Green Community Challenge Pilot Launched in Virginia

The Virginia Municipal League is fostering a sustainability competition between four communities in the state.

The four communities, including the town of Blacksburg, Loudoun County, and the cities of Norfolk and Roanoke, are participating in a pilot program known as the Green Community Challenge to see which can adopt and implement the most green initiatives over the next year with the assistance of ICLEI--Local Governments for Sustainability USA, a coalition of local governments committed to sustainable development.

“Friendly competition can bring out the best among communities and we are excited to join VML in what will be an incredibly rewarding and valuable experience for cities, counties and residents in Virginia,'' Martin Chavez, ICLEI USA executive director, said in a statement announcing the competition.

The competition includes three overarching actions the communities must take. These are demonstrating the existence of an active, communitywide climate action planning group; completing a communitywide greenhouse gas emissions inventory; and setting a greenhouse gas reduction target and developing a community plan to achieve the target.

Array of Possible Actions

In addition, the competition consists of 37 additional actions from which the communities can choose, grouped under categories including affordability and equity; arts, education, and community; children, health, and safety; economic prosperity; employment and workforce training; energy and climate; natural systems; and planning and design.

For example, available actions under energy and climate include achieving a 5 percent participation rate in commercial and/or residential energy efficiency programs, demonstrating that 20 percent of gas stations in the community provide alternative fuels, demonstrating that 5 percent of electricity used is from installed or purchased renewable energy, developing a communitywide climate preparedness strategy, implementing 30 percent of the emission reduction items in the community climate action plan, and providing incentives for energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings.

Each of the overarching actions the communities must demonstrate is worth 30 points each. The other actions are worth five practice points for adopting a policy or plan and 10 performance points for achieving measurable or documented results of specific actions.


“Not many best practices are available, so [the communities] have to start from scratch.”





-- Angela Vincent,

The Green Community Challenge is an outgrowth of the Virginia Municipal League's Go Green Virginia initiative, which sponsors the Green Government Challenge, Green Public Schools Challenge, and Green Independent Schools Challenge.

Green Government

“We established 30 actions in the Green Government Challenge. It's all Web-based, so it's accessible,” Joe Lerch, director of environmental policy at the Virginia Municipal League, told BNA Nov. 4. “The beauty of it is, there is a one-click link to background resources, so if you want to adopt a formal policy to address sustainability, you just click on 'Background' and you find links to resolutions adopted by various governing boards.”

However, “local government, including schools, represents only about 5 percent of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in any community,” Lerch said. “The idea was how to get to the other 95 percent. This is the jumping-off point, taking the Green Government Challenge and expanding it to the local community and expanding the available actions.”

The Green Community Challenge was based on the Star Community Index ICLEI USA is developing with the U.S. Green Building Council and Center for American Progress to gauge the sustainability and livability of U.S. communities.

“We developed measures we call Virginia-sized, so all of the measures incorporated into the challenge related to something Virginia is doing, like recycling on a statewide level, reducing electricity use, or increasing the number of installed or purchased renewable energy credits,” ICLEI USA Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Angela Vincent said.

Starting From Scratch

In addition, ICLEI USA will work directly with the participating communities to provide human resources and training as well as technical assistance, Lerch said.

“For example, say a community wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions 5 percent. How do you find data to verify that 5 percent reduction? We will show them how to research to establish a baseline,” Vincent said. “In that way, this is truly a challenge. A community may see a great action item, but how do you accomplish that? Not many best practices are available, so they have to start from scratch.”

The results of the challenge will be used to develop a Green Community Challenge Implementation Guide, which will contain specific case studies and best practices from the four pilot communities.

In addition, the Green Community Challenge will become a permanent component of the Go Green Virginia initiative by 2012, available to all 39 cities, 90 counties, and 157 small towns comprising the Virginia Municipal League and Virginia Association of Counties, Lerch said.


By Tod M. Robinson