STAR Communities

The Nation's Most Sustainable City

Seattle has been recognized as a 5-STAR Community - and the nation's most sustainable city - by STAR Communities, the nation's first rating system to evaluate livability and sustainability of U.S. communities. The STAR Community Rating System is a comprehensive framework and certification program for evaluating local sustainability, encompassing economic, environmental and social performance measures. Cities can use the rating system's evaluation measures to assess their current level of sustainability, set targets for moving ahead, and measure progress along the way.

The STAR framework helps communities to evaluate themselves across seven sustainability goal areas: Built Environment, Climate & Energy, Economy & Jobs, Education, Arts & Community, Equity & Empowerment, Health & Safety, and Natural Systems. Seattle received the highest score to date and is only the 2nd community in the nation to achieve a 5-STAR rating. 

STAR Goal Areas

Led by the Office of Sustainability & Environment, Seattle recently completed a year-long robust sustainability assessment that looked at a wide range of objectives an outcomes in the above 7 goal areas. OSE engaged over 200 folks in nearly every city department as well as county, state, national and community organizations. The assessment examined over 500 outcomes and actions through STAR's rating system.  

Value & Use of Star

kids in a wheelbarrowThe STAR process assembles a vast amount of citywide sustainability data in one place and touches nearly all City operations. The assessment provides context and information to advance a variety of communication, policy, and other investment activities. Three ways Seattle is using the STAR process and results: 

1. Identify areas for improvement
The STAR assessment highlights areas where we can make our community even stronger. For example, STAR equity measures show that not all Seattle residents are benefiting from citywide accomplishments. To that end, the Office of Sustainability & Environment, working in close partnership with other departments and the community, will develop an Equity & Environment Initiative to be launched next year. More details will be coming soon. 

2. Support performance measurement more broadly
The STAR framework can bolster efforts to establish performance measures and improve transparency and accountability. Specific departments and programs can use the STAR data to see where we have data gaps and identify new ways to measure progress.  

3. Highlight programs delivering multiple benefits
Numerous Seattle programs earned credit in several areas of the STAR rating system. Understanding where our investments are yielding multiple sustainability benefits helps us with prioritizing programs in the future. The Green Seattle Partnership is a great example of a program with multiple benefits. The program not only restores our urban forest but enhances our parks, removes invasive species, engages volunteers, and builds the skills of young people. Other noted programs included RainWise, HomeWise, Race & Social Justice InitiativeCommunity Power Works, Green Business Program, Grow Seattle Fund, Habitat Conservation Plan, Complete Streets, Neighborhood Matching Fund, Utility Discount Programs, P-Patch Program and Fresh Bucks

A Common Framework

The STAR Communities Rating System was developed by local governments and is the nation's first framework and rating system for evaluating community sustainability. The STAR framework takes a broad definition of sustainability, including economic, social, and environmental goals and measures.

STAR recognizes that the path to sustainability is different for every community - but the common elements are a healthy environment, a strong economy and the well-being of the people living in the community. The STAR Community Rating System was based around the following characteristics of a sustainable community.

THINKS AND ACTS SYSTEMICALLY Sustainable communities take a systems perspective and recognize that people, nature, and the economy are all affected by their actions. Local governments in these communities consider the broader implications before embarking on specific projects, and they look for ways to accomplish multiple goals rather than default to short-term, piecemeal efforts.
INSTILLS RESILIENCY Sustainable communities possess a strong capacity to respond to and bounce back from adversity. Local governments in these communities prepare for and help residents and institutions prepare for disruptions and respond to them swiftly, creatively and effectively.
FOSTERS INNOVATION Sustainable communities capture opportunities and respond to challenges. Local governments in these communities cultivate a spirit of proactive problem solving to provide access to futures otherwise unobtainable and to enable the risk-taking inherent in innovation.
REDEFINES PROGRESS Sustainable communities measure progress by improvements in the health and wellbeing of their people, environment, and economy. Instead of focusing on GDP (throughput of dollars), local governments in these communities use a broad set of indicators.
LIVES WITHIN MEANS Sustainable communities steward natural resources so that future generations have as many opportunities available to them as we do today. They also recognize that resources exist for the benefit of life forms other than humans. Local governments in these communities assess resources, track impacts, and take corrective action when needed so that they meet the needs of today without depleting what they leave for future generations.
CULTIVATES COLLABORATION Sustainable communities engage all facets of society in working together for the benefit of the whole. Local governments in these communities bring government representatives, community members, and organizations together and create a culture of collaboration that encourages innovation, sharing of resources, and jointly shared accountability for results.
ENSURES EQUITY Sustainable communities allocate resources and opportunities fairly so that all people who do the full range of jobs that a community needs can thrive in it. Local governments in these communities actively eliminate barriers to full participation in community life and work to correct past injustices.
EMBRACES DIVERSITY Sustainable communities feature a tapestry of peoples, cultures, and economies underpinned by a richly functioning natural environment. Local governments in these communities celebrate and foster ethnic, cultural, economic, and biological diversity and encourage multiple approaches to accomplish a goal.
INSPIRES LEADERSHIP Sustainable communities provide leadership through action and results. Local governments in these communities recognize their opportunity to effect change by backing visionary policies with practices that serve as an example for citizens and businesses to emulate.
CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVES Sustainable communities engage in continuous discovery, rediscovery, and invention as they learn more about the impacts of their actions. Local governments in these communities track both performance and outcomes, are alert for unintended consequences, and modify strategies based on observed results.