Western cities among the new sustainability rock STARs
Beta communities will test a new LEED-like indexBy Bill Lascher
What makes a city sustainable?
LEED standards are now widely accepted measurements of energy efficiency for individual buildings. Last month, a coalition of organizations named the first “beta” communities for the new STAR Community Index, which will be somewhat akin to a LEED standard for entire cities.
The Western cities chosen include Boulder, Colo.; Austin, Tex.; and King County, Wash. Eight Western cities and one county were represented on STAR's steering and executive committees, while many more participated in technical advisory committees that shaped the goal modules. Three Western cities are among the STAR program's initial sponsors: Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Santa Monica, Calif.
Beta communities' initial focus will be on sustainability assessment and climate protection. Later goals will involve social equity, health and safety, and a wide range of other measurements. Meanwhile, these test communities will create a prototype online tool that will be used to measure performance toward achieving these goals.
“Our hope is that through engagement in STAR we can stay apprised of where there are shortcomings or gaps in what addresses our strategic plan,” says Richard Gelb, the performance measures manager for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks and a member of the STAR steering committee. “There's this other reality that jurisdictions like ours spend a lot of time to trying to figure out approaches to moving our community toward a more sustainable state.”
ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability is developing STAR with partners including the U.S. Green Building Council – which administers the LEED standard – the Center for American Progress and the National League of Cities. The ICLEI expects beta communities to pay $25,000 by April 11 – a payment that can be made by the local government or partners such as a community foundation.
“We wanted to identify goal areas that were somewhat focused on assessment, baselining where communities are, and also identify those areas that were most relevant to a local climate action strategy,” STAR Program Director Lynne Barker said. Organizations like the National Resources Defense Council or Smartlink rank city sustainability but don't apply the standard measurements governments want.
“A National framework can streamline the process by aligning local priorities with a national set of performance measures,” Barker said.
Costs of participating beyond the $25,000 for beta communities are unknown.
“We haven't established the business model or a cost yet,” Barker said.
Organizers will seek communities of varying sizes, demographics and geography to participate, Barker said. They will be evaluated based on the sophistication of their use of graphical information software (GIS), their climate action strategies, what sustainability programs they have in place, what resources they have available and whether they'll have adequate staffing available to allocate to the STAR process.
Critiques of LEED's early lack of performance measures over time have helped shape the formation of the STAR system, Gelb said.
“We should be requiring really rigorous documentation to prove you have achieved certain things versus accepting building blocks toward those achievements,” he said.
About Bill Lascher
Bill Lascher is a freelance environmental journalist based in Portland, OR. He specializes in stories exploring the intersection of the natural environment with science, business and political, cultural, social and technological forces. His website is www.lascheratlarge.com.