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Top 10 most sustainable cities in the US

In a recent study, WalletHub studied the 100 largest US cities and used a combination of these complex scores to produce sustainability rankings.

The WalletHub study assessed US cities on four key areas of environment, transportation, energy sources, and lifestyle and policy. Twenty different ‘green indicators’ were measured, such as greenhouse gas emissions per capita and number of smart-energy policy initiatives.

Here is a simplified list outlining the top 10 cities (of which California takes up 60%) and explaining what these cities are currently doing to improve their sustainability.

10 | Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis scored 65.75 overall. The city was number one for transportation, 26 for environment, 28 for energy sources and 18 for lifestyle and policy. In 2011, it introduced a ‘green fleet’ policy which aimed to combat air pollution while reducing costs of city vehicles. The city has so far introduced a total of 73 hybrid vehicles, three all-electric vehicles, 404 flex-fuel vehicles, 290 bio-diesel vehicles… and a dust-free street sweeper. Other transportation successes include the Complete Streets Policy which prioritises walking, biking and transit right of way before cars.

9 | Sacramento, CA

Sacramento scored 65.91 overall, placing fourth for lifestyle and policy and 8th for transportation. It also ranks 19th for energy sources, but just 54th for environment. The city has a defined Climate Action plan which it adopted in 2015 and is incorporated into its 2035 general plan. Again, the city encourages walking, cycling and public transit, as well as ‘green building’ practices to use solar energy systems and architectural designs that reduce heat gain.

8 | Portland, OR

Portland scored 67.78 overall and was second for lifestyle and policy. It also came in seventh for transportation, 14th for energy sources and 52nd for environment. Portland is working toward many sustainably initiatives, such as its sustainable food programme, clean energy initiative, green building advances and ‘fix-it fairs’ which aim to teach attendees simple, affordable ways to make their homes more sustainable and efficient. The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has put much of its 2015 Climate Action Plan into practice already, working towards reducing both overall energy consumption and potable water consumption by 10% each by 2020.

7 | Oakland, CA

Oakland, California scored 68 overall. It came first for ‘energy sources’ and fifth overall for environment’. Oakland also ranked 16th for lifestyle and policy, but just 54th for transportation. It is consistently recognised as a leader in sustainability and is a common feature on such lists as ‘Top 10 Most Walkable US Cities and Neighbourhoods’ and ‘Top 5 Greenest Cities in the US.’ The city of Oakland states it aims to ‘grow the green economy by attracting green businesses to the area,’ thus creating more jobs, and by training residents to succeed in this field. It also hopes to shift to clean, renewable energy and is working toward a zero-waste goal. It runs many green events and has systems enabling citizens to easily report pollution problems.

6 | Washington, DC

Washington scored 68.76, with a ranking of third for transportation and eighth for lifestyle and policy. It comes in ninth for environment and 29th for energy sources. Dedicated team Sustainable DC are working toward the Sustainable DC plan, which aims to make the District of Columbia the ‘healthiest, greenest and most liveable city in the United States’ by 2032. Some of these targets include developing three times as many district-based businesses, cutting citywide obesity by 50%, reaching out to at least 50% of children in the district to educate them about sustainability, and to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.


5 | San Diego, CA

San Diego scored 70.49 and has consistent high rankings across the board, though doesn’t come in above seventh for a particular area. It ranks seventh for lifestyle, 13th for energy sources, 14th for transportation and 16th for environment. San Diego set Climate Action Plan goals in 2015 and this plan is being led by the Environmental Services Department who are working on increasing use of renewable energy across the city to achieve 100% use by 2035, facilitating property upgrades in line with PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing, and installing ‘smart’ adaptive control street lighting with the aim of installing between 13,000 and 15,000 energy efficient and smart streetlights.


4 | Fremont, CA

down on transportation, ranking at 83, and ranks in the middle of the road at 37 for lifestyle and policy. Fremont adopted its own Climate Action Plan in 2012, and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a community-wide basis by 25% by 2020. So far, between 2005 and 2010 it decreased these emissions by 11%. A Green Task Force of citizens was also set up to identify and implement ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


3 | San José, CA

San José scored 71.57 in total, and comes fifth for lifestyle and policy. It also ranks 12th for energy sources, 13th for environment and 21st for transportation. Its Environmental Sustainability Plan builds on its already decade-old ‘Green Vision.’ The city is currently working on recycled water projects due to severe droughts common in the area. Advanced filtration technologies are being used to make wastewater potable and to replenish the groundwater system. In terms of sustainable growth, the city’s ‘smart growth’ policies are working to reduce sprawl, traffic congestion and greenhouse gases and to preserve the green hillsides which are at risk as San José from the sprawling suburbanisation of the Bay Area.


2 | Honolulu, HI

Scoring 74.49 overall, Hawaii’s capital ranks first for environment, 14th for lifestyle and policy, 21st for energy sources and a middling 38th for transportation. The city is working to prevent further water pollution, mainly by promoting permablitz; a movement involving volunteers who plant permaculture gardens in order to reduce storm water runoff. Honolulu also currently has the most solar power per capita in comparison with all other US cities.


1 | San Francisco, CA

With a total score of 75.64, San Francisco ranks consistently highly, coming in first for lifestyle and policy, sixth for environment, 10th for transportation and 15th for energy sources. It has consistently been known as a key player in sustainability efforts, and was working towards green movements long before the recent increase in popularity. The city has green building practices, a kerbside composting program, and much more. More than half of the buses and light rails in the city’s fleet are zero emission and San Francisco is working towards hybrid diesel by 2020. There is a current focus on sustainable food and there has been a substantial increase in the vegan movement that limits the consumption of meat.