As you probably know, TransportiCA is a nonprofit news outlet for sustainable transportation–"Mobility meeting the Triple-Bottom Line." This week (03-05 May), our Founder and Editor–Greg Justice–and Federal Policy Consultant–Brian C. Swanson–will be covering the 2017 California Transportation Planning Conference ("2017CTPC") in Walnut Creek. The theme for this biennial event is "Partnering for Sustainable Transportation,"–as it was for the 2015 conference.
While we are incredibly excited to be among many of California's great transportation leaders, planners and scholars, and we get to see the ONE AND ONLY Janette Sadik-Khan (all bow before her), one issue in particular has us concerned. That is, conference organizers do not have anywhere to be seen their definition, or at least a generally accepted connotation, of "sustainable transportation."
At the 2015 conference (02-04 December), Justice and Remi Mateo–TransportiCA's Deputy Editor–attended the conference,
sharing the same concern. TransportiCA further addressed this same concern significantly when we submitted comments for the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan ("CSFAP"), as we found the draft and final versions to be anything, but sustainable. Most importantly, there was no objective or academically accepted construct of 'sustainability' and/or 'sustainable freight'–a critical measure one would think would be principal in such a major document.
As we noted in our draft CSFAP comments, "When drafting a major policy or technical document of this nature, the goals of the plan must not only be explicitly stated, but also, most importantly, well-defined, in order for all parties and stakeholders to judge the plan by merits equally understandable and objective. The plan does not define ANYWHERE – principle document, or appendices – the terms “sustainable,” “sustainability,” and most importantly, “sustainable freight,” nor “sustainable transportation.” With no objective denotation of these terms in the plan, how can any reader confirm, or engage the content as “sustainable,” when nothing exists to provide such designation?"
As expected, no follow-up was provided–other than a 'thank you for sharing,' despite what we felt was a critical missing link for this document.
Sadly, we see this issue before us again with the 2017CTPC. No technical definition, academic understanding, professional connotation, or even layman's association of sustainable transportation exists in any of the agenda materials, or within the event's website. If conference attendee's have no formal understanding of sustainable transportation, how then, in any way, can this conference help us plan and 'partner' for such?
On TransportiCA's "Vocabulary" webpage, we provide many well-known and technically accepted definitions of sustainable transportation, including one provided by the California High-Speed Rail Authority from their December 2016 sustainability report (page 49). In constructing a technical, inclusive and defensible definition of sustainable transportation, TransportiCA integrated John Elkington's Triple-Bottom Line–the modern basis for understanding sustainability. Elkington's concept is defined as, "An addition of social and environmental values to the traditional economic measures of a corporation or organization’s success. Triple Bottom Line accounting attempts to describe the social and environmental impact of an organization’s activities, in a measurable way, to its economic performance in order to show improvement or to make evaluation more in-depth" (Sustainability Dictionary).
With the Triple-Bottom Line as our foundation, TransportiCA defines sustainable transportation as, "Resilient mobility whose input (energy) is renewable, financial operations are secure and continuous, and output (emissions) is minimal and/or negative on the cultural, social and natural systems affected by such mobility."
Between now and Wednesday, 03 May–the conference's opening sessions, we hope some objective construct can be provided, insuring all attendees can more fully engage in, and uniformly understand, sustainable transportation. If not, TransportiCA's definition should do just fine.