Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities (STAR Communities) helps communities evaluate improve their sustainability efforts and certify their achievement. It started in 2007 from a partnership of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Center for American Progress, the National League of Cities, and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA.
It is one of several third-party certifications of various sustainability efforts.
The concept of “sustainability” has been tossed around so much that it can lose meaning. Most people think only about environmental sustainability. But we need to recognize “three pillars of sustainability”: environmental, economic, and social.
The STAR Community Rating System was released in 2012. It provides a data-driven framework. Communities can use it to assess their efforts in seven different areas that encompass the three pillars:
Summary of the STAR framework
- Built environment: including ambient noise and light, infrastructure, parks, and affordable housing
- Climate and energy: including waste minimization and efficient use of resources
- Economy and jobs
- Education, arts, and community: including historic preservation, social and cultural diversity, and aging in community
- Equity and empowerment: including civic engagement, human services, and poverty prevention and alleviation.
- Health and safety: including food access, emergency management and response, and hazard mitigation
- Natural systems: including green infrastructure, biodiversity, water and air quality, and natural resource protection
- Innovation and process: including local innovation, good governance, and following best practices
In all, these seven goal areas comprise 44 objectives and 526 action measures. By using a common framework, cities can track their progress and, to some extent, compare themselves with other cities.
STAR is a rating system, not a ranking system. Cities seeking certification can work toward three levels of certification: 3-STAR, 4-STAR, or 5-STAR. They compile their own data and submit it for evaluation. Certification doesn’t require cities to submit data for every one of the objectives. As a result, it is not possible to compare cities with the same certification head to head.
Typically, a city will set up a team that will spend a month or two getting organized. Then it will take up to six months gathering data on as many of the action measures as possible. Once they submit the data, the STAR Technical Team verifies it and assigns the rating. STAR Communities certification is good for four years, after which time they will have to repeat the process and be recertified.
As of the time of writing this post, there is at least one STAR-certified city or county in 40 states. Many other cities and counties have officially begun the process of seeking certification. Still more have begun to consider certification as sustainable cities.
Comparable third-party certifications
USGBC launched the first important sustainability certification, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), in 2000. It certifies sustainable building projects. Its sister company, Green Business Certification, Inc. (GCBI) administrates it worldwide, along with other third-party certifications:
- EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies), international certification of green buildings, especially in India)
- GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark), for real estate investment portfolios
- Parksmart, for sustainable parking garages
- PEER (Performance Excellence in Energy Renewal), for energy power systems
- SITES (Sustainable Sites Initiative), for landscaping development projects, with or without buildings
- TRUE Zero Waste, for designing the lifecycle of products to eliminate waste
- WELL Building Standard, for healthy indoor spaces.
GBCI has recently launched LEED for Communities and Cities, which has a similar mission to STAR Communities. STAR was developed by and for American city and county governments. LEED for Communities and Cities aims to certify sustainable cities worldwide. Last fall, the two organizations announce a partnership. At least for now, the partnership does not amount to a merger.
Is your community STAR certified? If not, is it moving forward to demonstrate and measure its sustainability efforts?