Assessments and Baselining Tools

Assessments and Baselining Tools

 Taking stock of current conditions, strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities is a great first step toward community sustainability and resilience. Stakeholders should examine current conditions, including community infrastructure, housing, regulations, transportation, recreational space, economy, and social values and to identify areas of greatest need and opportunity. Below are some resources, toolkits, and frameworks to support community baselining and assessment.

Scorecards are useful for communities and community groups to provide a baseline assessment of current community conditions, identify opportunities for growth, change, and development, and support community discussions about strategic planning for sustainable resilience.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has collected a series of free scorecards – at the municipal level, the policy level, and at the project level – that can be completed relatively easily by municipal officials or local organizations and help shape discussions about community needs and opportunities.

  • At the municipal level, see the EcoCity Cleveland Design Principles for Great Places that helps to rate new proposed developments;
  • To evaluate a community's policies and code for providing for sustainable growth and green development, consider completing the Smart Growth Leadership Institute Policy Audit and Code Audit;
  • For smart growth scorecards, see the Smart Scorecard for Development Projects, developed by the Congress for New Urbanism, the Smart Growth Criteria Matrix from Mobile, Alabama, or Charlotte, North Carolina’s Sustainability Index  considering healthy neighborhoods, transportation, public resources, economic edge, livability, planning capacity, and environmental safeguards.

    Sustainable Communities HotReports!
  • Developed by US Census Bureau, HUD, DOT, and EPA
  • Free resource
  • Reports are immediately accessible and do not require the collection and input of data from community members or leaders.
  • HotReports! provide basic baselining of community transportation, housing, economic development, income, and equity for all counties throughout the United States. A community can pull its own county report or compare itself to other counties. The website also contains resources related to housing, transportation, health, air quality, and food.
  • Data is based on 1990, 2000, 2010 census information, Department of Labor’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages and State Occupational Projections, and the Census Bureau’s Local Employment Dynamics, so it may not reflect changing conditions within a community over the past several years.

Communities can use local government purchasing power and economy of scale to prioritize resource conservation, green purchasing, and green infrastructure. Assessing and prioritizing sustainable and resilient decisions within local government operations is one step to create a more sustainable and resilient community.

  • DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative provides a range of programs providing tools, resources, best practices, and peer-to-peer mentoring to support energy innovation in communities. Partners in this program work to achieve a 20% reduction in energy usage through cost-effective measures.
  • DOE’s Better Community Alliance works to bring public and private partners together and provides tools and resources to support energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable energy to communities.
  • TDEC’s Sustainable Workplace program provides step-by-step guidance for promoting waste clean-up in the community as well as waste diversion, donation, and recycling in local government and business operations through “green cubes.” To learn more about this program, including local organizations to which donations are made and what items are accepted for diversion and recycling, check out their website.
    • Learn how to develop a green cube for your organization here.
    • Explore TDEC events promoting waste diversion and sustainability here.
    • Implement energy reduction, food waste reduction, and water conservation using these tips.

Another valuable tool for taking stock and assessing your community is by reviewing available community and region plans. These plans can help inform baselining activities. Most Tennessee counties are required to develop community-wide growth plans.  Your county’s growth plan can be found here.

In addition, some Tennessee regions have developed regional plans for community growth, transportation, and/or workforce development.

  • Memphis has worked with regional partners to develop the Mid-South Regional Greenprint 2015/2040 - a long term growth plan prioritizing an adaptation plan for addressing green infrastructure, natural environment, transportation options, health outcomes, citizen participation, and economic growth.  The Mid-South Regional Greenprint includes planning for land development and sustainability and resilience for four counties in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.  The plan identifies funding sources that can be utilized by Tennessee communities to support green infrastructure. For more information, go here.  
  • Nashville has been working on sustainable and resilient city planning and has published a Climate Change Mitigation Action Plan and a draft Livable Nashville plan that provide baseline assessments of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and recommendations to address climate and energy, green buildings, natural resources, waste reduction and recycling, and mobility.  Find the most recent version of draft recommendations here
  • The Plan East Tennessee, developed with the support of University of Tennessee and regional partners and engaged citizens throughout East Tennessee, provides a framework for planned growth in the 5-county region including Anderson, Blount, Knox, Loudon, and Union Counties. The plan – with a vision to 2040 – includes clean air and water, healthy people, regional prosperity, local food production, transportation choices, efficient infrastructure, great places, and housing choices.
  • West Tennessee Transitional Regional Plan (2017) focuses on workforce development, including transportation and economic development for counties of Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, McNairy, Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Obion, Tipton, Weakley, Fayette, and Shelby. 
  • For more information on regional resilience at a national level, see:
    • Georgetown Climate Change organization showcases case studies for six regional projects pursuing resilience in the U.S.
    • The state of New Jersey is developing a cross-agency resilience plan to address emergencies and disasters.
    • The Adaptation Clearinghouse  is an online database and networking site that serves policymakers and others who are working to help communities adapt to climate change.

The toolkits described below may help your community in assessing baseline strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities available for enhanced sustainability and resilience initiatives. These toolkits focus on reviewing existing policies and regulations to consider how they may be used for sustainable and resilient growth and development.

  • Smart Growth Leadership Institute Policy Audit and Code Audit
    •  Developed by EPA
    • Free resource
    • Description: allows communities to evaluate polices and code provisions and how they may interact with sustainable growth and green development.
  • Region 4 Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments
    •  Developed by EPA
    • Free toolkit
    • This toolkit is intended to support local governments in identifying and removing barriers to sustainable design and green building within their permitting process, including codes/ordinances; it has two sections: an assessment section, followed by a resource guide which assists communities in developing an action plan.
  • Cumberland Region Tomorrow Toolkit
    •  Developed by middle Tennessee’s Cumberland Region Tomorrow
    • Free toolkit
    • Minimal resources required; the toolbox provides recommendations for locality consideration and implementation.
    • The CRT toolbox provides case studies and comprehensive community planning suggestions, including updating codes/redevelopment recommendations for the ten county Cumberland region in Middle, TN.

For comparison purposes, take a look at sustainability and resilience plans in other communities: Colorado and Washington, D.C.

Is your community already interested in sustainability and resilience? Has your community already engaged in some sustainability and resilience measures?  Does your community want public recognition and peer-to-peer mentoring for its sustainability and resilience efforts? 

If so, look at community rating, certification, and recognition programs. There are just a handful of widely recognized programs. For a relatively low cost, often based on community population, a community can take advantage of the features of these recognition programs, such as allowing the community to assess energy and water use,., and providing recommended next steps to achieve greater sustainability and resilience. These steps often also lead to higher community ratings – which are attractive to businesses, industry, and residents.

Below you will find information about several widely recognized community rating, certification, and recognition programs including the program administrator/operator, the financial and human resource costs of the program, a brief description, and some participating communities.

  • LEED for Cities and Communities
    • Developer: U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
    • Cost: Register the city in Arc performance platform for $2,500 or $5,000, based on community size
    • Human resource: Relatively resource intensive, but intended for use as part of local government operations
    • Description: LEED for Cities and Communities helps local leaders create responsible, sustainable and specific plans for natural systems, energy, water, waste, transportation and many other factors that contribute to quality of life. The certification programs revolutionize the way cities and communities are planned, developed and operated in order to improve their overall sustainability and quality of life. The LEED framework encompasses social, economic and environmental performance indicators and strategies with a clear, data-driven means of benchmarking and communicating progress. The program is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and is influenced by our engagement with hundreds of cities and communities around the globe. Participating Cities: Orlando, FL, Cincinnati, OH, Phoenix, AZ
  • Valley Sustainable Communities
    • Developer: Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
    • Cost: Free
    • Human Resources: Less intensive than LEED
    • Description: TVA’s Valley Sustainable Communities examines a community’s sustainability across fifteen areas including energy, water conservation, waste reduction, natural resource protection, access to food, and quality of place. Qualifying communities can attain silver, gold, or platinum status and can improve their recognition category over time as they undertake additional measures to support community sustainability.
    • Tennessee participating citiesChattanooga/Hamilton County, Franklin, Germantown, Knoxville, Nashville/Davidson County, Oak Ridge, Athens/McMinn County, Blount County, Clarksville, Cleveland/Bradley County, Cookeville, Lewisburg, Maury County, Memphis/Shelby County, Washington County, Crossville/Cumberland County, Green County, McNairy County, Morristown/Hamblen County, Roane County, and Wayne County.
  • Green Communities Certification
    • Developer: Enterprise Green Communities
    • Cost: Free
    • Human resource: Relatively resource intensive, but provides certification
    • Description: Green Communities Certification is a two-part certification process with comprehensive green building practices for affordable housing projects. Review for certification includes design, location/neighborhood fabric, site improvements, water conservation, energy efficiency materials beneficial to the environment, healthy living environment, and operations and maintenance as well as criteria such as access to transportation, proximity of services, open space, walkability, access to fresh foods, LEED, brownfield reuse, and more.
    • Southeast U.S. Participating Cities: Atlanta and Miami
  • Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy
    • Cost: Free
    • Human Resource: Some resource intensity, for at least a three-year period, but includes reporting that can be used as part of regular governance
    • Description: 4 phase process over three years; once fulfilled recognized as official Compact of Mayors, then
      • pledge to take steps to address climate change and to report through the Clearpath Reporting tool, including free support, training and access to inventory tools
      • inventory GHG and climate risk,
      • set targets for reduction and develop action and adaptation plan, and
      • report on progress.
    • Tennessee participating cities: Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville
  • International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)
    • Cost: Annual fee based on population size
    • Description: ICLEI members include local governments, regions, and higher education institutions. The focus is a sustainable urban future. Resources include Peer-City Networking Hub, ClearPath emissions tool, and Contribution Analysis Toolkit for GHG analysis as well as training and technical support.
    • Tennessee members: Nashville-Davidson County
  • Resilient Communities for America (RC4A)
    • Developer: ICLEI
    • Cost: Free
    • Description: A local government, city, or region can become a signatory to the program and obtain access to a clearinghouse for no-cost resources to support sustainability and resilience.  This includes access to ClearPath emissions tool, CarbonClimate Registry, climate communications guidance and networking and participation in policy discussions. Currently 200 local elected officials participating.