Sustainability Definitions for NRAs – Framework Part 1: Report v2.0

Henrik Gudmundsson, Clare Harmer, Alison Hewitt, Anders Vestergaard Jensen, Ulla Steen Salado-Jimena (Editor)

    Research output: Book/ReportReportCommissionedpeer-review


    The SUNRA project
    National Road Authorities (NRAs) across Europe continually strive to improve the performance of their road networks. This improvement has been underpinned by significant research in the optimisation of road planning, design, construction and maintenance, which has enhanced the understanding of the social, environmental and economic aspects of managing a road network. Whilst NRAs generally share an increasing awareness of some aspects of sustainability there is not a common understanding of, or approach to sustainability, as a whole.
    The project ‘Sustainability for National Road Authorities’ (SUNRA) is tasked with identifying how NRAs can contribute to sustainable development. This involves three main tasks, addressed in three corresponding Work Packages (WPs)
    1.Providing a common way of defining sustainable development within the context of European NRAs (WP1).
    2.Identifying how to measure sustainable development at a strategic level and integrate sustainable development decision-making into key intervention points (WP2).
    3.Developing a sustainability rating system framework that will enable NRAs to improve performance within the context of building and managing roads (WP3).

    Through these three tasks SUNRA will produce a framework for NRA’s, with each WP delivering one part of the framework. These frameworks will then go on to be trialled with several NRAs, before being widely disseminated.
    Purpose and content
    The purpose of this report is to describe the development of SUNRA Framework Part 1 “Sustainability Definitions for NRAs”. The objective of this part of the framework is to support NRAs in developing and implementing definitions of sustainability.
    The present report contains the foundations for the framework, including:
    •The methodology adopted in the process of developing the framework.
    •Key observations from literature on sustainable development, transport, and road management, which form the body of the framework, together with results of a workshop held with experts and stakeholders. The key observations lead to recommendations included in the framework.
    •The structure and logic of the framework.

    The work has included three main components: a literature review, a workshop involving stakeholders and experts, and the framework design process itself. These have been conducted in parallel. The framework development has been undertaken in close coordination with the work on the Framework Part 2 (measures to improve sustainability).initiated by Page 4 of 78
    Key observations on sustainable development
    Key literature covering normative, analytic and strategic perspectives on sustainable development is identified and reviewed. The key observations lead to a number of recommendations for European NRAs’ aiming to define sustainability. NRAs may wish to:
    •Begin by considering sustainable development from a comprehensive point of view before moving into specific transport or impact areas.
    •Adopt the classic (WCED 1987) definition of sustainable development and the three pillars plus integration and participation as the basis for all further efforts.
    •Reflect why they wish to engage with sustainability.
    •Consider negative impact areas to be concerned with, and positive impact areas to promote, taking particularly into account European level strategies and goals.
    •Take inspiration from notions formulated in research, such as the strong or weak sustainability approach, carrying capacity, or human well-being; and
    •Formulate a set of principles to guide thinking and action based on the former points.

    Key observations on sustainability and transport
    In this section a review of sustainability as it relates to transport and road systems was undertaken. Three areas were addressed: sustainability impacts, sustainable transport policy, and sustainable transport definitions. It was generally found that sustainability challenges NRAs to think holistically in terms of the role of NRAs in the sustainability of the whole transport system. Key observations in each area include:
    Sustainability impacts: Road transport has numerous impacts on topics of interest for sustainability and development, affecting all three pillars and the present and future dimension. The impacts affect endpoints in causal chains, with the road transport systems as the source. The impacts on sustainability and development stem from positive transport services as well as negative transport pressures. A summary of overall impact categories is provided. The impact on endpoints is indicative of positive or negative influence on sustainability. Some impacts occur by interaction of road transport and other modes or other sectors such as land use. The relationships between road transport and sustainability are therefore complex.
    Sustainable transport definitions: Semantic definitions of ‘sustainable transport’ have been proposed by transport and road agencies and in research. Some are widely cited. However, to accurately define what ‘sustainable transport’ is, raises a number of difficulties. Some examples of definitions are critically reviewed. A valuable contribution to this discussion was made by Hall (2006) who proposed agencies to adopt a set of ‘sustainable transportation’ principles in addition to general sustainability ones to guide the action of transport agencies. NRAs are advised to consult these principles when they develop definitions of sustainability.
    Sustainable transport policy: Sustainable transport has become an influential policy paradigm. According to this paradigm, major changes to present road transport planning are needed. Sustainability generally needs to be addressed at early stages of policy and planning with wide involvement of stakeholders. The European Union has defined a set of sustainable transport goals that European NRAs could refer to in their sustainability definitions.

    Key observations on road management
    This section reviews the roles and functions of NRAs and their implications for sustainability. Road management generally concerns the improvement, development, maintenance and operation of the road network. It is clear from the literature that the conduct and organisation
    of road management has developed considerably and takes place in different ways across countries. While being aware of the wider context, NRAs need to identify where and how they can influence sustainability the most taking into account their specific leverage points and constraints. In working towards sustainability NRAs should aspire to:
    •Identify and measure the sustainability impact performance associated with their assets and activities along the whole project cycle.
    •Identify the key influence levers and intervention points they have for instigating change towards sustainability or to maintain desired level of performance.
    •Seek ways to align influence mechanisms to prioritised impact endpoints; and
    •Seek ways to expand their capacity of influence on critical impact areas, through for example renegotiation of mandates, acquisition of new resources, training, new tools, or strategic networking.

    An overall message concerns the significance of the involvement of the board level of an NRA as this has the best possibility to govern the other strategic and operational levels, including to ‘govern how they are governed’.
    A way to conceptualise NRAs’ opportunities to influence sustainability is provided, where available vehicles or ‘mechanisms’ for influence are grouped in the four categories of mandates, resources, priorities and activities. Each of these mechanism categories will conduct, enhance or constrain influence, and each will provide opportunities for specifications of sustainability.
    Framework for sustainability definitions
    The challenges for an NRA of defining sustainability are identified at the contextual, framework and definition levels. A framework for definitions of sustainability by NRAs is developed. It sets out the conceptual and procedural elements that enable an NRA:
    •To recognise important principles and notions of sustainability and transport.
    •To develop its own definition, taking into account already available ones; and
    •To commit to its implementation through review and adjustment of existing frameworks and practices.

    The resulting framework suggests a procedure with four steps. For each of the steps the framework suggests key elements to consider and specific outputs to deliver. The steps are:
    1. Interpretation of sustainability and transport. Here the NRA appreciates the sustainability and transport principles and impacts and adopts a level of ambition for its sustainability principles.
    2. Impact and influence review. Here the NRA considers relevant impacts of its assets and activities as well as the areas and mechanisms to influence sustainability, such as mandates, resources, priorities and activities.
    3. Commitment/definition. Here the NRA crafts a definition and strategic commitment to sustainability.
    4. Implementation. Here the NRA specifies what it will do with the commitment. For example, which existing or new NRA governance processes and documents it is to be connected to or integrated with.

    The framework itself is contained in the accompanying stand-alone document, for easy reference for the NRAs.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherERA-NET Road
    Number of pages78
    Commissioning bodyDepartment for Transport
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


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