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A year-long process of tracking and measuring Evanston’s sustainability efforts has culminated in national recognition for Evanston as a 4-STAR Community. The rating reflects Evanston’s progress against a set of standardized sustainability objectives and evaluation measures.
 
The STAR Community Rating System is a voluntary self-reporting framework for evaluating the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of a community. It provides a roadmap for community leaders to assess how sustainable they already are, to set goals for moving ahead, and to measure their progress along the way.

The City of Evanston was one of 30 communities invited to be a pilot community to test and evaluate the STAR Rating System, technical guide, and prototype tools. During the year-long pilot program, Evanston’s Sustainable Programs Coordinator, Catherine Hurley, led a massive data collection effort, looking at Evanston actions and outcomes across seven goal areas.

The City submitted its documentation for review and verification in January and learned in early March that it had earned 488 points, well above the 400 points needed to achieve a 4-STAR rating.
 
Altogether there are five levels of certification –
• Participating STAR Community
• Reporting STAR Community
• 3-STAR (for sustainability leadership)
• 4-STAR (for national excellence)
• 5-STAR (top tier in national sustainability). 
Evanston is the second city to achieve 4-STAR certification. No community has yet earned a 5-STAR rating.

Evanston’s 4-STAR Results
The STAR Rating System consists of seven sustainability goal areas, with a number of objectives and evaluation measures for each. The process of compiling and analyzing all the information for Evanston’s submission provided an opportunity to appreciate the community’s successes to date and identify those areas needing improvement. Highlights, including the percentage of available points earned in each goal area:

Built Environment (93% of points available). Evanston received high marks for its drinking water quality and safe wastewater and stormwater management. Other noteworthy features: 98% of Evanston housing is within a half-mile walk of a public space or park; City policies promote compact, mixed-use, and transit-oriented development.

Education, Arts and Community (87%). Evanston’s strong track record in historic preservation was recognized as was its support for the arts. Evanston is home to more than 85 arts and cultural organizations, with 10 times more residents employed in arts-related work than the national average. The City was also credited with promoting community cohesion by providing venues for community interaction and for community-building activities and events.

Health and Safety (75%). The City received full marks for its superior fire protection service and for the police department’s Safe Communities programs. Evanston also earned credit for its support for active recreation facilities and infrastructure, including bicycle and pedestrian amenities, and for its local food system, including its farmers markets and community gardens.

Economy and Jobs (66%). Evanston earned high marks for business retention and development. Its policies and programs designed to increase access to job opportunities for local residents were also recognized.

Climate and Energy (60%). Evanston demonstrated its progress in this goal area by achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reduction target set in its 2008 Climate Action Plan: a 13% reduction in emissions relative to a 2005 baseline. The City’s programs and incentives aimed at improving the energy and water efficiency of its building stock were also acknowledged.

Equity and Empowerment (57%). The 158,731 hours of service that volunteers provided to help celebrate Evanston’s 150th anniversary earned points in this goal area. Establishment of the Erie Family Health Center to bring quality health care to underserved residents was another highlight.

Natural Systems (46%). Volunteer groups organizing to remove invasive species and restore natural habitat gained credits for Evanston in this goal area. Other creditworthy programs included the City’s efforts to promote green infrastructure practices and its “I Heart Evanston Trees” campaign that raised $20,000, enough to pay for planting 100 new trees.

In addition to the points it received in these seven goal areas, Evanston also earned 30 credits (out of a possible 50 credits) for Innovation and Process.
 
Looking ahead
The 4-STAR certification is effective for three years at which point the City will be expected to measure its progress through recertification. Evanston’s 488-point score has established a high baseline for the community. To retain its 4-STAR rating, Evanston will have to go beyond this baseline and demonstrate continuous improvements across the seven categories.

In the Climate and Energy goal area, for example, Evanston cannot expect to receive credit simply by holding the line on its greenhouse gas emissions. The City will have to “demonstrate incremental progress towards achieving an 80 percent reduction by 2050 in community-wide greenhouse gas emissions.”
 
Another absolute goal is set for Waste Minimization. Here the City needs to “demonstrate incremental progress towards achieving a 100% reduction by 2050 in total solid waste generated within the jurisdiction that is disposed of via landfill or incinerator.”

In other goal areas, the City will be expected to show steady progress along a trend line. Under Civic Engagement, for example, Evanston will have to “increase the percentage of registered voters per capita . . . and increase the percentage of voters per capita participating in local elections over time.”

In some cases, the City will need to develop new assessment tools to be able to measure its performance. For example, in the area of Resource Efficient Buildings, the City needs to “demonstrate incremen-tal progress towards achieving an 80% reduction by 2050 in the energy use intensity of the community’s building stock.”

Evanston’s impressive results in this first evaluation of its sustainability efforts reinforce its reputation as a national leader. And the Evanston community has all the ingredients needed to take it to the 5-STAR level over time.

Evanston’s results are reported in detail on the STAR Communities website at http://www.starcommunities.org/communities/33-illinois-evanston

The STAR Community Rating System was initiated by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA, the U.S. Green Building Council, National League of Cities, and the Center for American Progress. STAR stands for “Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating” Communities.