Sustainability was the focus of a recent National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) conference in New Orleans. Ten or so years ago, it was considered a fad. Looks like people are taking it a bit more seriously now, which is a good thing.
The topic of sustainability is a big one and covers a variety of angles. One definition shared during the conference was from the World Commission on Environment & Development report in 1987 and was simply “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
Here’s an amazing statistic: there are 4 million miles of public roads and 3 trillion vehicle miles travelled in the U.S., which adds up to about 169 billion gallons of fuel consumed. As far as greenhouse gas emissions, 29% come from transportation, with 78% of that coming from highway traffic.
One theme from the conference: sustainability is about achieving balance between economic, environmental and societal needs. It’s about tradeoffs and continuous improvement in all aspects of a process, whether that’s how you run your business or how a road is built.
There’s definitely opportunities to improve the sustainability of the pavement lifecycle at every stage – from material production to design, construction, use phase, maintenance/preservation and finally the end of life.
In the asphalt industry, there’s been an explosive use of recycled materials and warm mix in the last five years. According to the latest NAPA/FHWA survey, 106.4 million tons of warm mix asphalt (WMA) – nearly a 1/3 of all asphalt pavement mix produced – was used during the 2013 construction season. This marks a greater than 533% increase since 2009, the first year the survey was conducted.
In 2013, about 72 million tons of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and 1.7 million tons of reclaimed asphalt shingles (RAS) were used in new asphalt pavement mixes in the U.S.
Producers were also asked about ground tire rubber, steel and blast furnace slag, and other waste material repurposed into pavements. Although national estimates of usage were not calculated, survey respondents reported using nearly 1.2 million tons of these materials in 2013 in the production of more than 6.6 million tons of asphalt pavement mixes.
There’s a lot of resources available to help you gather information on sustainability and what it means to not only our industry but to your individual business. Check out sustainablehighways.dot.gov as one resource; NAPA also offers its Greenhouse Gas Calculator at asphaltpavement.org to help you reduce emissions during asphalt production. And next year, attend NAPA’s conference on sustainability. This is definitely a topic that is not going away.