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Chattanooga is one of nine communities across the country chosen to help develop a rating system for sustainability.

Just as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification provided a road map for individual buildings to be more cost-effective, energy efficient and healthier, the Star Community Index will offer a similar road map to sustainability for entire communities, said David Crockett, director of Chattanooga's Office of Sustainability.

"The definition of sustainability is how all the things work together," he said. "As [Chattanooga] built new roads and spread out, we left classrooms empty. So it's not just about nature and the environment, but also about things like education and crime. It really is a process of making decisions."

To help cities make better decisions for sustainability, the ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability is offering nine beta communities discounted software to help city leaders and residents track and rate key local factors, including environment, economy and social equity.

Each community will pay $25,000 to the foundation for the analytical and decision-planning program. The foundation will provide support and training throughout 2011 and into spring 2012 -- the time it takes to complete the testing and development, according to ICLEI's website.

Other cities working to develop the ratings road map and be early adopters of better policies include New York; Atlanta; Boulder, Colo.; and St. Louis.

The effort will give the city more bragging power and, with an online tracking "dashboard" website, Chattanooga's participation can lure new businesses or residents and provide more transparency in the city's workings, said Crockett and other city officials.

"Chattanooga has a long track record of developing and implementing innovative programs in sustainability," said Mayor Ron Littlefield in a prepared statement. "We have the opportunity here to be on the cutting edge of sustainability and technology and to lead the country toward a cleaner, better future."

Several organizations wrote letters of support for Chattanooga's application to become a partner in the fledgling program, including Tom Edd Wilson, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber.

"The Chamber is committed to a long-term strategic growth plan for this community," Wilson's letter states. "We believe that our community's participation in a national effort to develop specific metrics for sustainability will only enhance our ability to plan for the growth that this region will experience in the next 50 years."

Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at psohn@ timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6346.

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