Seattle Recognized as the Nation’s Most Sustainable City

September 2014

STAR Communities announced today that Seattle has been awarded a 5-STAR Community Rating for national leadership in sustainability. The City achieved the highest score to date, and is only the second in the nation to achieve the 5-STAR rating for its participation in the STAR Community Rating System (STAR), which evaluates the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities.

“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 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.”

“Sustainable cities provide a healthy environment, support a strong economy, and continually improve the well-being of the whole community,” said 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.”

Along with local government partners, STAR Communities developed and implemented a robust sustainability rating system for cities, towns and counties. Its national rating program helps communities evaluate themselves in seven sustainability goal areas: Built Environment, Climate & Energy, Economy & Jobs, Education, Arts & Community, Equity & Empowerment, Health & Safety, and Natural Systems.

While Seattle performed very well across all goal areas, several efforts stood out among its sustainability initiatives:

  • 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 3000 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.

Seattle is one of more than 30 local governments that participated in a year-long pilot program with STAR Communities. Today, more than 80 communities, representing 34 million residents, participate in STAR. While 18 other communities have been certified, only Northampton, MA has achieved a 5-STAR rating along with Seattle.

“The STAR rating process gave us the framework for a deep dive sustainability assessment—to identify where we are strong and where there is more we can do,” said Jill Simmons, Director of the Office of Sustainability & Environment. “The assessment is also a great tool to engage our community partners around shared goals and opportunities for further action.”

An area where Seattle showed opportunity for improvement was environmental justice and equity. To that end, Mayor Murray has asked the Office of Sustainability & Environment, working in close partnership with other departments and the community, to develop an Equity & Environment Initiative to be launched next year. This initiative will be a City-Community partnership to explore who is and isn’t benefiting from Seattle’s environmental progress and to implement practices and processes to enhance environmental equity and to provide opportunities for everyone to participate in Seattle’s environmental movement.

Get more information about STAR communities