How does STARfish work?

1.  What are some special features of the app?

2.  How do the diagrams work?

2.1  The Main diagram

2.2  The Satellite diagrams

2.3  Different diagram types

2.3.1  ZeroCircle Star diagram

2.3.2  ZeroCircle Pie diagram

2.3.3  Overlap Star and Overlap Pie diagrams

2.3.4  Bar Chart diagram

2.3.5  Net Neg-Pos diagram

3.  What are the benchmarks?

3.1  General principles for adding new legs or diagrams

3.2  Tier 1 impact categories (Main STARfish)

3.3  Tier 2 impact categories (Satellite STARfish)

3.4  Tier 3 categories (example of Ecological/biodiversity STARfish) 

4.  Instructions for using the STARfish app

1.  What are some special features of the app?  

Among the difference between the STARfish app and typical green building rating and marketing tools are described in the boo, but some are noted here. 

Transparency is missing in most rating tools.  The basis for the rules are inaccessible to most paying users, although they are approved by building industry representatives.  They set rules based on what is achievable now.  They also conceal the impacts by framing less bad impacts as positive, rather than simply allowing negative scores to reflect relative improvements over unsustainable outcomes.

Multifunctional, adaptable design is not rewarded in most rating tools.  For example, a design element or action may improve both ecological and human health but it only counts in one category.  The STARfish radar diagrams help to remind the user that actions overlap or have multiple good or bad outcomes, but through better design they can have reciprocal benefits.  It suggests opportunities to think of positive impacts, as illustrated by the PD ‘reverse impact wheel’ (Figure 2 in Chapter 15)

Weightings are usually hidden by the rating tool developers.  This is where, for instance,carbon emissions count more than toxic waste.  The relative weight given to some impacts will affect scoring when impact categories are added or deleted.  In the STARfish, if there are 5 or 6 impact categories or ‘legs’ in Tier 3 of a radar diagram, they will each count for more than 7 or 8 categories.  However, this is usually negligible in the Tier 1 level.  Further, the weighting can also be modified by the user as long as the reasons must be stated.

Flexibility for different contexts is accommodated by the app.  Each project, site and conditions are unique, so prescriptive rules based on typical buildings and practices may not be at all applicable.  A building could get a maximum score on a rating tool and still be unsustainable.  The Main (General) STARfish and Satellite STARfish can have additional impact categories and sub-components, or they can be subtracted where irrelevant (if a good reason is provided). 

The slider is used to locate the impact in relation to negative, restorative and net-positive benchmarks which create a spectrum.  This approach avoids the prescriptive nature of other design tools that can only consider things that have traditionally been measured.  It recognizes that outcomes depend on the design, and vary with the site, building functions, type of negative or positive impact under consideration and so on.  As the design progresses, the app automatically calculates and displays the changes.   

Reasoning (versus rules)is emphasized.  The user states the reason for the score in relation to each whole-system benchmark.  The reasons are produced automatically in a Report, along with the negative, restorative and net-positive benchmarks.  Others, such as third-party assessors, council officers, teachers or clients can assess their validity.  Early on, many impacts will be estimates, but as more data becomes available, they are easily added in.

2.  How do the diagrams work?

There is a choice of diagrams to help different app users or their clients to get an overall visual of the development impacts.

2.1  The Main Diagram

The simple version consists of a General/Main Diagram with the core environmental impact categories represented as ‘legs’ or radii.  The diagram employs a graphical representation to describe the environmental ‘score’ for each category within a net positive framework.  Each impact category can either stand alone or have a sub-diagram (Satellite) attached to it, which has its own sub-categories of impact factors.  The app automatically adds up the subcategories. 

Figure 1. Main STARfish (ZeroStar version)

2.2  The Satellite Diagrams

Figure 1 shows the main diagram with no sub-diagrams or Satellites attached.  The 6 legs represent the 6 main impact categories (Materials/waste, Ecology/biodiversity, Greenhouse/carbon, Planning/spatial relations, Health/life quality, and Efficiency/energy).  The red area represents negative impacts, green represents restorative/regenerative impacts, and blue represents positive/net-positive impacts.  The app provides a range of diagrams options for representing these impacts.  The different diagrams are described in the ‘Different Diagram Types’ section below.  The diagram shown in Figure 1 is a ‘ZeroCircle’ diagram.

Figure 2 shows the main diagram with a sub-diagram attached to the Ecology/biodiversity impact category.  This is divided into 6 sub-categories.  The slider is used to estimate the impact for each sub-category.  These are automatically calculated by the app to provide the final score for the Ecology/biodiversity impact category. This helps to visualize the cumulative impacts.

Figure 2. The Satellite diagram

2.3 Different Diagram Types

One can select from among different diagrams that display the same impacts.  Each has a unique way of helping the user or clients understand the sustainability impacts of the design.  All the example graphics show below are for the same project with the same environmental impact scores.  

 2.3.1 ZeroCircle Star Diagram

The ZeroCircle Star is different to the usual radar diagram (Figure 3).  This bold circle in the middle of the diagram represents net zero impact (ie eliminates all the impacts of the project regarding that impact category).  From here, the negative impacts increase as the point on the leg of the star/polygon moves inwards towards the center which represents the maximum negative impact. Restorative/ regenerative impacts start at the point of the negative impacts and moves back towards the zero circle.  Being restorative, these scores do not go beyond zero impact. 

Positive impacts go from the restorative score outward toward the outer circle (+10).  If the outermost part of the star is outside the zero circle, then one has achieved a net-positive result for that impact.  Therefore, the goal is to try to increase the white area and reduce the red area and get more blue area outside the circle.

Figure 3. The ZeroCircle Star Diagram

2.3.2 ZeroCircle Pie Diagram

The ZeroCircle Pie diagram (Figure 4) is the same as the ZeroCircle Star diagram except that a pie diagram is used instead.  Again, instead of starting at the center of the diagram, one starts on the zero circle, and then moves inwards to record negative impacts, then outwards for restorative/regenerative, and positive/net-positive impacts.  The app provides these optional view automatically. 

Figure 4. The ZeroCircle Pie Diagram

2.3.3 Overlap Star and Overlap Pie Diagrams

The Overlap-Star and Overlap-Pie diagrams (Figures 5 and 6) are more traditional form of radar diagrams where a score of zero sits at the center of the diagram, and the score increases as you move outwards.  Since negative impacts are represented in red, the more negative the impact, the further the red pie slice or red star corner moves away from the center.  Restorative impacts and positive impacts are represented in green and blue respectively.  In these diagrams, like in the ZeroCircle diagrams, the restorative and positive scores are added together, with the positive pie slice, or star corner goes from where the restorative pie slice or star corner finished.  A net-positive result is then achieved when the restorative-positive combined pie slice goes further out from the circle center than the negative part.

Figure 5. The Overlap Star Diagram
Figure 6. The Overlap Pie Diagram
Figure 7. The Bar Chart Diagram

2.3.4  Bar Chart Diagram

The Bar Chart graph (Figure 6) is just a traditional bar chart – but wrapped in a circle.  For each leg, two bars are plotted side by side.  One bar is plotted for the negative impacts, and another is plotted for the combined restorative/positive impacts.  If the restorative/positive bar is bigger than the negative impact bar, then a net positive outcome has been achieved for that impact category.

2.3.5 Net Neg-Pos Diagram

The Net Neg-Pos Diagram (Figure 8) is used to view the overall impact alone.  If the overall impact for a leg is negative, then the color is red (although other colors can be selected), and a pie slice is drawn.  The larger the pie slice the more negative is the cumulative impact.  If the cumulative impact is positive, then the pie slice is blue (or the selected color).  The larger the blue pie slice, the more positive the cumulative impact is.  This is very useful for a simple overview of the impacts.

Figure 8. The Bar Chart Diagram

3.  What are the benchmarks?

The benchmarks are only listed, not defined, below.  However, they can be seen in the app by pressing ‘generate report’ in the settings menu.

Entirely new Tier 1, 2 or 3 impact categories and benchmarks can be added, where special consideration is appropriate (eg. transport, indigenous cultures, or elderly issues).  For instance, if transport is a key impact factor in the project, it could be added to the STARfish as a 7th Satellite diagram.  Otherwise it could appear as a subset of one of the main categories such as Planning/spatial relations or Greenhouse/carbon (where the design has different positive impacts). 

If new legs (impact factors) or new Satellite STARfish need to be added, the general principles for setting new benchmarks is set out below.  Since each project and context is unique, legs can also be deleted if the impact not relevant to the particular project.  However, this must be explained in the Report. 

3.1  General principles for adding new legs or diagrams    

The following is a general guide for adding benchmarks for new impact categories or a new Satellite STARfish. Most green designers begin with a conventional building. Usually these only have negative (or less negative) environmental impacts, which are in the red (-10 to 0). Then, some ‘value add’ green design features that mitigate, restore or regenerate the impacts of the basic building template, aiming for zero net impact. Given the realities of the construction industry, a ‘blue sky’ design that begins from first principles and breaks the mold completely will cost more – even if the building should logically cost far less – due to the inertia of existing systems of development. Innovative design that achieves beyond neutral impacts (0 to +10) usually requires multifunctional and adaptable design, supplemented with net-positive offsetting.

This guide may also help clarify the existing benchmarks for specific impact factors in the tool, when in doubt. Six benchmarks are given for each impact factor, but the slider can be positioned anywhere along the spectrum between given benchmarks. If a negative or restorative benchmark is not relevant to a specific case, the green or red slider can be left at zero. The blue slider is for net positive design elements or actions (note that the term as been adopted and watered down by others to mean just regenerative). Here, a net means that the sum of negative, regenerative and positive actions. Net positive is where the red, green and blue sliders add up to greater than the ‘zero impact circle’ on the tool. Where there is a new (multiple function, adaptable and positive) public function or benefit it can go on a new leg (impact factor). The aim of the STARfish ‘game’ is to escape the inner (zero) circle on the diagram. .  

-10 = With respect to the specific impact factor, the resulting development or component is very damaging, irreversible, and/or the existing conditions on the site are completely degraded. For example, where a development would damage a greenfield site or uses a damaged site where there are already harmful conditions, are both negative. Remedial or mitigative actions or offsets are not recorded or deducted in this red zone. However, doing nothing or constructing a typical (unsustainable) building is often negative as well as a lost opportunity. In this tool, less bad is negative, not positive (unlike other most tools).

-5 = Here the base building plan or concept is harmful, even if it can be mitigated (this discourages beginning with a conventional building and then mitigating its impacts, which is the norm). For example, air pollution in the urban area is not excessive and the project adds more air pollution, but overall air quality is not extreme. As in most rating tools, negative impacts may be assessed relative to typical buildings, code requirements, practices or pre-construction site conditions. However, positive impacts (below) are assessed relative to pre-industrial or pre-urban (ie. whole-system) conditions.  

50% = Restorative or regenerative actions reduce the negative impacts of the development or component, and/or improve site conditions with respect to the given impact factor. For example, a development on a degraded site may restore the (equivalent) pre-urban vegetation and biodiversity on what remains of the site surrounding the new building, but it does not compensate for the land covered by the building itself. 50% means it offsets a considerable portion of the pre-construction damage and impacts of the development itself, but the overall impact is negative compared to pre-urban conditions.

100% = These designs or actions eliminate the added negative impacts of the development itself (the general target of regenerative design). This usually means the outcome resulting returns the impact factor to pre-construction conditions, as opposed to pre-settlement conditions. Note that restorative or regenerative impacts seldom amount to eliminating 100% of the negative impacts and improving the overall outcome as well. That is, the negative impacts of the development here are offset by improvements as well as mitigation measures, but this will seldom be net positive in a global or whole-system sense.

+5 = These are additional positive impacts and/or separate design elements or actions that go beyond restoring the damage caused by the project in the given impact area. Whereas impacts are usually considered regenerative when they only benefit the stakeholders, positive design features must create public benefits as well. This outcome almost invariably requires ‘design’, as opposed to simply making ‘decisions’ (choosing among known options). For instance, a low-impact element that also creates new ecological carrying capacity for threatened species in the bioregion requires creativity, not mitigation.

+10 = This highest level means ‘beyond zero’ increases in the net ecological base and/or public estate that also expand future options. These designs or actions improve whole-system outcomes in, for instance soil, air or water quality (these do not have system boundaries). Again, this generally requires multifunctional, adaptable design, supplemented by net-positive offsetting as well as innovation. Note that if a unique design feature is added that is unrelated to given impacts, it can be placed on a new leg in the relevant diagram, and if a whole new impact category is needed (eg. transportation) a new diagram (with at least 3 legs or impact factors) can be added.

The following sections outline the benchmarks for the given impact factors in the Tier 1 STARfish and Tier 2 Satellite STARfish and provides an example of a Tier 3 Satellite STARfish.

3.2  Tier 1 impact categories (Main STARfish)

The main diagram in the STARfish app divides into six impact categories.  The benchmarks for the 6 main STARfish (Tier 1) are stated in the book and the app itself, so they are not repeated here.  These categories are common to many rating tools (eg. greenhouse/carbon, ecology/biodiversity, health/life quality) for transferability of information with other tools or comparability of design outcomes.     

  1. Ecology/biodiversity (eg. carrying capacity, biodiversity, ecosystem functions/services)
  2. Materials/waste (eg. resource depletion, waste, toxins)
  3. Efficiency/energy (eg. energy and resource minimization)
  4. Greenhouse/carbon (eg. fossil fuel avoidance, oxygen, carbon sequestration)
  5. Health/life quality (eg. physical and mental wellbeing, environmental quality/amenity)
  6. Planning/spatial relationships (eg. ethics, equity and environmental space)

3.3  Tier 2 impact categories (Satellite STARfish)  

1.  Satellite STARfish for Ecology/biodiversity (eg. carrying capacity, biodiversity, ecosystem functions/services)

1.1  Eco-restoration of sites  

1.2  Building-integrated eco-services and amenities

1.3  Ecological space and functions

1.4  Environmental threats/risks reduction 

1.5  Air quality (environmental)

1.6  Water quality (biological)

2.  Satellite STARfish for Materials/waste (eg. resource depletion, waste, toxins)

2.1  Recycling throughout the project lifecycle 

2.2  Optimal use of biodegradable materials 

2.3  Use of modular components to increase longevity

2.4  End uses of recycling, upcycling and eco-cycling

2.5  Multifunctional use of materials

2.6  Building construction waste

3.  Satellite STARfish for Efficiency/energy (eg. energy and resource minimization)

3.1  Renewable energy

3.2  Appropriate scale of energy systems

3.3  Benign energy sources 

3.4  Design for change/adaptability

3.5  Positive (versus wasteful) functions

3.6  Spatial optimization

4.  Satellite STARfish for Greenhouse/carbon (eg. fossil fuel avoidance, oxygen, carbon sequestration)

4.1  Carbon trading/offsetting

4.2  Building-integrated sequestration

4.3  Industrial-scale sequestration or offsets

4.4  Urban landscape sequestration

4.5  Vertical composters (soil sequestration)

4.6  Micro-climate mitigation

5.  Satellite STARfish for Health/life quality (eg. physical and mental wellbeing, environmental quality/amenity)

5.1  Onsite and offsite environmental health improvements

5.2  Public health impacts

5.3  Exercise/lifestyle options

5.4  Environmental justice

5.5  Materials sources (poverty/illness reduction)

5.6  Eco-tourism projects in environmentally or culturally intact areas

6.  Satellite STARfish for Planning/spatial relationships (eg. ethics, equity and environmental space)

6.1  Address local deficits

6.2  Urban infill with environmental amenity

6.3  Mixed uses for urban vitality

6.4  Developer contributions to public planning policies

6.5  Emergency facilities for the community

6.6  Environmental space (reduced consumption)

3.4  Tier 3 categories (example of Ecological/biodiversity STARfish) 

The descriptions and benchmarks for these Tier 3 impact categories can be found in the STARfish app.

1.1  Eco-restoration of sites 

1.1.1  Rehabilitation/revegetation

1.1.2  Disease control measures

1.1.3  Feral species elimination

1.1.4  Endangered species and pollinators 

1.1.5  Improved soil health (composting) 

1.1.6  Erosion runoff and compaction reduction

1.2  Building-integrated eco-services and amenities

1.2.1  Passive solar systems

1.2.2  UV radiation levels and heat stress risks

1.2.3  Heat island effect

1.2.4  Decibel levels

1.2.5  Light pollution from the site

1.2.6  Glare and reflected heat

1.3  Ecological space and functions

1.3.1  Ecosystem enclaves and biodiversity incubators

1.3.2  Nature corridors and stepping stones

1.3.3  Volume of ecological space 

1.3.4  Dedicated nesting sites and habitats

1.3.5  Wilderness restitution

1.4  Environmental threats/risks reduction 

1.4.1  Flood prevention and diversion

1.4.1  Urban fire prevention systems

1.4.3  Earthquakes, landslide and sinkhole prevention

1.4.4  Tornados, storms and lightning protection

1.4.5  Drought reduction

1.5  Air quality (environmental)

1.5.1  Urban forests and parks

1.5.2  Green roofs

1.5.3  Vertical landscaping

1.5.4  Urban air circulation 

1.5.5  Pollution absorption materials

1.6  Water quality (biological)

1.6.1  Integrated water storage

1.6.2  Natural purification/filtration waterscapes

1.6.3  Eco-productive aquatic environments

1.6.4  Monitoring and management systems

1.6.5  Embodied water reduction

4.  Instructions for using the STARfish app

The app has instructions on every page.  However, this is a step by step description for anyone that wants it. 

Click on STARfish 10.52 and a diagram will appear.  Go to ‘settings’ in the top menu and click ‘open’.  Select either the ‘Complex’ diagram for a large development, of the ‘Simple’ diagram for a small project.  In both cases, you can add or subtract legs (impact factors) or diagrams (sets of impact factors) as you progress.

Visual presentation:  Every visual aspect of the diagrams can be manipulated for presentation purposes.  Some of the options are as follows:

Under the ‘Starfish’ heading above the diagram, you can:

  • Control the labels (their size, colours, borders and line thickness, etc.) in the ‘Global Starfish’. 
  • Move the labels by clicking ‘Turn on label reposition mode’.
  • Select from a range of diagrams (described in Section 5 of this website) depending on which seems to communicate better to you or your audience.
  • Chose line thicknesses and lengths of circles or legs and so on, in the ‘Axis and Rulers’.

Under the ‘Designer’ heading, you can:

  • Change the distances between diagrams and sub-diagrams.
  • Make the radius of a diagram bigger or smaller.
  • Rotate individual diagrams or the whole cluster of diagrams.

Data’heading:  To record impacts, ‘select’ the diagram that you want to consider.  You will see the impact category and its subsets in the left column under ‘Data’. 

  • Click ‘Edit’ to change the names of impact factors, add new ones, or delete ones. 
  • Click ‘Attach new sub-diagram’ to add a whole new set of impacts and give it a weighting if necessary. 
  • To see another set of benchmarks in that diagram, select the name of the impact at the top of the left hand column.

The Slider:  Move the red (negative impact) slider.  If the slider area does not show the movable triangles, you need to go to the sub-diagram, and the impacts are cumulative.  As the slider moves toward -10 and 0 the benchmarks appear in the box below.  You judge where the slider should sit on the spectrum (how bad the impact is in relation to the stated benchmarks).  As more information becomes available this is easily refined and automatically calculated.  Note that negative impacts do not disappear simply because they are offset.

Do the same for the restorative/regenerative and positive/net-positive impacts.  Restorative impacts start from where the negative slider ends up.  Positive impact may exceed the ‘zero’ point.  Remember to save changes via the ‘Settings’ menu.

Report reasons:  Click ‘Report reasons for the given values’ and a box appears for entering the rationale for where the sliders are placed.  You can add new benchmarks for new legs or sub-diagrams, but the ones provided in the app are locked in.  Your reasons may address unique circumstances concerning the project or site.

Export report:  Go to ‘Settings’ again and click ‘Create Report’.  This will show the benchmarks and your reasons for how the project stacks up against the standards.  You can also export the final image (in the ‘Settings’ menu.