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Tracking Sustainability Progress in Pinellas County, FL

County kicks off certification process with STAR workshop

Pinellas County, Florida has a long-standing commitment to tracking and documenting local sustainability progress. In 2006, the County became the first local government in Florida to be certified at the silver level under the Florida Green Building Coalition’s Green Local Government Program, and in 2013 became the first to recertify, improving to the gold level. In 2017, the County had to decide between continuing with the FGBC program or certifying progress through a national program such as STAR. They decided a more holistic assessment of sustainability was needed and opted to pursue the County’s first STAR Community Rating.

In addition to a providing more holistic view of sustainability, going through the STAR certification process at this point in time provided Pinellas County the opportunity to align the data collection with other initiatives. The County will be embarking on a comprehensive plan update in late 2018 and data from their STAR certification will inform the plan’s structure and targets. In addition, the County wanted to be able to collaborate with other local jurisdictions. Several Florida counties and cities in the region have achieved STAR certification s in recent years, including St. Petersburg (1 of 24 municipalities in the County), which received a 3-STAR Community Rating in 2016. The STAR Community Rating System provides a common language for the region to discuss shared opportunities and challenges. One major regional challenge is sea-level rise; STAR can provide common metrics to build off of as they face this growing challenge.

“As we know, issues such as sea level rise and climate change do not respect jurisdictional boundaries, so a coordinated response is critical. STAR offers a common platform for us to engage our partners, so we can respond effectively,” said Christopher Moore, Principal Planner for Pinellas County.

Through the yearlong Leadership STAR Community Program, Pinellas County will spend the first half of 2018 collecting data in order to be certified by the end of the year. To prepare for data collection, Pinellas County brought together a core team of county staff and University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension staff to lead their efforts. The team spent last fall receiving training from STAR via webinars and conference calls and becoming familiar with the evaluation measures in the rating system and best practices for data collection. After a couple of months of preparation and planning, STAR staff traveled to Pinellas County in March to hold two days of strategic meetings with local stakeholders to take data collection to the next level during a QuickSTARt workshop.

There were six meetings over the two days divided into the STAR Community Rating System’s goal areas: climate & energy; economy & jobs; education, arts & community; equity & empowerment; health & safety; and natural systems (built environment data was handled by the core team). Pinellas County’s core team identified and invited key stakeholders for each of the goal areas, including representatives from Duke Energy, St. Petersburg College, Pinellas County Youth Advisory Council, Tampa Bay Water, the League of Women Voters, and representatives from most county departments.

In each work session, participants received a brief overview of the STAR Community Rating System, and then spent time reviewing the STAR action measures related to their work. Participants provided information on which action measures were being done in the County, where to find the data needed, and in cases where the action wasn’t currently being done, identified potential future projects. Over the course of the 2-day workshop, over 125 new action measures were identified and 150 points were added to the County’s preliminary score.

In addition to the data collection, the workshop provided an opportunity for attendees to network and learn about the work of their colleagues. Certified STAR communities report that a common benefit of the STAR certification process is increased capacity building and breaking down of silos.

The Pinellas County core team will spend the next few months collecting the data needed for reporting in the STAR application. The County plans to submit for certification in late summer.

For more information on technical assistance and workshops, please visit the STAR technical assistance webpage or contact: Lacey Shaver, Community Engagement Manager at STAR Communities via phone at 202.828.1311 or via email at lacey@starcommunities.org.

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