Sustainable Communities

About the Sustainable Communities Program

The Sustainable Communities Program (SCP) is an international, science-based, third-party certification program that guides communities through a customized journey to become healthy and vibrant places in which to live, work, and play. That vision is founded in the three pillars of sustainability: a healthy local environment, quality of life for citizens, and economic vitality. The program is tailored to your community to ensure that its specific needs, priorities, resources, and challenges are addressed.

The certification process is a joint effort between your sustainability coordinator and an appointed Audubon International staff person. To create a more sustainable future for residents, businesses, and visitors, Your community will

  • establish priorities
  • develop a plan
  • take action

Along the way, Audubon International provides tailored guidance, tools, and technical assistance. You will set the pace for addressing each of the fifteen broadly defined sustainability focus areas. Audubon International will help you share your community’s successes with our international network.

This program works with public sector communities such as towns and cities in the Public Track or private sector communities such as property owner associations in the Private Track.

For information about joining the
Sustainable Communities Program
Please contact Jessica Latus at

What is an Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community?

An Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community has a long-term, flexible framework to support its sustainable future. To verify that a community’s approach to sustainability is effective, Audubon International ensures that each community completes all program requirements to become an Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community.

The certification program requires communities:

  1. take actions that demonstrate sustainability principles are in place for all applicable focus areas and
  2. institute plans and policies that ensure a long term, community-led commitment to a sustainability program.

While there are mandatory elements in both the action and process areas, every element has broad requirements that can be met in a wide variety of ways.

Most communities use Audubon International’s three-stage process to achieve certification. Each stage educates and engages community members in the community’s sustainability initiative. The process will be tailored to fit any steps your community has already completed.

Each step towards certification brings immediate, long-lasting benefits to the member community. Also, the community’s progress through these steps is recognized by an award at the end of each stage. The first stage provides a simple starting point, establishing a baseline assessment of your community focusing on environment, quality of life, and economic vitality. Stage 1 is helpful for engaging a wide group of residents in discussing sustainability and identifying both community strengths and areas needing improvement. If the community decides to move through Stage 2, the community’s sustainability goals will be incorporated into a long-term vision plan. This plan will be held to Audubon International’s standards for planning. In Stage 3, the community will report initial implementation of the plan to earn certification.

Some communities pursue a Fast Track to certification. These communities have completed certification requirements prior to joining the Sustainable Communities Program. Contact us for a consultation about whether the Fast Track is right for you.

An annual membership fee and progress reporting maintains certification and provides the community with continuing access to Audubon International’s customized support and guidance. Whether through the three-stage process or the Fast Track, a community is certified as an Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community once it meets all program requirements as stated below.

"This acknowledgement from Audubon International will aid in the promotion of our continued efforts to place environmental sustainability in the forefront of Town initiatives. For many years Hilton Head Island has been known for its great natural beauty and for innovative, environmentally sensitive practices. This achievement recognizes the Town's commitment and strides toward creating a sustainable environment."

- Drew Laughlin, Mayor

Town of Hilton Head Island

Action Requirements- In addition to establishing an educational demonstration site and a sustainability policy for the community, members must show 50% of applicable best practices in every focus area. During Stage 1, a baseline checklist assesses how many applicable best practices are already in place, and in the planning stage, any actions needed to reach 50% practices in a focus area before certification are identified.

Process Requirements- Process requirements are elements that ensure that a community has institutionalized its commitment to sustainability and that plans for the future reflect a shared vision among residents.

Sustainable Community Focus Areas

Agriculture

Economic Development & Tourism

Education

Environmental Issues

Governance

Public Health

Housing

Open Space & Land Use

Planning, Zoning, Building & Development

Population

Public Safety & Emergency Management

Recreation

Resource Use

Transportation

Volunteerism & Civic Engagement

Benefits of Membership

Pursuing sustainability is an investment in your community – in the well-being of the people, the economy, the environment, and the future. In many ways, your participation in Audubon International’s Sustainable Communities Program is the first deposit in that investment.

As a member of Audubon International’s Sustainable Communities Program you will receive:

  • The expertise of Audubon International’s staff
  • Step-by-step instructions to create or enhance your community's sustainability effort
  • Tailored guidance in enhancing existing sustainability efforts, strategic planning, and
    establishing measures of success
  • Tools for engaging and educating community members about sustainability
  • Subscriptions to Stewardship News, our quarterly newsletter
  • Regular email updates with new resources and funding opportunities
  • Fact sheets on common topics
  • Access to a network of communities pursuing sustainability and facing similar issues
  • Assistance with promoting your successes

Over time, you’ll invest in other ways as well: with money, human capital, time, and effort that help to make your community a healthier, more desirable and more vibrant place in which to live, work, and play.

But what kind of return might you expect on that investment? In strict financial terms, some of your efforts will pay off immediately and start saving or earning you money. Other efforts will have an up-front cost, but will have a definite payback period. Others still will not be as easily measured in economic terms, but will pay off in other ways that are just as meaningful, tangible, and important.

In addition, by becoming a more sustainable community you can expect to see many of the following long-term results:

  • Recognition as a leader in defining a future for your community
  • Enhanced community pride and heightened cooperation among community members
  • Improved environmental quality
  • Improved quality of life and community safety
  • Enhanced recreational opportunities
  • Increased tourism and other economic development
  • Financial savings through more efficient practices
  • Increased desirability of your community for potential residents and increased property values

Frequently Asked Questions

What will our community have to do once we join the program?

First, you will host an Audubon International staff member on an initial site visit helping to reach out to the community and learn, first-hand, about your community. You will work with Audubon International to identify a “sustainability coordinator” to act as the main liaison to Audubon International staff and develop a steering committee made up of various stakeholders throughout the community.

You’ll need to answer a set of questions and gather some basic information (Community Baseline)about your community that Audubon International will use to provide recommendations for actions to help to “Green Your Community.” These actions might include the management of your buildings, facilities and lands; building an outdoor education center; quantifying the number of public transportation sources for use in the community; or offering incentives for becoming more sustainable.

Upon completion of the first stage, you will become eligible to receive the Audubon Green Community Award, which means you have made progress towards identifying past success and areas for improvement. The next step is to formulate a plan. For each indicator, Audubon International will work with you to identify specific ways you can take action to become more sustainable. To become certified, you must decide which indicators will be achieved, over what period of time. As progress towards meeting set goals is achieved, you will submit reports to Audubon International in order to be re-certified every other year.

Why should the community invest in this program and these services?

The Sustainable Communities Program is designed to begin a healthy dialogue among citizens and local government. Through dialogue, the program engages technical and educational partners to act on long-term ecologically-focused economic and social welfare development. The program charts a course towards a future that capitalizes on a community’s existing valuable assets while addressing its problems and needs now and into the future. This is an accredited recognition of achievements which also assists communities with long-term sustainability planning.

Is this a "cookie-cutter" or "checklist-based" based program?

No. Sustainability is not a test or something that can be addressed with a checklist. It is a process, based on a set of Audubon International Principles for Sustainable Resource Management. Programs and efforts that identify environmental performance and sustainability programs by a set of graded questions have value and can be legitimate tools for progress. Audubon International believes placed-based environmental education and performance-measuring are the best way to change policies, practices, and people. So, the Sustainable Communities Program uses a set of principles, indicators, and a formal process to guide communities down a more sustainable path, but that path must be one that is developed and built by and for the community itself.

What are Sustainability Indicators?

“Sustainability” can have many different meanings. Audubon International has developed a specific set of sustainability indicators from successful community-based long-term plans and best practices. The Sustainability Indicators are specific measures that can be evaluated or calculated for a community. When you choose a representative sampling of indicators that are both appropriate for your community and representative of sustainability’s component categories, you then have a system of measures that allow you to assess your community’s progress towards sustainability. With Audubon International’s emphasis on place-based strategies and flexibility, each category of sustainable indicators below has greater or lesser importance for a particular community on a case by case basis.
  • Agriculture
  • Economic Development and Tourism
  • Education
  • Environmental Issues
  • Governance
  • Public Health
  • Housing
  • Open Space and Land Use
  • Planning, Zoning, Building and Development
  • Population
  • Public Safety and Emergency Management
  • Recreation
  • Resource Use
  • Volunteerism and Civic Engagement
  • Transportation

How are sustainability indicators used?

During Stage 3 of the certification process, the community's Sustainability Coordinator works directly with Audubon International to choose the set of indicators that serve to measure the success of the sustainability goals chosen in Stage 2. When the time comes to shift from planning to taking action, it’s crucial to ensure that your actions bring about the desired outcome for your community, and that you are realizing the goals you set out to achieve.

How are sustainability indicators chosen?

There are a number of factors to keep in mind when choosing indicators for your community. The chosen indicators should:

  • be a representative sampling across sustainability’s categories,
  • relate directly to the individual elements of your plan,
  • be reviewed by Audubon International to ensure that there are no omissions or oversights,
  • be specifically tailored to the unique aspects of your community, local economy and environment,
  • be kept to a manageable number. Twenty-five to one hundred indicators, depending on the size and complexity of your community, would be sufficient.

How much does the program cost?

Program fees are based on the population of your community, and whether you're a public municipality or a private homeowners association, community association, etc. 

There is no additional fee besides the stage fee for certification review. The annual membership fee is charged anytime a member takes more than a year to complete a stage.

Sustainable Communities - Success Stories

We are proud of our certified members accomplishments and have highlighted their stories! Browse the featured Sustainable Communities success stories by clicking on the link below to learn about the incredibly diverse environmental stewardship projects and activities that take place at Audubon International Certified Communities.

To see your success story featured here, please send an email and an overview of your story to Jessica Latus.