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What is a Sustainable Community?

The path to sustainability is different for every community – but the common elements are a healthy environment, a strong economy and the well-being of the people living in the community.When sustainability areas are addressed in tandem with each other, they have a powerful, positive effect on the quality of life and future of a community. By overlapping work in these areas, efficiencies emerge and better results are achieved. It’s an approach that solves local problems while being innovative about progress.

Before we could begin to develop evaluation measures and metrics for sustainability, we first had to define a sustainable community. The STAR Community Rating System was based around the following characteristics of a sustainable community.



Sustainable communities take a systems perspective and recognize that people, nature, and the economy are all affected by their actions. Local governments in these communities consider the broader implications before embarking on specific projects, and they look for ways to accomplish multiple goals rather than default to short-term, piecemeal efforts.


Sustainable communities possess a strong capacity to respond to and bounce back from adversity. Local governments in these communities prepare for and help residents and institutions prepare for disruptions and respond to them swiftly, creatively and effectively.


Sustainable communities capture opportunities and respond to challenges. Local governments in these communities cultivate a spirit of proactive problem solving to provide access to futures otherwise unobtainable and to enable the risk-taking inherent in innovation.


Sustainable communities measure progress by improvements in the health and wellbeing of their people, environment, and economy. Instead of focusing on GDP (throughput of dollars), local governments in these communities use a broad set of indicators.


Sustainable communities steward natural resources so that future generations have as many opportunities available to them as we do today. They also recognize that resources exist for the benefit of life forms other than humans. Local governments in these communities assess resources, track impacts, and take corrective action when needed so that they meet the needs of today without depleting what they leave for future generations.


Sustainable communities engage all facets of society in working together for the benefit of the whole. Local governments in these communities bring government representatives, community members, and organizations together and create a culture of collaboration that encourages innovation, sharing of resources, and jointly shared accountability for results.


Sustainable communities allocate resources and opportunities fairly so that all people who do the full range of jobs that a community needs can thrive in it. Local governments in these communities actively eliminate barriers to full participation in community life and work to correct past injustices.


Sustainable communities feature a tapestry of peoples, cultures, and economies underpinned by a richly functioning natural environment. Local governments in these communities celebrate and foster ethnic, cultural, economic, and biological diversity and encourage multiple approaches to accomplish a goal.


Sustainable communities provide leadership through action and results. Local governments in these communities recognize their opportunity to effect change by backing visionary policies with practices that serve as an example for citizens and businesses to emulate.


Sustainable communities engage in continuous discovery, rediscovery, and invention as they learn more about the impacts of their actions. Local governments in these communities track both performance and outcomes, are alert for unintended consequences, and modify strategies based on observed results.