations to incorporate a sustainability framework into its environmental management system, interest has been generated within other public sector entities such as the City of Portland and the Port of Portland.
The biggest challenge will be to keep this effort energized and to keep the momentum moving forward. However with the strong support provided by General Manager Fred Hansen and the rest of the senior management team, Considine doesn't think this will be a problem.
Future steps will be to further institutionalize sustainability thinking into the organization. One area will be on capital projects. Kevin has developed a facilities design manual with a sustainability perspective that goes beyond the L.E.E.D. rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council. This will be used in the future expansion of MAX.
· What worked.
The introduction of sustainability and the Natural Step framework into the overlay of an environmental management system and the Process Improvement Program (PIP) has helped shape the agency vision. The different elements of these programs complimented each other well. Employees feel empowered and experienced a general change in the way they view their work.
· What were the challenges.
The overall process took longer than Considine thought it would. Initially he hoped to have the EMS with its added sustainability perspective completed within a year. Instead it has taken close to three years. He now realizes that it just takes time to get the message out. Many times people had to hear things three times before their thinking began to change.
Overall what surprised Considine was the passionate support the supervisors showed for this. He didn't anticipate how far "out-of-the-box" they were willing to go in their thinking. People enjoyed working on these issues. It also helped tremendously to have a general manager who was so supportive. Fred Hansen was behind this from the very beginning and has made himself available to listen to input from employees at any level of the organization.
Advice for Others
· Get leadership on board. Provide them with an onsite briefing of what sustainability is and how the Natural Step principles can be a compass to guide the organization.
· Find and develop internal champions to keep things going. Initially Considine and Carolyn Young provided that impetus. Later it spread to Considine's steering committee and then the
· Find a way to institutionalize this work. Having the Natural Step system conditions integrated into an environmental management system has helped do that.
1. Interview with Kevin Considine, Environmental Engineer, TriMet April 10, 2003
2. TriMet Web site: www.trimet.org
TriMet's G.R.E.E.N. Policy
TriMet will be an environmental leader. TriMet is committed to be not only in full compliance with environmental regulations, but to go beyond compliance by continually improving our environmental performance, preventing pollution and minimizing our impact on the environment. TriMet will work to minimize significant environmental impacts identified in TriMet's Environmental Management System (EMS) by setting and reviewing objectives and targets.
Reduce, reuse and recycle Reduce our negative effects on the environment by reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling waste. Show a preference for products made of recycled materials.
Educate employees to be environmentally responsible by communicating how their jobs may affect the environment and how their actions contribute to achieving environmental goals. Educate the public on the benefits of transit and how riding transit reduces pollution and helps meet the region's land use goals. Educate our business partners on the benefits of transit and employee commute options.
Efficiently use resources
Implement conservation measures that consume less energy including fuel, electricity, water and time.
Conserve natural resources by working toward a long-term goal of sustainability using The Natural Step framework as guidance.