21 Most Eco-Friendly Cities in the World

There are many ways to live a greener lifestyle. One of the best is by living in an eco-friendly city, which uses sustainable practices and technologies.

There are a number of cities that have taken various measures to promote greener living, such as energy efficiency, lower emissions, recycling programs, renewable energies, improved air quality and more.

Today we'll look at some of the most eco friendly cities in the world, and the reasons why they made this list.

What Makes a Sustainable City?

As you may have seen already, the world's most eco-friendly countries are ranked according to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). At a local and municipal level, the most eco-friendly cities are ranked according to a similar system, known as the Siemens Green City Index [1].

The Green City Index is considered the most effective way to identify green cities. This index uses a complex formula that considers a number of factors:

  • Low co2 Emissions - Cities are ranked according to the amount of carbon emissions per capita.
  • Renewable Energy Sources - How much of the city's energy consumption comes from renewable sources.
  • Building Standards - How efficient are the dwellings in the city, and how much energy is used to heat and cool them.
  • Transport - This section ranks cities according to three factors: use of public transportation; car share programs; and bicycling rates.
  • Water - Cities are ranked on their water consumption as well as how much wastewater they produce and how the city manages its natural resources.
  • Waste - Cities' waste management methods and recycling programs weigh in to the final score.
  • Green Space - This section shows how much green open space, and how many parks and pedestrian areas are available in a city.
  • Air Quality - Cities that rank well have little to no air pollution, which can lead to serious health problems for its citizens.
  • Green Initiatives - Also known as "environmental governance," this sector looks at the eco-friendly initiatives in place in each city, and how well the public engages and participates in them to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle.

To compile this list of the most eco-friendly cities, we have used the Green City Index scores as well as other more recent initiatives that have been launched since the GCI was published.

21 Most Sustainable Cities in the World

Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is rated as the most eco-friendly city in Europe. They have a recycling program which is used by the vast majority of people, meaning more than half of the city's waste gets recycled.

Residents of Copenhagen are actively encouraged to use bicycles over cars, having set out to become the best cycle city in the world. There is also an extensive public transit system in place, including metro, rail and bus.

Building standards in Denmark are high, and Copenhagen has some of the world's most energy efficient buildings. The vast majority of new builds take place on brownfield sites, which preserves public open spaces.

Stockholm

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in Europe. An impressive 68% of people either cycle or walk to work.

The city has virtually zero heavy industry, with most people being employed in the services sector.

Over 60% of Stockholm's electricity comes from renewable sources. The city also implements energy efficient building standards, reducing its energy consumption.

All of this means that the city has very low co2 emissions and the best air quality of any major city in Europe.

Stockholm has protected green spaces. It is estimated that over 80% of the city's population live within 5 minutes walk of a park or other green area.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik relies heavily on geothermal and hydropower, which makes it one of the only eco-friendly cities that is powered almost entirely by renewable energy sources, and uses virtually no fossil fuels.

Volcanic hot springs provide heat, and the city's water comes directly from pure natural springs. It's arguably the cleanest and best tasting tap water in the world!

Transport is provided by hydrogen buses, and walking and cycling is heavily encouraged. Free parking for electric vehicles is another initiative designed to fight climate change.

Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki is a truly sustainable city with a high recycling rate of around 65%. They have an underground heating and cooling system system under the Esplanade Park, which can recover and reuse wasted heat.

The city contains a designated green district, Viikki, which makes use of solar energy and wind power systems.

Much of Helsinki's income is derived from tourism, and they have therefore made more than 3/4 of the hotel rooms in the city meet strict environmental standards.

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich has one of the lowest carbon footprint rates in the world. Around 80% of the city's electricity comes from hydroelectric and solar energy.

Additionally, Zurich has a low waste production rate per head, and also a high recycling rate, which reduces landfill waste significantly.

Vienna

Vienna, Austria

Vienna's environmental awareness and sustainable development is second to none in Europe. This city has a bicycle sharing system, for both locals and visitors to use, with over 20,000 rental bikes available.

In addition to this innovative project on-going, the city also has a huge number of designated green spaces. These areas are operated by the city council, residents and private companies.

The majority of these spaces have been developed in the public-private partnership model, which means that both the public and private sector have a say in how they should be managed. This ensures that green areas are always preserved and well maintained.

Paris, France

Paris is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and it is also a leader in eco-friendly practices.

The government has been promoting carpools, bikes and public transport to reduce air pollution. They have an extensive recycling program, which aims to recycle at least half of their household waste.

Paris has one of the highest numbers of green spaces in the world. They have also decided to remove 140,000 parking spaces to reduce traffic and make the city greener.

Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba is arguably the greenest city in Brazil. Yes, this is a country best known for its large scale destruction of natural resources, but Curitiba at least is bucking that trend. The city has an extensive recycling program where plastic, paper and even e-waste is recycled.

Curitiba has excellent public transit and an abundance of green space within the city, which makes it one of the greenest cities in South America.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is one of the most eco-friendly cities in Europe. They require all new buildings to have large solar panels, they have an extensive recycling program and they plant trees throughout the city.

Amsterdam has long been seen as an eco city in regards to its cycle routes, with over 400 km of cycle paths for commuters to get around the city. All of this serves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a happy, sustainable environment.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is an eco-friendly city that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in 2020. There are several environmental initiatives throughout the city, they encourage people to ride public transit over private vehicles and they have a high recycling rate.

Their goal is to be fossil fuel free by 2050.

Grenoble, France

Grenoble sounds like it should be a green city, and it is. The city has a recycling program where all household waste is recycled, and they have an urban planning initiative to plant new trees throughout the city.

The city also has many bike paths, and they encourage people to use public transport over cars. Grenoble also has wind turbines throughout the city to produce renewable energy.

San Francisco

San Francisco, California

San Francisco is widely regarded as the greenest city in America, and one of the leading sustainable cities in the world. Both residents and local government are considered to be at the forefront of environmental consciousness.

People in San Francisco are actively encouraged to use public transit or bikes rather than cars, they have solar panels on most buildings, and the city of San Francisco recycles almost everything. Plastic bags have been banned here since 2007, and the sale of plastic water bottles on city owned property was banned in 2019.

The city has many green initiatives including incentives for using renewable energy, recycling programs and solar panels.

New York City, New York

Perhaps surprisingly, New York City is now one of the most eco-friendly cities in the United States. The city is investing in huge offshore wind farms with the aim of providing 100% clean electricity for New York by the year 2030.

There is a trend for green roofs in New York. Residents are creating miniature organic gardens on rooftops and balcony spaces - and even growing their own vegetables!

Portland

Portland, Oregon

Portland has many bike paths, and encourages residents to use bikes, public transportation or car pools rather than their own cars. It is estimated that over 25% of commuters do just that, with 8% stating that cycling is their main method of transportation.

Portland also leads the way in terms of waste management. Over half of the waste they produce is recovered and recycled. They can also boast that 1/3 of the city's energy currently comes from renewable sources, which is significantly above average for the USA.

Like their west coast (near) neighbor San Francisco, Portland have also taken the decision to ban plastic bags.

Vancouver

Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver is one of the greenest cities in Canada, and they have set out ambitious plans to become the greenest city in the world. Vancouver is aiming to develop a green economy, with schemes to encourage a growth in green jobs.

There is an emphasis on eating foods and produce grown by local farmers, rather than imports. The city also has many bike paths, and encourages people to walk or use public transport rather than driving.

Singapore, Singapore

Another one that might surprise some people, but the truth is that Singapore is a very eco-friendly city, with a strict green building code in place since 2008.

Like New York, Singapore is creating a "garden city" with thousands of green roofs and balconies.

They also have a water reclamation system that treats wastewater so it can be used again.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is considered Africa's greenest city. They have already taken significant steps to reduce waste and increase their usage of renewable energy.

The city also has many initiatives including support for farmers markets where people can buy locally grown produce.

Bristol, United Kingdom

Bristol is one of the greenest cities in the United Kingdom, with several schemes in place to create a more sustainable city. They won the European Green Capital award in 2015.

Good air quality, increasing cycle usage, high recycling and composting rates, and reduced domestic energy use are some of the reasons why Bristol won the award.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin is already considered the green capital of Germany (as well as being the actual capital of course). They have many recycling programs including household recycling

The city also has incentives for using renewable energy, recycling programs and solar panels. Berlin also has an extensive public transportation system. But for those who do use cars, Berlin have installed more than 400 charging points for electric vehicles across the city, with more to follow in the near future.

Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo both the capital and the most eco-friendly city in Uruguay. The city has incentives for using renewable energy and solar panels, and Uruguay overall is doing extremely well at reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.

The city is also taking extra steps to preserve its wildlife and surrounding ecosystems.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is the world's most populated metropolitan area. Despite this, it has a (relatively) low impact on the environment.

The vast majority of people in Tokyo use public transport to get around. This means that there are fewer cars on the road than in other major cities which reduces traffic and pollution levels.

Tokyo has a high recycling rate, with a lot of people taking part in civic activities such as litter picking and other environmentally friendly projects.

The Final Word

Since so many of us live in urban environments, moving towards sustainable cities is vital for our health as well as the future of the planet. These eco friendly cities have many things in common, but they also differ from country to country.

In this article we’ve provided you with our list of some of the most environmentally conscious cities around the globe. But the list cannot be static. Due to its nature, this is a work in progress, and cities will be added or removed depending on their environmental sustainability in the future.

Which locations would you like us to explore next? Which city do you think is the greenest on earth? Let us know.

With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of renewable energy. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies.
Stephanie Cole
With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of renewable energy. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies.

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