Rating System for Sustainable Roadways Gains Traction

Greenroads, a sustainability rating system for roadway design and construction, is not just taking the road to market, it’s blazing the route. Greenroads is helping turn our highways and byways green with sustainability standards for paving materials and recycling, roadway design, noise and pollution mitigation, and protection of environmentally sensitive areas and natural resources.

In just four years, the project evolved from a student’s inspiration for master’s research to a company at the vanguard, sparking wide interest and a range of pilot projects for rating municipal, state, and federal roadways. The UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) has been working with Steve Muench, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Jeralee Anderson, a Ph.D. student working with Muench, to navigate the route to market.

“The Greenroads website launched in January 2010,” Muench said. “Now we are working with road-owning agencies on about 30 pilot projects nationwide. They are testing the certification system to see how it works and how it can be improved.”

Projects range from the City of Seattle’s Mercer Corridor project, to a section of US 97 in central Oregon, to part of the Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone National Park.

An $80-Billion Industry, Significant Potential for Impact
Roadway construction and repair is about an $80-billion annual industry in the US. Although the building construction industry has benefitted from sustainability rating systems such as LEED®, the transportation sector has not yet adopted green certification, even though more public entities and construction firms are incorporating green items into their roadway projects. While various rating systems are in the early stages of development nationwide, Greenroads is the front runner with its sophisticated model and readiness for application.

C4C Initiatives Aim for Broad Market Adoption
Laura Dorsey, C4C Technology Manager working with Muench, Anderson, and their team, is excited about Greenroads. In 2009, C4C invested $50,000 in Greenroads using its Commercialization Gap Funds to support construction of a market-ready and user-friendly website (www.greenroads.us).

“We hope the Greenroads standards will be broadly adopted and create a green, more sustainable environment for the benefit of the public,” Dorsey said. “We are applying for a certification trademark for Greenroads, and copyright protection for its website.”

Muench and Anderson established a corporate nonprofit foundation last August. The nonprofit educates engineers in how to design and build green roadways and will manage certification reviews for roadway projects using the Greenroads Rating System. As with most rating systems, projects will pay a fee for sustainability evaluation and certification from the Greenroads Foundation, which serves as an independent third party. Once the system is through the pilot testing stage and ready for wider adoption, the Greenroads Foundation will ramp up with professional staff.

A Powerhouse Partner
Early on in their research, the UW team secured a powerhouse industry partner—CH2M Hill, a global leader in engineering consulting, design, operations, and program management.

“As a partner, CH2M Hill has put a lot of time and effort into helping us develop Greenroads and spread the word throughout its industry network,” Muench said.

The firm is also working with the Federal Highway Administration to develop roadway sustainability rating systems, and the UW team is involved in that effort. Given CH2M Hill’s international client base, the Greenroads rating system is also seeing substantial interest abroad.

“A few years ago, when I first started talking with government and industry people about our Greenroads system, the response was lukewarm,” Muench said. “Now sustainability has become a hot topic and interest is rapidly rising. C4C’s early faith in our work is why we’re ready for market just as there is one.”