How to Set a Vision, Fast

The National Asphalt Pavement Association wanted to set long-term industry goals in a short amount of time. Research and organization set the tone—and generated revenue too.

In late 2020, the board of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) wanted to focus more on goals relating to climate and sustainability. Those issues were clear, but the goals that needed to be wrapped around them weren’t. “We needed to come up with a plan, but we had no clue what that looked like,” said J. Richard Willis, VP of research, engineering, and technology at NAPA. 

Because NAPA, a trade association, represents members from a host of industries, its first step was convening a Climate Stewardship Task Force that featured 21 members—a lot, but gathering stakeholders from as many aspects of the industry as possible was critical. Within three months of the board directive, the task force held its first meeting. Over the coming months it pored over data. How much was the industry as a whole contributing to carbon emissions? Where were the areas where those contributions could be reduced or eliminated?

In months, NAPA defined actionable goals and means of achieving them.

By November 2021, the task force was prepared to come to the board with a plan: Dubbed the Road Forward, it was an industry-wide pledge to reach net-zero carbon emission asphalt pavements by 2050. “It took us four or five months to get to the point where we were all OK with taking that to the board,” Willis said.

Much of the focus during that time was spent defining actionable goals, and finding realistic means of reaching them. “It wasn’t just setting goals,” Willis said. “We developed tactics on how we’re going to attack them. We identified 19 tactics within four goals, and every tactic actually has a set of actions and activities associated with it.”

Member involvement in the Road Forward isn’t mandatory, but NAPA quickly found that many members were eager to sign on. The initiative serves the company’s publicity, advocacy, and good-business goals, naturally. But Bill Rowan, NAPA senior director, communications and marketing, also found that it could serve as a revenue driver within the association as well. 

“NAPA can’t dictate involvement in the Road Forward,” Rowan said. “We can create the framework, we can fund some of the research, but it really does take as many people as possible getting on board. Once the initiative rolled out, we really started some conversations with members on sponsorships. It was all still very new. But a few initial partners were willing to roll the dice on it.”

The idea has gone well: In 2022, 24 partners signed on as partners for an annual fee of $10,000, which affords those companies publicity, acknowledgment in NAPA materials, access to research opportunities, complimentary conference registrations, and more. Those benefits are still in flux as NAPA determines what works best both for members and itself. But one upside to the process is that beyond providing a financially stable initiative for the organization, it’s also moved its members toward pursuing sustainable efforts.

“A couple of the companies that have signed on want to make sure that their internal goals are aligned with what we’re doing,” said Joseph Shacat, director of sustainable pavements at NAPA. “They have essentially transformed their corporate strategy around this initiative. They’ve told us that they wouldn’t have gone down this road if we hadn’t done this.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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