Developing a Sustainability Performance Management Platform

Nine localities will help design an online platform to measure and rate their sustainability efforts.
by | January 4, 2011

Jessica Mulholland

Jessica Mulholland is the associate editor of GOVERNING, and is also the associate editor of both Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.

Over the past four years, ICLEI USA, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable practices in local government, partnered with the National League of Cities, the U.S. Green Building Council and the Center for American Progress to create a national framework that localities can use to evaluate its sustainability measures. Launching later this year, the STAR Community Index will serve as a rating system and performance management tool for local government.

Last month, ICLEI USA announced the participation of nine localities, including small towns like Cranberry Township, Pa.; regional anchors like Chattanooga, Tenn.; and major areas like New York City and King County, Wash., as "beta communities" that will help develop and test the STAR Community Index.

The primary way these communities can track their efforts is through a Web-based platform, which will include features enabling local governments to manage and analyze all their sustainability data in one place, and present that data to public officials and citizens through the city or county website. The tool will also share data with ICLEI USA for the verification and certification of what a sustainable community is under the STAR rating system.

This online platform isn't created yet -- because the nine beta communities will help produce it. "We want to have local governments who will be the users be the designers of the look and feel of STAR," says Mosi Kitwana, ICLEI USA's deputy executive director, programs and innovation. "This group is going to help us make sure we have a tool that cities and counties will use effectively."

City and County Collaboration

The beta communities will meet toward the end of January to discuss some of the environmental, economic and social equity goals the STAR online platform will track. In addition, these communities will discuss what data they currently have and use, and how they want to see that data within STAR.

Based on the initial meetings, ICLEI USA and its partners will create a preliminary online console design that addresses expressed needs. "We'll present them with some generic models, and then through an iterative process, invite them to suggest changes in how data is presented, how information might be updated," says Kitwana. "Then we'll customize it such that we'll make sure the automatic data retrieval and other basic functions will begin."

King County, Wash., Executive Dow Constantine already has had one brief meeting and says that county officials look forward to bringing a county perspective to the project. "It's going to be an opportunity for us to show important connections between the urban, suburban and rural environments and economies and the way on which sustainability depends on those connections," Constantine says. "My expectation is that we're going to learn a lot from the other jurisdictions participating and benchmark ourselves against them."

Constantine says that this tool will be a great help. "Developing a sophisticated online resource will allow more of our folks inside government to be able to view, understand and use the comparisons that we're getting from other jurisdictions and the benchmarking that this software allows," he says, adding that it ultimately provides a common platform for all jurisdictions. "The Web is a great leveler in a lot of ways. It eliminates resource barriers for much smaller jurisdictions. It allows everyone to take advantage of the same information."

One of those smaller jurisdictions is Cranberry Township, Pa., where Chief Strategic Planning Officer John Trant says that this console will allow for all of the township's sustainability data to be online. "We hope to gain a centralized place to document our progress toward implementing sustainability strategies," he says, noting previous efforts that culminated in the Cranberry Plan and a project sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in which it completed an efficiency audit.

"We've got a lot of data out there; we've got a lot of recommendation that we're implementing," Trant says. "This will provide us a place to track all that in one centralized location that multiple divisions and departments would have access to, feed all that information into that central system, track our progress and make that information more widely available."

Creating and Launching the Console

In addition to being a central place to store sustainability data, the console will also be able to tie data to a mapping feature that can make projections for different planning scenarios, Kitwana says. One example of what the console could do, Kitwana says, is help communities figure out how to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled by transportation systems by using city data and STAR maps to make such projections.

The console will be ready for rollout to local governments in 2012. "We feel we have a very strong platform that we're very comfortable calling a standard," Kitwana says, "and we feel it will be accepted in the marketplace as a standard." This could allow cities to conduct multiple comparisons: for instance, comparing performance in year one to year three; to measure their continuous improvement; or to compare itself to peer cities or counties around the country. "From the ICLEI perspective," he says, "we're actually more interested in having the cities use it as an internal mechanism to promote improvement."

Also of note is that once ICLEI USA gets the development process rolling, it will consider including more local governments. The organization started with a limited number of governments to ensure having the right amount of resources dedicated to making the process as efficient as possible, says Kitwana. Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that there is a good representation of cities of various sizes and regions involved. "We have that somewhat represented right now in the group we have," he says, noting New York City's large size and Cranberry Township's 28,000 people. "We have a good range, and we do want a broader representation so we can even get a sense of understanding regional differences."

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