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Quality Assurance and Sustainability


Transportation agencies across the nation are implementing a variety of measures to meet their environmental, economic, and social sustainability goals. Historically, quality management activities have contributed to the sustainability of transportation projects through quality assurance (QA) programs and quality control (QC) plans, which help improve performance, reduce the quantity of unacceptable product constructed and the associated environmental impacts of rework, increased materials use, and community impacts, among other benefits.

In recent years, green public procurement (GPP) initiatives have become increasingly of interest to agencies hoping to reduce the environmental impact of their infrastructure. GPP initiatives rely on construction materials environmental product declarations (EPDs) to communicate the environmental impacts of a material and to compare choices. Some agencies that have started to use some sustainability-related quality metrics (such as global warming potential, emissions, or gallons of water conserved). But these metrics are not uniform and need to be expanded. Quality metrics could be established for EPD programs to support sustainable procurement for many materials. However, although effectively supporting environmental improvements, there has been concern that PCRs and EPD programs, as currently developed and used by manufacturers, provide a range of comparability and harmonization across sectors. . As a result, the information communicated by EPDs may not meet agency needs for comparing impacts and performance. The level of detail and extent of third-party verification also varies by EPD program., Agencies are interested in using EPDs to support GPP, but guidance to support their use to meet agency sustainability objectives is limited.

FHWA has been supporting work to improve both comparability and harmonization of EPDs. However, agencies still lack guidance on ways to implement strategies to support comparability and harmonization. In addition , there is also the issue of verification of EPD properties (such as when an EPD for a mixture indicates it incorporates a certain percentage of recycled material or supplementary cementitious material (SCM) in production), as the verification processes are not well-established by most agencies . If a sustainable product is required or contractor selection is based on a proposed EPD during procurement, then agencies will need to verify that those products that are proposed to meet the EPD are actually incorporated into the project. For example, if an EPD is proposed that includes a percentage of a recycled material (such as recycled asphalt pavement (RAP), recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), recycled tire crumb rubber, or a supplementary cementitious material (SCM)), then the approved mixture designs should also require those same percentages and their use should be verified in production. QA programs currently allow such products provided they meet the current acceptance testing requirements, the material usage quantities (or percentages) as indicated on the EPDs are not currently being verified. Additionally, agencies need guidance on how to approach unacceptable materials.

Currently, no guidance exists to support agencies in establishing and using quality management and metrics as part of GPP to help meet their sustainability goals (e.g., is an agency getting the environmental benefits they are paying for). Guidance on benchmarks for environmental performance is also needed to assist agencies in establishing criteria for sustainable materials procurement.

Ultimately, harmonized PCRs and improved EPDs are needed to ensure accurate life cycle analyses of transportation projects. Research is needed to support harmonization of PCRs for the materials used in transportation construction. PCRs define the system boundaries, impact categories, and methodologies used for developing and using the EPD. Guidance to improve the consistency and comparability of EPDs for transportation materials is needed to support agencies in assessing tradeoffs and making decisions.


1) Identify potential improvements in EPD programs and develop guidance to support agencies in establishing and using quality management and metrics as part of GPP to help meet their sustainability goals.

2) Identify potential future improvements in EPD programs, agency practices, or other areas to maximize the use and benefits from EPDs. Ultimately improving transportation project sustainability through procurement and design decision-making..


Agencies would directly benefit from improved use of quality assurance programs to assist agencies in meeting their sustainability goals, including those associated with net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets. Capturing the economic, environmental, and community benefits associated with improved sustainability through better use of environmental-related quality metrics.

Related Research:

California Legislative Information. (2021). Article 5: Buy Clean California Act. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=PCC&division=2.&title=&part=1.&chapter=3.&article=5

Colorado Office of State Controller. (2021). Green purchasing. https://osc.colorado.gov/spco/procurement-resources/green-purchasing

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. (2021). Sustainable Procurement Charter. https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/p-p2s1-09.pdf

Rangelov, M., Dylla, H. Mukherjee, A., and Sivaneswaran, N. (2021). “Use of environmental product declarations (EPDs) of pavement materials in the United States of America (U.S.A.) to ensure environmental impact reductions.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.124619


Task 1 – Literature review. Publications and specifications associated with public procurement, EPDs, and LCA should be reviewed. The role of quality management in supporting these initiatives should be a focus of this review. The literature review should also include case studies in industries (such as energy and real estate) that have implemented GPP and EPDs to provide insight into implementation challenges.

Task 2 - Collect information from targeted agencies regarding their sustainability goals, GPP, EPDs, and needs to support LCA. Emphasis should be placed on metrics that could be used from a quality standpoint to support these efforts, as well as needs that could be met by additional guidance, or by changes in EPD programs. The role of agencies in influencing EPD programs should also be documented. Agencies that could potentially serve as champions to implementation will be identified.

Task 3 – Identify existing practices used by transportation agencies and industry to support GPP, and related quality management.

Task 4 – Develop guidance to support agencies in establishing and using quality management and metrics as part of GPP to help meet their sustainability goals. Identify further work by industry needed to support PCRs and EPDs to support LCAs. Anticipated topics include: ● EPDs coverage/scope to fully meet transportation agency needs ● Implementation routes and scenarios (such as incentives, benchmarks, go/no-go scenarios, etc.) that are useful in supporting GPP ● Requirements for third-party verification of EPDs ● Benchmarks for environmental performance in materials procurement" might help direct the effort without limiting additional ideas that the panel or PI might develop if this project moves forward ● Methods by which agencies can better influence EPD programs ● Methods by which agencies can improve their verification process between the EPD and the as-constructed product ● Expected barriers and challenges to the implementation of EPDs

Task 5 – Publish a guidebook describing the findings of Tasks 1-4. The guidebook would support agencies to improve their GPP given the current state of practice. In addition, provide recommendations for both agencies and industry to advance that state of practice


Implementation of this research would be made on a state-by-state basis, with agencies identifying improvements to their quality management and QA programs that align with their needs and preferences. Industry engagement will also be a key component of implementation. It is envisioned that one or more pilot implementation(s) could be performed by a champion state (or states), where contract language/specifications are developed and tested for procurement. This could be a follow-on activity.


The AASHTO Committee on Materials and Pavements (specifically technical subcommittee 5c, Quality Assurance and Environmental) will be instrumental in supporting implementation of this work.

Sponsoring Committee:AKC30, Quality Assurance Management
Research Period:12 - 24 months
RNS Developer:Tara Cavalline
Source Info:Tara Cavalline, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Ashley Buss, Iowa State University
Robert Conway, FHWA
Dimitrios Goulias, University of Maryland
Max Grogg, Applied Pavement Technologies
Kevin McGhee, Virginia Department of Transportation
Jeff Withee, FHWA
Date Posted:07/28/2021
Date Modified:08/11/2021
Index Terms:Quality assurance, Sustainable development, Environmental protection, Procurement,
Cosponsoring Committees: 

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