Evanston competes in STAR sustainability contest

Amy Whyte, Assistant Campus Editor

Evanston will soon find out how it stacks up against other communities’ sustainability efforts.

The city is measuring and collecting data to submit to the Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities program. Evanston is among 31 communities chosen last year to participate in the pilot project.

“STAR Communities is basically the first voluntary self-reporting framework for evaluating, quantifying and improving the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities,” said Catherine Hurley, the city’s sustainability coordinator.

Full participation in the program and access to all its tools costs a minimum annual subscription fee of $5,000. Hilari Varnadore, the executive director of STAR Communities, said the program is intended to not only assess the community’s current level of sustainability but also provide the education and tools to help it improve over time.

The rating system measures not just efforts typically associated with sustainability, such as waste reduction and energy efficiency, but also other aspects of community life including civic engagement and arts and culture.

“What it offers is a framework for sustainability that encompasses the three pillars of economy, equity and environment,” Varnadore said. “It goes beyond measuring that kind of green initiative that many cities are going to really include measures of social justice and equitable services and access, local economy and business retention, and health and safety as well.”

The program awards a three-, four- or five-star rating on the basis of the data collected and submitted by each community. Hurley said her goal for this first data submission is to achieve a four-star rating.

“A high rating would really help to reconfirm Evanston’s leadership position in the field of urban sustainability, and I think get a lot of recognition for all the things that the community has been doing for many years,” Hurley said.

Previous sustainability efforts Evanston has made include the Evanston Climate Action Plan, which was developed in 2008 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When Evanston was selected to participate in the STAR Communities program, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she hoped it would help the city continue to succeed in its sustainability efforts.

“We can all be proud of the example Evanston is setting for other cities in the Midwest and around the country,” Tisdahl said in a news release at the time. “I am confident that we will continue to serve as a model for sustainability.”

Hurley is heading the data collecting process with the help of interns and volunteers, but she said all of the city’s departments are helping with the process by contributing any relevant internal data they may have collected. Organizations that contribute in any way to the well-being of the community — whether environmentally, economically or culturally — are also invited to assist in the process by submitting any data they may have.

The city’s Office of Sustainability will host a meeting Oct. 15 to provide additional information about the data-collecting process and how community members and organizations can contribute.

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