Check your calendars. Earth Day is April 22, just weeks away. This will be the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which is commonly referred to as the start of the modern environmental movement.
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.
A new report published by the AASHTO Center for Excellence in the Environment, “Benefits of Transportation: Telling America’s Transportation and Environment Story,” takes a broader look at how well state departments of transportation talk about their environmental responsibilities (Full disclosure: I work for AASHTO and helped review the new report). And the report offers recommendations to enhance how transportation agencies share environmental messages.
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.