By Mary Pat Baldauf
Allow me to introduce the state’s first STAR certified community, my employer, the City of Columbia.
STAR Communities, the nation’s leading framework for sustainability and certification program for evaluating local sustainability, recently recognized the City of Columbia for achieving a three-STAR rating. This achievement makes Columbia the first STAR-certified community in South Carolina and only the 64th in the country.
STAR Communities provides support as localities benchmark progress, and a robust third-party verification process ensures accountability. STAR helps communities evaluate their strengths and weaknesses across seven areas: the built environment; climate and energy; economy and jobs; education, arts and community; health and safety; and natural systems. There are over 500 outcomes and actions that comprise the evaluation.
Several items stood out among Columbia’s sustainability initiatives:
- City Council’s commitment to 100% clean energy by 2036.
- The City’s Climate Action Protection Campaign, created in 2007.
- 90 percent of residents live within one mile of a community venue that is open to the public and provides community events.
- 133 net new businesses opened in the past three years.
- City’s recycling rate of 60%, 20% over the baseline requirement.
- Richland School District One’s #1 State Ranking from Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
The December award presentation was the culmination of a two-year journey that began in September 2015. Personally, this was the first major project I took from start to finish after returning to work from my rehabilitation from a ruptured brain aneurysm in March 2015. And while the certification is certainly a personal victory, it’s also a big darn deal for the City of Columbia and our community partners.
With the certification, Columbia becomes a member of a pretty exclusive club. Fewer than 70 local governments have been certified with STAR Communities. Other STAR certified communities in the Southeast include Atlanta, Birmingham, Louisville, Memphis, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.
“We are incredibly excited and proud to be the first city in South Carolina to achieve a STAR rating,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin. “Our City staff and community have proven their commitment to making Columbia increasingly sustainable across a variety of performance areas, and this recognition provides us with an assessment backed by data that will help us determine our next steps. Through our Climate Action Protection Campaign (CAPC) and other programs, we will continue in our bold commitment to protecting our planet and fulfill our responsibility to our children, their children and beyond.”
The City’s participation in STAR was underwritten by grant from Siemens Cities Center of Competence (CoC), which is dedicated to working with cities to undertake key challenges as cities strive for economic growth and long-term sustainability.
For additional information, check out the City of Columbia’s STAR dashboard.