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Are These the Five Most Sustainable Cities in the US and Canada?

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In 2011, Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit published the US and Canada Green City Index [pdf], selecting 27 cities that are not only cultural and intellectual centers, but drivers of economic activity. These cities are an ideal laboratory for innovative responses to the challenges their countries face, including environmental issues.

See also: Are These the Four Most Sustainable Cities in Latin America?

The United States and Canada have been largely urban for a long time – since 1955 two-thirds of their populations have lived in cities – so it is particularly interesting to see which of the 27 cities featured in the Index made it to the Top 5. Do you think anything has changed since 2011? Do any other cities deserve a place on the list? And what do you think other cities can learn from top achieving cities in the US and Canada? Share your views in our new Linkedin chat, currently taking place with some of the team behind the Green City Indexes.

5. Denver


Population: > 600,000

Located next to the natural beauty that is the Rocky Mountains it would be a shame if Denver didn’t try to be a sustainable place. Luckily, the city has taken a proactive approach on managing energy consumption and introducing clean and efficient energy policies. By 2020, 30 % of all electricity produced must come from renewable resources. The “Greenprint Denver” enables public participation in environmental programs, through a variety of initiatives, including Green Teams. Don’t know what Green Teams are?! Find out by reading about Denver’s ambitions here [pdf].

4. Seattle


Population: > 600,000

Sleepless in Seattle. No, not that famous movie, this is the lifestyle of this city’s staff. The effort the municipality puts into becoming more sustainable is remarkable and shows results: while sustainability certifications for new buildings have become more common all over the world in recent years, Seattle has mandated a minimum LEED Silver Certificate for all municipal buildings over 5,000 square feet since 2002. A high rate of solid waste recycling as well as strong environmental governance show that the city is acting on its responsibility to future generations. Sorry Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The real story from Seattle is the city’s move towards sustainability. Read more here [pdf].

3. New York City


Population: > 8,000,000 

The Big Apple is by far the biggest city of North America and one of the world’s economic centers. It has the highest population density in the US and Canada by far and still around 20% of the city is green space. The Million Trees Program aims to add even more green to the city. High density can be a strong base for an efficient transport system: and New York’s high scores in our transport assessment suggests that this rule is true. Additionally, New York has one of the biggest hybrid bus fleets in the world, and commendable environmental governance. The city also picked up an award during the 2013 City Climate Leadership Awards for its resilience plans. Read more about the city’s efforts here [pdf].

2. Vancouver


Population: > 500,000

Vancouver wants to be the greenest city in the world by 2020, and they are on the right path. In 2010 the city emitted just 4.2 metric tons of CO2 per person, which is way below average. This is thanks, in part, to the dominance of hydropower in Vancouver’s energy grid. No wonder the city also leads in the air quality category of the Index. The people of Vancouver also seem to lead a more sustainable lifestyle than most north American cities: 25% use public transport, bicycle or go by foot, which is more than twice as much as the average of the 27 cities featured in the Index. And with more tram line extensions to come, Vancouver is getting even more sustainable. Read more here [pdf].

1. San Francisco


Population: > 800,000

San Francisco is crowned the most sustainable city in the US and Canada, meaning the city is about as sustainable as it is hilly – VERY. It has not only shown respectable achievements in waste recycling (for which it won an award during the 2013 City Climate Leadership Awards), but it’s also been successful in reducing air and water pollution as well as retrofitting buildings. On top of that, the electricity consumption is among the lowest in the index. This wide range of achievements is partly the result of strict regulation, like mandatory recycling and long-term efficiency programs. Read more about the most sustainable city in the US and Canada here [pdf].

Developed and developing cities: what can they learn from each other? Share your views in our new Linkedin chat, currently taking place with some of the team behind the Green City Indexes.