Held in the beautiful House of Sweden, a recently completed LEED Silver-rated building on the Potomac River, the Council on Competitiveness hosted a panel exploring the future of branding, technology and the environment. One of the presenters was Michelle Moore, SVP of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), who discussed a bold new direction for the Green Building Council. Famous for innovating LEED, the world's leading green building accreditation system, the Council will now be shifting gears by helping to develop governmental policies at both the national and local level.

Their new pilot program is called the Star Community Index (PDF), an interactive web tool created in partnership with Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI). The Index was created in response to the need for a singular rating system that can be used at the municipal level. There are currently dozens of sustainability programs, rating systems and environmental indicators being adopted, making it difficult to track and compare progress among communities. 45 organizations came together to discuss solutions, and there they conceived the Star Index.

Like a "LEED for cities" the Star framework will be organized similarly to the LEED system but will be broader in its scope, incorporating issues of social justice, economic development and the arts. Director Lynn Barker announced 8 technical advisory committees that will shape the Star program -- via American Institute of Architects:

• Natural Systems -- air quality, stormwater, and other ecological issues
• Planning & Design -- transportation, land use, etc.
• Energy & Climate -- including green building
• Economic Development -- including green jobs and local food
• Employment & Workforce Training -- green job training, among other work-related issues
• Education, Arts, & Community -- education, social equity, etc.
• Children, Health, & Safety -- access to health care, etc.

• Affordability & Human Dignity -- poverty & housing issues, among others

Michelle spoke beautifully about the expanding vision of the USGBC, saying that the "chinese menu" approach of the LEED program was crucial in kick-starting a movement during a time when contractors and commercial clients were trepidatious about green building protocols. 18,000 members later, LEED has become a highly valued industry standard and the time is now right to raise the bar. THE USGBC will be focusing on three core principles in its expansion:

1. promoting abundance -- broadly available tools and techniques, rather than overly complex technologies that are difficult to implement

2. integrating goals -- not just building-specific goals but the social implications of urban design as well

3. keeping score -- measurement of building efficiencies in order to manage future successes

The full web development of the Star Index will not be complete until 2010, but the first beta project will commence in just 3 weeks in Racine, WI. As LEED expands internationally, it is exciting to think that out of this project could emerge a genuine global standard for rewarding sustainable communities.

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