Why Seattle is a sustainability superstar

Wed, 2014-09-17 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

STAR Communities has named Seattle the nation's most sustainable city, with the highest score to date in its program that evaluates the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities.

STAR – for Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities – in partnership with local governments developed its national rating program to enable communities to evaluate themselves in seven sustainability goal areas:

    • Built environment
    • Climate and energy
    • Economy and jobs
    • Education
    • Arts and community
    • Equity and empowerment
    • Health and safety
    • Natural systems

According to STAR Communities, Seattle scored well overall, but stands out in several efforts:

Commitment to carbon neutrality: Seattle's publicly owned utility, Seattle City Light, was the first electric utility in the nation to become carbon neutral. Additionally, Seattle became one of the first cities in the nation to set a goal of carbon neutrality when the Seattle Climate Action Plan was adopted in 2013.

Leading-edge energy efficiency programs: Community Power Works, an innovative energy efficiency and economic development program, has led to home energy upgrades for over 3,000 families while helping grow local home contractors' businesses. Seattle's low-income residents also benefit from energy upgrades through HomeWise, a program that provides free weatherization services. Seattle's Energy Benchmarking program, which requires commercial property owners to track and report energy usage, has one of the highest compliance rates in the country.

The Green Seattle Partnership (GSP): A unique public-private partnership working to restore and maintain Seattle's forested parklands. The GSP has engaged thousands of volunteers since 2005 --resulting in nearly 650,000 volunteer hours spent planting over 150,000 trees and restoring over 1,000 acres of parkland throughout the city. GSP also partners with Seattle Goodwill Industries in a work readiness program targeting at-risk young adults and providing them with on-the-job training in restoration and trail maintenance.

Transportation choices: Seattle is one of only five cities in the nation where less than half of commuters are driving alone to work. Since 2011, Seattle has seen a 59% increase in bicycling and a 27% increase in pedestrian traffic.

"I applaud our numerous community partners whose work contributed to this recognition and the highest score yet received by any city in the country," said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. "Our commitment to sustainable practices and innovative solutions begins and ends with our residents and businesses. This 5-STAR rating is just the latest example of the Seattle's deep-seated culture of environmental consciousness."

Added Hilari Varnadore, executive director of STAR Communities: "Seattle has set a new bar -- its achievement as the highest scoring STAR Community is an aspirational example for other communities to strive to meet as they pursue their own sustainability goals and objectives."

Seattle is only the second city in the nation to receive the 5-star rating, but scored higher than the only other 5-star winner, which is Northampton, MA.

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