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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 certified STAR communities are affecting positive change through the below publications and case studies.


Resilience Guide, July 2018

One of the top reasons that U.S. cities and counties come to STAR Communities is because they are looking for ways to understand buzzwords like sustainability and resiliency. Recently city and county officials have asked how the STAR Community Rating System relates to resilience and whether STAR’s metrics and best practices can be used to measure community-wide resilience. To answer this question, we’ve put together a new publication, Measuring Community Resilience with the STAR Community Rating System.

This new guide shows how you can use STAR’s framework of goals, objectives, and evaluation measures to better understand and baseline community conditions, set goals for improvement, identify best practices, and measure progress over time. It also includes metrics and case studies that communities can use to measure local resilience, recognize connected community systems, learn about best practices, and start setting a path towards becoming a more resilient and sustainable community. Download the guide.

Alignment between STAR and the SDGs, White Paper, March 2018

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution establishing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the intent of creating a more sustainable world by 2030. Since the SDG targets and indicators were developed for nation-states, many are not directly applicable at the local scale, especially in the U.S. Organizations that have attempted to localize the SDGs to the U.S. context have run into challenges common to open data initiatives in the U.S., including the limitations of using only nationally available datasets and adapting international standards that include critical issues in developing nations that have generally been addressed in the U.S. (for example, access to water, sanitation, education for girls, etc).

To address these limitations, organizations that are looking to apply the SDGs to U.S. cities and counties could consider using the 500+ evaluation measures contained in the STAR Community Rating System (STAR) to track progress towards the SDG goal areas. The 17 SDGs offer an existing high-level framework that aligns closely with the 7 goals and 45 objectives in the STAR framework.

To support organizations and communities that are interested in using STAR evaluation measures to track progress towards the SDGs, STAR Communities has reviewed all 108 quantitative outcome measures (plus Innovation & Process) in the rating system and mapped them to the 17 SDG goal areas. Download the white paper.

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

Integrating Sustainability Targets into Strategic Plans, June 2018

To make measurable progress within a shorter timeframe, elected officials and city managers regularly supplement comprehensive plans with short-term strategic plans. These plans tend to be more concrete and narrowly focused than comprehensive plans. A strategic plan will establish the community’s highest priority issues for the next two to five years and then outline a specific action plan to address these priorities with clearly defined targets, timelines, and responsibilities for implementation.

The STAR Community Rating System, the leading sustainability framework and certification program in the United States, can be a helpful resource for communities that are developing a strategic plan. The STAR goal areas and objectives can be used to frame and organize a strategic plan, while STAR outcome and action measures can be used as performance targets and actions for the plan. Embedding STAR evaluation measures into a plan doesn’t just help with writing and development, but can also support the implementation and tracking phases of a plan.

In this case study, we share how Lawrence, KS; Riverside, CA; and Raleigh, NC are using the STAR framework and evaluation measures to support strategic action planning processes.

Communicating Results Through Open Data Dashboards, May 2018

Collecting and displaying data from disparate and often siloed government agencies and departments in a meaningful and interpretive way can be a real challenge for local governments, many of which have limited funds for information technology and performance management solutions.

An increasingly popular and user-friendly way to display and communicate local progress is through an open data dashboard on the local government’s website. The quantitative outcome measures and performance thresholds in the STAR Community Rating System can be a useful resource for communities looking for standardized and vetted metrics and methodologies to power an open data program and dashboard.

In this case study, we share how Austin, TX; Cleveland, OH; and West Palm Beach, FL are using the STAR framework and evaluation measures to support open data efforts and integrate certification results into dashboards.

Including Sustainability in Requests for Proposal, May 2018

A Request For Proposal (RFP) is a contracting tool used by local governments to solicit ideas and bids for projects that will be completed either exclusively by a vendor or in collaboration with staff. These projects tend to have a limited duration with clearly articulated deliverables. They may require specialized skill sets or increases in workers to supplement staff.

The framework and evaluation measures in the STAR Community Rating System can be used as tools to hone in on the sustainability components of primary focus for any RFP. This case study details how Iowa City, IA and Las Vegas, NV have used STAR to incorporate sustainability into their requests for proposals.

Capturing Community Perception Through Surveys, April 2018

Understanding how residents perceive their communities—the good and the bad—is crucial to helping local decision makers adapt strategies and policies to meet community needs. Because perceptions of sustainability can vary widely within a community, a community perception survey can be a useful way to gauge overall satisfaction within a jurisdiction and may help to identify performance gaps in existing programs and services.

This case study details how the City of Fayetteville, AR used a community-wide survey to better understand community perceptions of sustainability and gaps identified in the city’s 2014 STAR certification.

Bringing Equity into the Sustainability Conversation, April 2018

STAR certification provides a clear, data-driven approach to assessing a community’s sustainability efforts. The baseline assessment achieved through certification is an important first step to advancing community-wide sustainability, as it often reveals areas for improvement. Certified STAR communities are digging into their certification results and finding the tools to engage partners and work towards creating more equitable and sustainable communities through data and performance indicators.

This case study features the ways that the City of Dubuque, IA is using their STAR certification results to guide and support equity issues across the community, from creating a community-wide equity profile to increasing food access and security.

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.