Sustainable Raleigh Notable Events and Milestones

Last updated May 26, 2015 - 3:51 pm

The City of Raleigh is actively engaged in local, national, and international initiatives to make Raleigh a 21st Century City of Innovation. Learn more about programs, projects, and ways for you to get involved.

Raleigh is a certified 4-STAR Community

STAR logo

Raleigh received a 4-STAR Community Rating for national excellence in sustainability, the first community in North Carolina to achieve certification through the national STAR Community Rating System (STAR). STAR is a robust sustainability rating system for cities, towns, and counties, where communities evaluate themselves across seven goal areas related to sustainability. Ten additional communities achieved a 4-STAR rating including Austin, TX; Tucson, AZ; and Washington, DC.

STAR Communities’ Executive Director Hilari Varnadore presented the community’s 4-STAR rating to Mayor Nancy McFarlane during the 2015 City of Raleigh Environmental Awards celebration held April 22.

“The City of Raleigh has a long commitment to sustainability with a focus not only on environmental stewardship but also on economic strength and social equity,” said Mayor McFarlane. “The 4-STAR Community Rating for national excellence is a culmination of the hard work and innovative ideas of City staff and the community in not only promoting sustainable ideas but recognizing sustainable programs as a cornerstone of Raleigh’s future.”

Communities pursuing STAR certification accumulate points for their achievements across seven goal areas: built environment; climate and energy; economy and jobs; education, arts and community; equity and empowerment; health and safety; and natural systems. There are three STAR certification levels: 3-STAR (200-399 points); 4-STAR (400-599 points); and 5-STAR (600+ points). Raleigh received a score of 437.5, which qualifies it as a 4-STAR Community, recognized for “national excellence” in sustainability. Only two cities have received a 5-STAR Community rating, the highest achievable.

“Sustainable cities provide a healthy environment, support a strong economy, and continually improve the well-being of the community,” said Varnadore. “The data and information that Raleigh gathered through the process should help the City and its partners continue to make improvements that benefit the whole community.” Nearly 100 communities are actively using the STAR Community Rating System, with more than 60 engaged in the certification process.

The City’s Office of Sustainability worked with City and county staff, local colleges and universities and numerous community partners to gather the data required for certification. Raleigh’s notable achievements include:

  • Built Environment: Raleigh meets high standards for drinking water quality, secure water supply, and wastewater and stormwater management. In times of drought, a water-shortage response plan automatically goes into effect.
  • Education, Arts, and Community: Raleigh offers a broad range of arts, cultural resources, and activities that celebrate and respect diversity. The City provides financial or logistical support to local arts, festivals and performances. Raleigh also provides leadership and training programs that encourage and support diverse perspectives in community decision-making.
  • Economy & Jobs: Raleigh fosters economic prosperity and stability by retaining and expanding businesses. The City has experienced an increase in the market demand for green certified building stock as well as other products and services that protect the environment.
  • Health & Safety: Raleigh received extra credit for being an exceptionally safe community, by demonstrating that they are significantly below the national thresholds for homicides, rape or attempted rape, and aggravated assaults.
  • Innovation & Process: The Raleigh City Council unanimously adopted an Open Source Resolution in 2012, demonstrating commitment to creating an open-source strategy to promote transparency, collaboration, and improved access to local government information and data. This will contribute to Equity in Access and Services and promoting a “Smart Cities” approach in local government.

“The process of pursuing our STAR certification helped identify Raleigh’s strengths as well as opportunities for improvement. This information will guide us in the implementation of the City’s Strategic Plan; inform the upcoming five-year update of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan; assist with the development of revised performance measures; and advise departmental work plans,” said Paula Stroup, interim manager of the City’s Office of Sustainability.

Paula Thomas, City of Raleigh Office of Sustainability Manager, Retires

Paula Thomas

Paula S. Thomas recently announced her retirement from her position as Manager of the Office of Sustainability for the City of Raleigh, effective February 28. Thomas began work for the City in 2008 as the sole sustainability staff member, tasked with developing and managing a comprehensive sustainability program for Raleigh. During her six-year tenure, she created the Office of Sustainability that provides guidance for policy development, and goal setting for the City of Raleigh.

Thomas’ leadership and competency are evident in many of the City’s major sustainability projects completed under her management, including development of the electric vehicle infrastructure, management of the City’s first Green House Gas Inventory and Climate Energy Action Plan, creation of the Sustainable Purchasing Policy, development of the Clean Energy Economic Development Strategy, among others. Most recently, Raleigh was included among the inaugural 20 U.S. cities for the STAR Community Rating System (STAR), the nation’s first framework and certification program for local sustainability.

Thomas helped forge partnerships with national organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council, Electric Power Research Institute, CREE, Inc., Siemens Corporation, PowerWorks Electric, JouleBug, Nissan, Evatran and NxGen Power. These relationships helped launch successful sustainability pilot projects, test innovative technology and develop third party financing options that diminished costs while generating revenue for the City.

She also developed programs that specifically address the community-wide aspect of sustainability, such as the Green Builders Certification program, the Sustainable Home Raleigh program, and the recycling pilot program in partnership with Shaw University that also serves as a template for similar programs with other local colleges and universities.

With Thomas at the helm of the Office of Sustainability, the City garnered national and local awards in acknowledgment of its sustainability accomplishments: the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association Community Leadership Award; six awards from the Public Technology Institute; recognition from the Environmental Defense Fund as the first municipality to partner and pilot the National Climate Corps program; Raleigh named the Nation's Most Sustainable Midsize Community by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Siemens Corporation; recipient of the Community Enhancement Champion Award from Triangle CREW. In 2010, the Triangle Business Journal named Thomas the Green Awards Government Leader. In 2009, Raleigh was selected as one of the first three cities in the nation to participate in Rocky Mountain Institute’s Project Get Ready, an initiative to help U.S. cities prepare for plug-in vehicles.

During her six years with the City of Raleigh, Thomas is most grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with others within the organization across all departments to adopt sustainability in all aspects of City business.

Thomas retires with nearly 40 years of experience in local, state and national environmental policy and operations. She also served in the private sector as a senior consultant to AMEC Corporation. Prior to joining City of Raleigh, she served as Manager of Environmental Policy for NC League of Municipalities for 10 years. Her role was to inform and educate statewide municipal elected and staff officials on environmental matters, regulations, programs and planning; and to engage those officials in active participation in policy, legislative and regulatory efforts in a variety of settings.

Electric Vehicles Discussed on Statewide TV

Electric Vehicles Discussed on Statewide TV

January 24, 2012

The topic was the subject of a WUNC-TV broadcast on OPEN/Net, a statewide television call-in program that connects viewers with government services and issues. Panelists included City of Raleigh Sustainability Manager Paula Thomas, Advanced Energy Director of Transportation Initiatives Jeffrey Barghout, and North Carolina Solar Center Transportation Program Manager Anne Tazewell. During the one hour program panelists answered moderator and viewer questions on electric vehicles.

National Solar Conference

May 17-21, 2011

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. visits Raleigh

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. visits Raleigh

August 24, 2011

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a successful environmental attorney, was guest speaker at a luncheon to discuss best practices for promoting environmental sustainability and green finance. Addressing more than 250 attendees, Kennedy provided a national perspective on environmental advocacy, lauded the work of North Carolina Riverkeepers, touted the ecological and economic benefits of a decarbonized society and endorsed smart grids. The luncheon was hosted by NC Department of State Treasurer at the North Carolina State University McKimmon Center.

Shyam Reddy visits Raleigh

Shyam Reddy visits Raleigh

August 15, 2011

Shyam Reddy and other GSA staff members participated in a Mobile Sustainability Site Tour of the Raleigh area. The tour highlighted the extensive, innovative and nationally recognized environmentally sustainable facilities owned and operated by both municipal and private sector organizations. Reddy also participated in a round-table lunch discussion with local stakeholders and business leaders as well as meeting with local elementary, middle school and college students.

"Revenge of the Electric Car" Screening

"Revenge of the Electric Car" Screening

July 19, 2011

Revenge of the Electric Car, a feature documentary film that follows four entrepreneurs in their effort to bring the electric car back to the world market. Presented as part of Public Night of the Plug-In 2011 conference, the screening was followed by a Q&A panel discussion.

Plug In 2011

Plug In 2011

July 18 - 21, 2011

Held at Raleigh Convention Center, the event featured the latest insights from experts on the technological advances, market research and policy initiatives shaping the future of hybrid and electric transportation. Usually held on the West coast, the Office of Sustainability courted the conference sponsor, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), to hold it on the East coast for the first time. A highlight was "Public Night" which granted the public access to the Exposition hall.

Plugging In: Progress and Opportunities for Electric Vehicles

Plugging In: Progress and Opportunities for Electric Vehicles

July 13, 2011

Held at Marbles Kids Museum, this event featured panel discussions and presentations highlighting the City's progress in implementing strategies for the mass roll-out of EVs and explored economic development opportunities. Attendees viewed electric vehicles and EV charging stations. The forum targeted community stakeholders, local businesses, universities and other interested agencies.


Nov 23, 2010: Electric Vehicle Charging Station - The City of Raleigh dedicated it's first public charging station.

Jan 20, 2010: Solar Array Dedication - Raleigh water plant sprouts new rooftop solar power array.

Feb 24, 2009: Alternative Fuel Program - Raleigh announces electric Plug-In Partnership.

Was this page helpful?

Forbes named Raleigh

Best Place in America to Raise a Family

View our accolades >>