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Publications & Case Studies

The STAR Community Rating System provides best practices intended to move the needle on community-level conditions or outcomes. Learn more about how STAR Certified Communities are affecting positive change in their cities and counties through the below publications and case studies.


Climate Change Guide, June 2017

STAR’s Climate Change Guide provides step-by-step guidance, checklists, messaging support, and links to numerous other climate resources for communities working in the climate change space. STAR Communities developed the Climate Change Guide with support from local leaders and members of its technical and governance committees. The Guide draws upon strategies and best practices in the STAR Community Rating System and the experiences of over 60 STAR-certified communities.

Communities can use the Climate Change Guide to support new climate action planning, expand existing efforts, implement climate pledges, and advocate for new efforts. Specifically, it supports communities to:

  • Make informed and supported climate action decisions;
  • Sort through and prioritize the many potential climate action strategies and actions;
  • Identify and categorize community systems for climate efforts;
  • Align climate efforts to existing priority areas;
  • Build support and develop narratives that highlight climate action’s multiple co-benefits; and
  • Lay out a plan for comprehensive climate action.

The Climate Change Guide is applicable to all US communities and includes local perspectives, community examples, and trends in climate action for new and developing sustainability programs, wet and dry climates, and high- and low-density communities.

50 Certified STAR Communities Report, May 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 7.07.20 AMThe release of the STAR Community Rating System (STAR) in 2012 marked an important milestone in the urban sustainability movement. Hundreds of stakeholders worked together by consensus to deliver a common framework for sustainability with nationally accepted standards for measuring the depth and breadth of the social, economic, and environmental issues that our nation’s cities and counties are facing.

In March 2016, we marked a new milestone: more than 50 cities and counties have been certified under the STAR Community Rating System, with hundreds of others actively using the framework to guide local planning, decision-making, investment, and public engagement.

This report is about the first 50 STAR-certified communities, lessons learned, and ways that STAR is helping towns, cities, and counties to become more sustainable, equitable, and resilient.

Planning Guide, May 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 3.09.01 PMOne of the top reasons that cities and counties come to STAR Communities is because they are looking for ways to strengthen and support local planning efforts. By integrating sustainability into a comprehensive plan, a community can transition from talking about sustainability in the abstract to identifying concrete practices, implementing solutions, and measuring impact.

The STAR Community Rating System provides a robust, data-driven framework that allows communities to first define sustainability for themselves and then evaluate and improve economic, environmental, and social performance. This Planning Guide provides guidance and case studies on how to use STAR to integrate sustainability into comprehensive, strategic, and sustainability plans. It provides strategies on:

  • Aligning with the STAR Framework
  • Setting benchmarks and targets
  • Discovering best practices
  • Communicating sustainability & engaging the public
  • Conducting a baseline sustainability assessment
  • Integrating multiple sustainability topic areas
  • Tracking plan implementation and progress

Case Studies

Measuring Environmental Justice with STAR, March 2016

Environmental Justice Case Study The STAR Community Rating System provides a sound methodology and resources to help cities and counties that want to take a deliberate approach to environmental justice. This case study highlights how Houston, TX and Burlington, VT dealt with environmental justice issues in their communities.

In Houston, we explore how citizens organized to address the air pollution and public health hazards of being located next to the country’s second busiest port. Then Burlington shares how the city is reducing the lead hazards that come with an old housing stock and that disproportionately affect low-income communities. Houston and Burlington pursued STAR Certification to credibly and transparently track progress toward overall sustainability objectives such as environmental justice. Both communities were part of the Spring 2014 Leadership Program and achieved STAR Community Ratings in April 2015. These success stories were included in their applications for STAR certification.

Partnerships to Advance Community Priorities with STAR, August 2015

Memphis_Case_StudyIt’s an issue that trips up many sustainability offices – staff, elected officials, and community members have lots of worthwhile project ideas, but with limited capacity, which ones should be prioritized? And with limited resources, how can those priorities get funded?

Quantitative measurement of sustainability conditions and trends is a key feature of the STAR Community Rating System, which can be challenging for some communities that have focused more on actions and planning. STAR provides a unique opportunity to evaluate your community’s strengths and challenges in order to direct resources efficiently and effectively to the areas of greatest need.

Read more in our latest case study from Memphis-Shelby County, TN about how their Office of Sustainability used participation in the STAR Community Leadership Program to build and leverage partnerships within the local government and the broader community, and to prioritize future investment and direct conversations with local funders.

Climate Resilience in the STAR Community Rating System, May 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 11.20.20 AMThis case study demonstrates how Baltimore, MD and Tucson, AZ have taken proactive measures to address climate impacts. The concept of resilience is well integrated into the STAR Community Rating System because, at its core, resilience means that a community has the resources and infrastructure in place to sustain its environment, economy, and people, regardless of shifting conditions or unforeseen events.

This case study was produced in advance of the Resilient Cities Summit convened by the National League of Cities and U.S. Green Building Council in Aspen, CO and the National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis, MO.

Integrating the STAR Community Rating System into Comprehensive Planning, April 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 11.25.53 AM This case study, featuring examples from Plano, TX and Phoenix, AZ, shows how cities and counties can use STAR to guide the development of a comprehensive plan and then measure subsequent implementation. It demonstrates ways to increase accountability for results through the incorporation of metrics and best practices from STAR into comprehensive plans.

The case study is based off of our webinar on Best Practices for Integrating Sustainability into Long-Range Planning, held in January 2015 in conjunction with the Sustainable Communities Division of the American Planning Association.