San Francisco, California
The City by the Bay is at or near the top of green rankings as a result of its zero-emission bus and light rail systems, higher-than-average solar panel usage—AT&T Park was the first Major League ballpark in the country to install solar panels—and a high number of certified green buildings. San Francisco also boasts the most farmers' markets and community gardens per capita in the United States and is a leader in the farm-to-table, sustainable food market.
Outdoor lifestyle enthusiasts flock to Portland with good reason: The city encompasses more than 10,000 acres of green space scattered throughout nearly 300 public parks, which also host hundreds of farmers' markets every year. The city has tied for the highest number of environmentally certified buildings per capita in the country, with more than 35 buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, and it has close to 200 miles of bike lanes.
New York, New York
The Big Apple has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the fact that it ranks as the city where the lowest percentage of commuters drive to work. More than 54 percent of New Yorkers take public transportation to work; in fact, some 45 percent of households do not even own an automobile, preferring to use the city's excellent subway, bus, and train system to get around. New York City also ranks high in terms of parkland, with more than 1,700 public spaces, including the massive 2,765-acre Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, the 1,700-acre Greenbelt in Staten Island, and of course, Manhattan's 843-acre Central Park. Another environmental selling point: The city also ranks fifth in the number of farmers' markets per capita.
Boston is considered one of America's most walkable cities. This is borne out by the fact that more than 15 percent of its population walks to work every day. Indeed, one of the city's most popular attractions is the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that takes visitors past sites that tell the story of America's journey toward independence. Boston has the oldest public transportation system in the country and is a leader in both recycling and composting grass clipping and fallen leaves.
San Diego, California
Sunny San Diego was ranked the greenest city in last year’s WalletHub survey, based largely on its civic commitment to renewable energy sources, green building initiatives, and recycling efforts. In addition, many commuters walk or bike to work, and the city ranks fourth in the nation in terms of the number of farmers’ markets per capita.
The greater metropolitan area of our nation's capital boasts more than 250,000 acres of public parkland, all of which is easily accessible on the city’s first-rate subways and buses. More than 42 percent of residents use public transportation to get to work, and the city also is a leader in providing space for pedestrians, both commuters and tourists.
Honolulu offers a large number of eco-friendly hotels, ties for first place in the percentage of green space per capita, and boasts the highest number of solar panels per capita in the United States. The city is a leader in zero-waste policies and recycling, works hard to keep polystyrene and other plastics out of the ocean, and has a great bike-sharing program.
Minneapolis is considered to be the most bike-friendly city in America, with more than 200 miles of bike trails and a huge bike-sharing program. The city is also a leader in green public transportation—it uses biodiesel fuel in its bus fleet—and the city’s baseball stadium has the highest LEED certification in professional sports. Minneapolis is also ranked as having the second-best drinking water in the country.
Anchorage ranks high thanks to its municipal emphasis on energy savings and civic recycling efforts. The city implemented an innovative program to lower electricity usage by installing a city-wide dimmer system on street lights. Anchorage is also in the process of a $5 million effort to replace 16,000 street lights with LED or induction bulbs, an upgrade that is expected to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs every year.
The Emerald City is another haven for outdoorsy types, with a high percentage of commuters who walk and bike to work; far fewer than half of all commuters drive to work alone. The city debuted the first carbon-neutral electric utility and in 2013 forged its own Climate Action Plan. Seattle also recycles or composts more than half of its waste stream and ranks high on the list of cities with the greatest number of farmers’ markets per capita.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque's eco-friendly reputation rests heavily on the sun: More than 100 solar panel companies are based in the city, where more than 100,000 homes are powered by solar energy. Albuquerque even hosted the very first solar-powered farmers’ market.
The Mile High City is home to the largest city park system in the United States, with some 8 percent of the city set aside as green space and nearly 100 miles of hiking trails winding throughout. Denver is also a leader in recycling, keeping some 26,000 tons of material out of landfills each year. The city has a pioneering bike-share program as well as its own action plan, Greenprint Denver, which lays out specific environmental goals.
The Windy City is a leader in environmentally certified building projects, with at least four city projects receiving the highest, Platinum, rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. The city has implemented numerous energy-saving and recycling programs, and its power plants now produce twice the energy with a third less carbon emissions. Chicago also has devoted more than 12,000 acres to public parks and open spaces.
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This hipster haven devotes nearly 15 percent of its area to parks and green space, and is a leader in recycling efforts. Austin also gets high marks for its municipal commitment to renewable energy. Indeed, the city expects to meet 30 percent of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2020 and is developing a large wind-power plant to help achieve its goals.
Atlanta boasts some of the most eco-friendly office buildings and hotels in the country, with roughly 55 percent of buildings holding either an Energy Star label or LEED certification. In fact, the city has nearly double the national average of Energy Star-certified spaces. Atlanta also ranks third in the number of farmers' markets per capita.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Jersey City achieves a green rank based on its efforts to promote clean water, better public transportation, and recycling, as well as the low number of commuters who drive to work (it ranks second). The city established its own Office of Sustainability in 2018 to oversee sustainability efforts across a variety of departments and sectors and to develop action plans for meeting the city’s climate and environmental goals. A city-wide ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect in June 2019, and the city is working to get its residents’ recycling and composting rate up to 90 percent annually.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City is considered a leader in supporting green building and sustainable efforts due in large part to its funding commitments. The city provided more than $4.2 million to support administration and planning, neighborhood capacity building, and outreach efforts for a Green Impact Zone that benefited the city and surrounding region by improving public transportation, promoting green building programs, and improving water and energy conservation.
Irvine has a longstanding history as a leader in environmental policies and construction, adopting one of the earliest green building programs in the nation. The city consistently encourages builders to create environmentally sensitive, healthier developments for its residents, businesses, and visitors through the Irvine Build Green Program. Irvine was also an early adopter of the California Green Building Standards Code.
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo ranks high in both green building initiatives and green job creation—in fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $200,000 grant to People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo) to help fund the organization’s program to train unemployed and underemployed Buffalo residents in environmental jobs. The city also enjoys an extensive public park system that was initially designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux between 1868 and 1896.
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Madison set its sights on sustainability a decade ago and now features solar and wind power, retrofitted buildings, hybrid buses, and a green business incubator. The city also started a program called Green Madison to reduce energy consumption, and an Energy Leadership Academy designed to share information among energy and building experts to better manage energy usage throughout the city. The city ranks third in bicycle friendliness in the country.
The theme park capital of the world, Orlando was one of only five U.S. cities to win a 2017 Smart Cities Council Challenge Grant to promote smart, sustainable growth. The city also launched its Green Works Orlando program in 2007 to help transform Orlando into one of the most environmentally friendly and economically and socially vibrant communities in the nation. The program has achieved more than $1 million in annual energy savings, performed energy efficiency retrofits to 1,200 houses, completed 12 LEED-certified municipal buildings, completed or approved $19 million in energy-efficiency investments to municipal buildings, and increased recycling collection by 35 percent.
The Queen City is focusing on sustainability and renewable energy as part of its Green Cincinnati Plan. In pursuit of these goals, the city signed a contract with Houston-based electric company Dynegy Inc. to purchase 100 percent green energy for nearly all municipal buildings through 2021. The city hopes to have the largest municipal solar array in the country by the end of 2019. The eco-conscious city also ranks in the top 20 of LEED-certified buildings, including both residential and commercial spaces.
The Biggest Little City in the World is about much more than just gambling and weddings: The city began a $19 million Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Initiative in 2009 and has achieved significant savings under the program, which made it one of the Top 22 Smartest Cities for Energy, as ranked by the National Resources Defense Council. Solar panels line the roof of City Hall, the city has converted the famous Reno Arch as well as many of its street lights and walkway signs to LEDs, and parking meters are solar powered.
Boise was one of the first cities to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2006. Since then, the city has taken steps to improve efficiency and sustainability, including a composting and revamped recycling program. The city aims to obtain all its energy from renewable sources, including geothermal, by 2040. Boise Green Bike, established in 2015, is an innovative bike-sharing program, and Valley Regional Transit provides bus service from the airport and throughout the Boise area to Main Street Station in downtown Boise.
Tampa’s efforts to conserve water and improve recycling rates have burnished its green credentials. The city’s McKay Bay Refuse-To-Energy Facility provides a reliable, environmentally friendly method of managing the 360,000 tons of municipal solid waste that citizens generate each year. Energy created in burning this waste is converted into enough electrical power to supply electricity to up to 15,000 Tampa homes. The city is also home to the Sustany Foundation, a local nonprofit that hosts the Sustany Awards, which honor local businesses and entrepreneurs for innovation and creativity in lessening their own carbon footprint, educating their employees and the public about sustainability issues, and promoting activities that enhance the environment.
Greensboro, North Carolina
Greensboro has to be green—it’s in the name! The city has worked on developing LEED certification for historic buildings within the city and has also been a leader in developing green industry jobs. Greensboro is one of only 12 communities in North Carolina to receive a Bronze award as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists.
Lincoln launched its Cleaner Greener Lincoln initiative in 2009 with the goal of ensuring the best sustainable management practices. Since then, the city has converted all public buses to biodiesel, enhanced recycling efforts, replaced traffic signals with LEDs, and participated in regional efforts to promote renewable energy use.
The City of Brotherly Love loves sustainability! The city’s Office of Sustainability works with partners to improve the quality of life in all Philadelphia neighborhoods, reduce the city’s carbon emissions, and prepare Philadelphia for a hotter, wetter future. The city’s comprehensive sustainability plan, Greenworks Philadelphia, is a blueprint for providing the community with accessible food and drinking water; healthy outdoor and indoor air; clean and efficient energy; climate-prepared and carbon-neutral communities; quality natural resources; accessible, affordable, and safe transportation; zero waste; and engaged students, stewards, and workers.
Chesapeake adopted its first Sustainability Plan in 2009 and since then has been focusing on becoming a destination for environmentally responsible meetings and events. Dozens of hotels and attractions have taken steps to conserve water and energy and increase recycling, making it one of the top eco-friendly tourism destinations. The city has minimized the use of disposable food-service products and switched to products made from bio-based or renewable materials, and substantially increased recycling rates throughout the region. The city ranks fifth in the percentage of green space per capita, according to WalletHub.
Milwaukee has made great strides toward sustainability, promoting itself as a “walker’s paradise.” The award-winning RiverWalk runs north-south for more than three miles; eye-catching public art gives the RiverWalk the feel of an outdoor gallery, and colorful, user-friendly signs point the way and illuminate the city’s history. Milwaukee’s bike-share system, Bublr Bikes, is a convenient, affordable, and “green” way to get to your destination or explore the city.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh has embarked on several environmental initiatives to promote conservation and sustainability, including replacing city lights with LEDs; promoting xeriscaping to conserve water in the city’s parks; installing a solar array at the city’s main water treatment plant; installing rainwater harvesting systems and solar hot water heaters at the city’s fire stations; buying new hybrid buses for public transportation; and implementing a Green Roof Program to substantially reduce storm-water runoff and reduce energy use. Raleigh is one of the founding members of the Triangle Clean Cities Coalition, whose mission is to encourage and accelerate the use of alternative fuel vehicles.
Nashville has enjoyed a sharp increase in LEED certifications, with some 15 certifications totaling 1.32 million square feet of space since January 2016. The city’s Livable Nashville plan recommends actions to make the metro area a healthier, cleaner, and more vibrant place to live. Its mission is to increase access to clean air and water and conserve natural areas while curbing climate change and preserving Nashville’s authentic character.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City’s Office of Sustainability provides technical recommendations, sustainability planning, and outreach services to city departments and the public. The city offers homeowners low-interest loans to make energy-efficient upgrades and also promotes solar energy use. The sustainability goals emphasize recycling and zero-waste initiatives.
Fort Worth, Texas
As one of the nation’s fastest-growing large cities, Fort Worth faces the challenge of providing adequate infrastructure and resources for its rapidly increasing population. In 2009, the Fort Worth City Council appointed a Sustainability Task Force that has developed numerous programs, including Bike Fort Worth and Walk Fort Worth, which make biking and walking around the city safer and more convenient. The city is also focusing on water conservation measures through Save Fort Worth Water, and it encourages environmentally friendly business practices through its Business Smart program.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach ties for the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the WalletHub survey. Famous as a tourist destination, Virginia Beach also lays claim to the nation’s first convention center to earn LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The Virginia Beach City Public Schools were the first in the state to achieve an LEED Platinum award for a K-12 building in 2014, and the Joint-Use Library received LEED gold certification the same year. With all these LEED awards, it's not surprising that the Virginia Beach metropolitan area was ranked fourth in the nation among mid-size cities for Energy Star-certified buildings. The city has also been a leader in land conservation, protecting more than 9,200 acres through agricultural conservation easements.
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