STAR Communities Releases Rating System

STAR Communities Releases Rating System

STAR Communities, a national system helping cities to develop sustainability indicators and certify their progress, released its Rating System Version 1.0 on October 1st . The STAR Community Index, which includes 7 goal areas with 44 objectives, is the nation’s first voluntary, self-reporting framework for evaluating, quantifying, and improving the sustainability of US communities. The index goes beyond city operations and looks at city indicators of sustainability such as climate and energy, natural systems, art and education, economy, equity and empowerment, and built environment. We talked to Daniella Hirschfeld, Technical Manager of STAR Communities, about the program, its future, the role of STAR’s beta communities and the Pilot Community Program.

Ms. Hirschfeld described STAR as an ambitious effort to try to standardize sustainability indicators throughout communities in the US. While a number of local governments have already done that, she said, several other cities lack assistance and a framework to systematize sustainability. STAR is not intended to be a ranking system, but rather a tool that provides cities, towns and counties with a standard and comprehensive set of goals, objectives and performance measures by which to improve interdependent environmental, economic, and social conditions. STAR will provide a standard framework of sustainability goals and validation measures—from recycling rates and reduced greenhouse gas emissions to education quality and public safety. With clear, consistent, and easily accessible performance measures, local government staff and officials in cities, towns and counties will be able to more easily track their performance over time.

STAR’s earliest adopters were the 10 Beta Communities: Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX; Boulder, CO; Chattanooga, TN; Cranberry Township, PA; Des Moines, IA; King County, WA; New York, NY; St. Louis, MO; and Washington, DC. Between 2010 and 2012, they provided guidance on the system’s feasibility, framework and design; reviewed goals, objectives and evaluation measures; and participated in the development of the online environment. STAR is now moving into the pilot phase with the Pilot Community Program. STAR Pilot Communities, to be formally announced on November 1st, will be the first US cities and counties rated in the STAR Community Index. Ms. Hirschfeld pointed out how STAR’s menu-based flexible system allows local governments to select the goals they feel are most important and relevant for their communities. While some menu options are required as prerequisites within STAR categories, ratings will be awarded on a percentage of points achieved, up to 100 points per goal area. For the pilot year, Ms. Hirschfeld said, verification will take place in-house. Preliminary scores will be available within the reporting tool, but STAR team members will verify submittal requirements. The STAR Community team engaged in formal business planning process over the summer to prioritize future certification/verification processes and further details will be announced in 2013.