Overview
Photograph of a red semitrailer in a truck parking lot. The cab is open, the driver is seated, and his family is with him.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is often described using the “triple bottom line” concept, which includes giving consideration to three primary principles: Social, Environmental, and Economic. The goal of sustainability is the satisfaction of basic social and economic needs, both present and future, and the responsible use of natural resources, all while maintaining or improving the well-being of the environment on which life depends.

Photograph of a yellow caution sign along a rural highway on a sunny day. The sign reads 'Nene Crossing' and has images of an adult nene (a type of goose) and a baby nene.

What is a sustainable highway?

In the transportation industry, projects and systems serve many different and sometimes competing objectives, including safety, mobility, environmental protection, livability, and asset management. A sustainable approach seeks to meet all of these needs while hitting economic targets for cost-effectiveness throughout a highway's life cycle. For the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a sustainable approach to highways means helping decision makers make balanced choices among environmental, economic, and social values—the triple bottom line of sustainability—that will benefit current and future road users. A sustainable approach looks at access (not just mobility), movement of people and goods (not just vehicles), and provision of transportation choices, such as safe and comfortable routes for walking, bicycling, and transit. Sustainability encapsulates a diversity of concepts as well, including efficient use of funding, incentives for construction quality, regional air quality, climate change considerations, livability, and environmental management systems.

What is the Sustainable Highways Initiative?

The INVEST self-evaluation tool, a sustainability working group, and the creation of a Sustainable Pavements Program are among the efforts underway at FHWA to help State and local agencies document and improve the sustainability of the Nation's roadways. For years, FHWA has supported research, development, and implementation efforts at the forefront of the sustainability movement. The sustainable highways initiative supports the various activities conducted across FHWA to facilitate balanced decision-making among environmental, economic, and social values—the triple bottom line of sustainability.

In the summer of 2010, FHWA convened a sustainability working group to build capacity and encourage communication and coordination on sustainability concepts and practices within the agency. The group consists of engineers, scientists, planners, and economists with expertise in planning, design, construction, pavement, stormwater management, natural resources, and livability. It meets regularly to coordinate activities, foster increased application of sustainability principles, and provide guidance to FHWA on developing best practices and establishing standardized sustainability measures.

Photograph of a 4-member crew manning a large paving machine on a sunny day

What is the INVEST self-evaluation tool for practitioners?

FHWA's INVEST identifies characteristics of sustainable highways and provides information and techniques to help agencies and organizations integrate sustainability best practices into highway and other roadway projects. The tool is intended to provide a method for practitioners to evaluate their transportation projects and to encourage progress in the sustainability arena. Called the “Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool,” INVEST is a practical, web-based collection of best practices. It is not required and it is not intended to encourage comparisons across transportation agencies and projects. The tool has been developed with ongoing input from State and local transportation agency officials and staff and professional organizations such as AASHTO and ASCE. FHWA plans to continue to update this tool as the transportation sustainability field advances.

To learn more or to use the tool, visit the INVEST website: www.sustainablehighways.org.

Where can I find more information?

Click on the links to access the following: INVEST tool for practitioners, Initiatives, News and Events, Publications, Websites, and Contact.