Columbus worked on improving its sustainability this summer with help from some scarlet and gray.
As a part of its Get Green Columbus initiative this summer, Mayor Michael Coleman’s office employed several Ohio State students in an effort to make the city more eco-friendly and sustainable.
Among others, Alexandra Kueller and Harrison Morgenstern, both of whom study environment, economy, development and sustainability at OSU, began working with the city in May on the Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities system project, a modern rating scale used to measure the sustainability of a community through analysis in various categories. The two received payment and internship credit for their work.
The STAR System was developed in April 2012 by STAR Communities, a company who aims to “advance a national framework for sustainable communities” by creating a more thorough rating system to analyze each participating city and better compare of the cities, according to the STAR Communities website.
Cities looking to participate in the STAR System can purchase the technical guide and other basics of the program at an annual cost of $500. The guide gives cities the framework to begin collecting data and comparing it against others nationwide.
Although the process of purchasing the technical guide took a while, Morgenstern believes the time spent waiting for the guide was worth it.
“STAR hopefully is the next big standard widespread across the country for sustainability. It’s a new rating system that rates cities on how sustainable they can be, but it doesn’t rank them like systems in the past,” Morgenstern said.
The interns in the mayor’s office were involved in researching sustainability initiatives in other cities for the STAR System as well as collected and recorded data from around Columbus, Morgenstern said.
Kueller said she believes the information will help Columbus improve its green standard.
“The Star System will help us recognize the areas where Columbus make be weaker compared to other cities and will help us improve in those areas,” she said.
The STAR System aims to achieve goals in seven areas of sustainability – built environment; climate and energy; economy and jobs; education, arts and community; equity and empowerment; health and safety; and natural systems, according to the STAR website.
Kueller said she thinks the program will help Columbus focus its resources more effectively.
“If the city is strong in the energy department, then we can look closer into improving other areas like the water quality,” she said.
STAR Communities has partnered with more than 30 cities in the United States and Canada who have taken the initiative to improve their sustainability. Some major cities involved in the STAR System include Cleveland, Washington, Portland, Ore., Atlanta and Seattle.
Erin Miller, the environmental steward of Columbus and intern supervisor, explained how the students used the STAR System.
“They (looked) at the STAR System and (collected) Columbus-specific data to see what existing data can be applied to the system,” she said.
The interns worked to identify areas where the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Stewardship could focus more resources and used research from other cities to develop ways to achieve this, Miller said.
Both Morgenstern and Kueller would like to follow in the footsteps of their supervisor following graduation.
“There aren’t many jobs in the field right now, but I would love to do what our supervisor Erin Miller does, leading a sustainability system,” Morgenstern said.
Kueller also said she’d like to find a position working with sustainability.
“I want to be more on the business side of my field, making decisions to help a city or a company become more sustainable,” Kueller said.
Jeremy Brooks, OSU assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and liaison for the interns, sees the opportunity of working for the city with the STAR System as an invaluable experience for the students’ careers moving forward.
“I think the experience will give the students a sense of the multiple ways of conceptualizing and measuring sustainability in an urban setting and the differences among the various approaches,” Brooks said. “The internship can really help students identify the types of sustainability-oriented careers that exist, whether they are government-related jobs or those in the private sector that are affected by government policies and agendas.”
Miller said she believes the experience will help the interns in the future because it exposed them to everything the public sector has to offer environmentally.
“I think it’s been eye-opening to them to see how a city government works and all of the depth of work that happens here in the mayor’s office,” Miller said.
The city of Columbus will continue its Get Green Columbus initiative and expand upon it in the near future to adjust to the STAR System’s measurements, Miller said.