The green lifestyle has been a concept for generations. With global warming and climate change being key issues in today’s world, the prospect of sustainable and eco-friendly living has been thrust to the forefront of many city’s goals and plans. Numerous initiatives and agencies have been implemented to reduce the carbon footprint of the United States’ towns and suburbs. Hopefully (sooner, rather than later) every city will be environmentally conscious some day, because the way that today’s society is living is simply not sustainable in the long run.
Many lists will have different results when comparing the greenness of America’s cities, but some places are consistently on every list because they are the innovative leaders in sustainable living, research and education. The goal is for cities to extract and use their resources in the most sustainable way, without creating waste, and without impacting the earth’s environment.
Although there is no specific, “official” ranking of America’s greenest cities, there are some key factors to consider when measuring the environmental sustainability of a given city. Some of these include: The efficiency of waste-management and recycling, the number of LEED-certified buildings in a city, the amount of green and open space, the use of wind, solar and hydrogen power, the access to organic, sustainable food and produce, clean transit, greenhouse gas emissions, and air and water quality. These are cities that score highly in all of these categories.
10 Austin, Texas
Austin Energy is the top renewable energy seller in the nation. They also plan to be carbon neutral by 2020, and have a great creative program called “Green Alley Initiative,” which transforms alleys into environmentally friendly features with pervious sidewalks and energy-saving lights. The Austin government gives locals and businesses incentives to build eco-friendly green roofs, and they’re working towards being leaders in the fight against global warming. Their community gardens also produce tons of organic, sustainable, local food and produce. The Texas countryside is also home to over 200 parks and over 50 miles of trails, making the state a leader in green space.
9 Cambridge, Massachusetts
The small city of Cambridge is a leader in environmentally friendly plans. Most automobiles in Cambridge are fueled by biodiesel or electricity, thanks to a city-wide climate initiative implemented in 2002. Cambridge is home to MIT and Harvard - two of the world’s most prestigious universities - who work with the city to research green alternatives and options, as well as providing Cambridge with accessible open-spaced yards. Any new construction or renovation must meet LEED specifications. Also, an initiative called “Compost That Stuff” processes and collects organic waste from locals and businesses.
8 Berkeley, California
California is home to three of the cities on this list, the first of which is the quaint community town of Berkeley. The city promotes greenness and the environment, with an abundance of parks and trees. UC Berkeley boasts a huge amount of environmental initiatives, including The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), which provides students with grants to create and manage eco-friendly projects. The campus has more than 10 environmentally friendly initiatives in the works. On top of that, the city of Berkeley is considered one of the forerunners of clean technology for wind, solar and hydro power, as well as for biofuels.
7 Denver, Colorado
For how big of a city Denver is, it’s hard to believe that it could be so green-friendly and pristine. With just about 3 million residents in its metropolitan area, it is the 21st most populated city in the country. Denver has 29 recreation centers and over 200 parks, including the giant 315 acre City Park. The city is on the cutting-edge of eco-conscious technology and sustainability. The Green Hotels Association is a group of hotels that promotes city-wide environmental initiatives, including LEED-certified building construction, energy control, and sustainable living. They lead by example, using their green plans in their hotels to show the rest of the city that environmentally conscious living and comfortable living can go hand-in-hand.
6 Eugene, Oregon
Eugene is known for its natural beauty, providing residents and visitors with over 150 miles of trails and paths for ample bicycling, jogging, and kayaking opportunities. Eugene is also known as the “Emerald City” due to its lusciousness, and has been promoting green living since the 1960s. The hybrid public transit, aptly named the Emerald Express, won a Sustainable Transport award after just one year of service, in 2008. The city is home to many green markets and organic community gardens, and the residents are very proud of being one of the country’s sustainable living leaders.
5 Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States, a center for culture and education, and the first city to introduce public schools and subways to the country, among many other things. The city is known as a leader of innovation, thanks to its numerous institutions of higher education and its many green initiatives. Since 2008, Boston holds the annual Down2Earth rally, a conference designed to educate people about sustainable lifestyles. “Green by 2015” is an ambitious plan to replace all taxi cabs with hybrid vehicles, use electric motorcycles for transportation, and use solar panels and recycled trash to power homes, by 2015.
4 Oakland, California
Oakland continually places high on sustainable living lists, for good reason. The port city has access to some of the freshest organic food, most of which is locally sourced, and they also have the cleanest tap water in the nation. Oakland is home to the country’s oldest animal refuge, and one of the United States’ first hydro-powered public transit systems. The city is a trailblazer in the environmental and sustainable living communities, and they plan to be oil-dependent by 2020. Oakland already gets nearly 20% of its energy from renewable sources, so it’s safe to say that they lead by example.
3 Seattle, Washington
The scenic city of Seattle is home to some of the country’s first green initiatives, making them a closely watched center for eco-friendly research and technology around the US. It is the country’s first city to institute a green building law, which means that all new city construction must achieve an LEED-certified rating. City Light, Seattle’s publicly owned electricity provider, was the first utility company to reach zero net emissions of climate pollution in the country. The city also provides residents with an incentive program to install solar panels to power their homes.
2 San Francisco, California
No list about green living and sustainable lifestyles would be complete without San Francisco. The Summer of Love mecca is one of the nation’s leaders in solar energy use, and they’ve recently met their goal of cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by over 20% from the levels emitted in 1990. San Francisco has the “Mandatory Recycling and Compositing Ordinance,” which makes residents separate trash, recyclables, and compost into separate bins, and they were the first city in the country to ban plastic shopping bags, and the mayor plans to do the same with plastic single-serve water bottles.
1 Portland, Oregon
The beautiful city of Portland earns our top spot. The city’s recycling rates are at a country-high 60%, and Portland has the largest wooden park (within city limits) in the nation. Portland is the most sustainable city in the country. The city is constantly on the forefront of environmental technology, recently studying how to generate electricity through wave-power and buoys off their coast. With almost 200 miles of bike lanes and paths, a quarter of the city’s workforce commutes by bike or public transit. With its eco-friendly city design and development of green buildings, its supply of local food, reduction of waste, programs to fight climate change and pollution, and environmental and sustainable research, it is no wonder that Portland is the greenest city in the US.