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Q&A Series: Integrating STAR into Local Plans in Lawrence, KS

This month we hear from Eileen Horn, Sustainability Director in Lawrence and Douglas County, KS. Lawrence received a 4-STAR Rating in October 2016. Since that time, the City has used STAR outcomes as the metrics for their recently adopted Strategic Plan and incorporated STAR actions into an update to their Comprehensive Plan.

What was Lawrence’s initial draw to joining STAR and going through the Leadership Program?

Like so many cities, we were struggling to find a way to measure our progress on sustainability initiatives and clearly communicate this progress to our citizens. STAR provides just the credible, nationally-recognized, city-specific framework that we need. We also realized that it would help us stay motivated and focused if we participated in the Leadership Program cohort. Spurring some friendly competition and a little trash-talking (special shout-out to Barbara Buffaloe in Columbia, MO) also helped keep it fun!

What was the process for incorporating STAR metrics into the Strategic and Comprehensive plans?

We began our STAR certification process in the fall of 2015, and quickly recognized that the STAR framework would provide great language and metrics for other planning efforts, including our Comprehensive Plan (undergoing revisions) and a new Strategic Plan set by our City Commission. Also, we wanted to make sure that STAR wasn’t a one-off, stand-alone effort, but instead, integrated into other key city documents.

How did you ensure that the data collected for STAR certification could be used to support future planning efforts?

For the Comprehensive Plan, we engaged our Planning Department early in the STAR process, and made sure that at various stages of the Comprehensive Plan public comment periods, we were there ready with STAR outcomes and actions that could match what they were hearing from the community. The ready-to-go language in many of the STAR actions was really helpful for our planning staff, as they were able to integrate the STAR language easily, and feel comfortable that it was already a best practice being used by other cities.

In the City Commission Strategic Planning process, we worked to supply the metrics using STAR outcomes that matched the Strategic Plan’s broad goals. In the end, 11 of the STAR outcomes were used directly to measure the Strategic Plan goals. I think all of our staff saw the value in collecting data for both STAR and the Strategic Plan simultaneously, rather than duplicating efforts.

Have the STAR rating system and your certification results been used by other City departments? If so, what were the key factors to ensure it was used?

All of our departments were involved in the STAR data-gathering process, and many of them have integrated STAR into their plans, most notably, our Parks & Recreation department and our Arts Center. I think the key factor to engaging these departmental and community partners was presenting STAR as a resource for all of us, not just a project of the Sustainability Department. We held meetings at the STAR kickoff where we invited stakeholders from all of the 7 goal areas, we communicated progress updates throughout the process, and then held a big community celebration when we received our 4-STAR Rating. I think all of that helped partners feel engaged and bought in to the results.

Moving forward, how do you plan to continue to use the STAR rating system?

We recently went through a process of identifying the key STAR outcomes and actions that we did not receive points for, and prioritizing which of those we will work on as a city. These are being assigned to various departments to help us make progress on before we resubmit in 3 years. More broadly, though, the STAR framework has been instrumental in helping us better communicate the definition of sustainability, and the applicability to so many of our city priorities.

How is the Leading Indicators Program helping to track progress of both plans?

The Indicators program is a helpful tool because it provides a much quicker snapshot than completing the full certification. We just submitted our 2017 Indicators, and plan to maintain those until we certify again in 2020.

What has been the most valuable part of being a STAR Community?

I think that the most valuable part of being a STAR community has been the common framework that it has allowed us to establish as a community and city. Prior to STAR, we had some departments and agencies who felt like sustainability was for those other departments, but not theirs. Our conversations tended to be siloed around waste reduction, energy, local food, etc. However, the comprehensive nature of the STAR goal areas really helped us have a broad conversation about sustainability, and recognize as a community that it’s really not just about environmental sustainability.

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