For Earth Day, Accountability for Transportation Agencies May Begin with Environmental Messages

Woodsy Owl

As Earth Day approaches on April 22, it’s worth considering how well state departments of transportation talk about their environmental responsibilities.

A new report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Center for Excellence in the Environment, Benefits of Transportation: Telling America’s Transportation and Environment Story (full disclosure: I work for AASHTO and helped review the new report), offers recommendations to enhance how transportation agencies share environmental messages.

Stepping back for a moment, I remember as a child in the 70s being taught to “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” and I remember the Keep American Beautiful public-service announcement that featured a tear falling down the cheek of a Native American as he watched garbage pile up in rivers and streams.

Those were powerful messages that helped shape my view of litter and helped my generation understand that our natural environment was important to protect.

Fast forward a few decades and addressing environmental impacts in capital and operating programs has become a major responsibility for transportation agencies. I wrote about transportation communications and environmental messages last year.

The report found that “several DOTs and national organizations are effectively conveying positive messages that connect transportation projects to improving the environment.” The report also recommends that transportation agencies:

  • Expand environmental-benefits messaging and connect those messages more closely with improved quality of life
  • Establish a national community of practice, and
  • Take advantage of social-media best practices.

Rather than being the final word on how transportation agencies talk about their environmental activities, the report is essentially a starting point for a broader conversation.

For instance, why is it even important that transportation agencies talk about their environmental work?

In my personal opinion, it has to do with accountability.

Every dollar given to transportation agencies is important. Building conversations around how those dollars are being spent should be a major goal of transportation communications. Explaining why and how funds are spent improving our transportation system — and our environment — could perhaps lead to a more informed public that is more willing to support infrastructure investments that work within our natural environment.

Earth Day is fast approaching. What an excellent opportunity to talk about how most of today’s modern transportation systems represent critical investments in environmental stewardship, restoration, and overall quality of life.

This article is adapted from and reprinted by permission from the Talking Transportation blog.

Graphic courtesy of Flickr user Jason.

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