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Q&A Series: Building a Sustainability Coalition in Winston-Salem, NC

Winston-Salem, NC received their 3-STAR Rating in February 2017, as a part of the Spring 2016 Leadership STAR Community Program. Wendell Hardin, Sustainability Manger, and Helen Peplowski, Sustainability Project Coordinator, tell us how the City took a comprehensive approach during their data collection, in order to assess the whole community’s sustainability. They also share how they plan to capitalize on the strong local institutions and partnerships that were strengthened during that data collection to share and assess their STAR results with the community moving forward. 

Why did Winston-Salem decide to pursue STAR Certification?

While the City of Winston-Salem has been reviewing certain aspects of sustainability annually since 2010, we felt that there were more measurements that should be established than those basic attributes of day-to-day municipal operations such as greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), energy use, vehicle miles driven, etc. After reviewing different available tools over several years, the city’s Sustainability Office recommended STAR Communities’ framework to the Mayor, City Council, and City Manager’s Office and with their support our city chose the STAR Community Rating System as our sustainability tool moving forward.

 

What entities made up your “STAR Team”? Was the team assembled before applying for the Leadership STAR Communities Spring 2016 program, or did you begin to assemble your team after orientation?

Our STAR Team was made up of the Sustainability Office staff at the lead with each city department providing a representative, along with organizations, universities, non-profits and foundations providing representatives, and our STAR technical advisor. Our STAR Team framework was developed prior to our first orientation. Once we knew that we were chosen for the Leadership Program, each member was put into place.

What role did community partners outside of Winston-Salem’s city government play in your data collection? Did the data collection process introduce you to new or future partners/collaborators?

We utilized a total of twenty-one organizations outside of the city and county governments, and we hope that even more will become involved before our recertification in four years. Many of these community partners have partnered with the City of Winston-Salem for a project or program at some point in time. We hope as more organizations find out about this program, that we find new community partners who want to participate in data collection in the future.

Can you describe Forsyth Futures and the role they played in your certification process? How will you involve them as you dive into your certification?

Forsyth Futures is a local non-profit that specializes in research and data analysis of a variety of topics similar to the seven goal areas of STAR. Because of the wide variety of data they collect and make available to the public, we had direct access to many relevant data sets and reports. It was almost a one-stop-shop for our data collection process for many of the outcomes. The staff at Forsyth Futures is also very connected within the community because of the comprehensive nature of their research. This was valuable to us in the certification process because they were able to point us to the right organizations and contacts if they didn’t have the exact data we were looking for.

We have already begun involving them in our next steps after our certification. They have participated in one of our post-certification workshops and are able to help us to get the word out about this program to other community leaders in Winston-Salem, including heads of other non-profits in the area. We hope that with their help, we are able to get more community buy-in to STAR and encourage more organizations to actively participate in helping us progress in the framework.

You received your certification in February, how have you shared your certification with the community?

Currently the Sustainability Office is holding 4 workshops with those community organizations and city departments that participated in data collection. We have also presented a plaque with our achievement to City Council and issued a press release about our success. We have also had opportunities to speak to members of the community and share this information with them.

What is the goal of your community workshops? Addressing gaps? Celebrating your certification? Sharing information?

The workshops consist of detailing the results, along with informing participants of the changes taking place in STAR’s Version 2.0. We have also been asking participants to identify any of the action measures that align with the goals of their respective departments and organizations. With this information we will create a report of recommendations based on the priorities identified for the next steps we should take as a city.

Additionally, by having both city departments and community organizations present at these workshops, we hope to break down silos that may exist between these entities and encourage groups to work together towards same or similar goals.

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