World's Top 10 Sustainable Cities
"The question of reaching sustainability is not about if we will have enough energy, enough food, or other tangible resources - those we have. The question is: will there be enough leaders in time?" - Dr. Karl Henrik Robèrt
Over half of the world’s population lives in cities, and at current trajectories that proportion will increase to three quarters by 2050. We are becoming an urban species, so it’s time to find strategies to live sustainably in our metropolitan bustle of activity. By looking at these cities on the cutting edge, we see that it’s not impossible. The difference between this top 10 list and cities off the list is will. If it has inspired leaders, and the demand (or at least the buy in) of the people, any city can achieve sustainable greatness!
Here are some highlighted achievements of the world's top ten sustainable cities.
I have put Copenhagen up front on the list because I think it deserves to be highlighted. Already one third of Copenhagen’s citizens commute to work by bike, and the city aims to make that 50% by 2015! (And have you seen Copenhagen in the winter? These Danes give no excuses.) With the world’s largest wind power industry and a plan to become the first carbon neutral city in 2025, they set the bar quite high. Furthermore, their new green roof policy mandates that all new buildings must grow some level of vegetation on their rooftops. (Green roofs mitigate stormwater run-off, insulate the building, prolong the life of the roof, and reduce the urban heat island effect.) That's one rooftop policy we should all get under! Ba-dum.
Not just a flight layover. Many sustainability rankings put Iceland's capital city as first, because like the rest of Iceland, it fuels its heat and electricity entirely on renewable energy: geothermal, (13%) which is energy from the earth’s core, and hydropower (87%). Recently the city has also turned to hydrogen powered buses. With a goal to become completely fossil fuel free by 2050, Reykjavik shows the world that a green future is possible! Especially when you live on volcanoes.
Several decades ago, Portland’s urban planners drew a definitive circle around the city, protecting farmland and forest from future urban sprawl. With a city plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the biggest fleet of bicycling commuters of any city in the United States, Portland is a gem.
Curitiba has an excellent bus system, which feels not only climate friendly but citizen friendly. With plenty of green space, Curitiba cut back on loud polluting lawn mowers and instead hired a flock of thirty sheep to come in and “trim” their grass.
By 2020 Malmo aims to be climate neutral. And that’s without giving up their saunas. They also promote bicycling like nobody’s business. Watch the video on their campaign to reduce short excursions done by automobile, it's called "No ridiculous car trips.” That’s right - ridiculous, especially when you could bike that distance you lazy!
Vancouver, British Columbia
Surrounded by natural beauty, Vancouver has a goal to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. Already 90% of their energy comes from renewables - mainly from BC Hydropower, who is additionally working on conservation and energy efficiency. Furthermore, Vancouver has a 100 year plan to pursue sustainability, a long term perspective not often found on political landscapes.
San Francisco, CA
SF is truly a leader when it comes to waste management. Already 77% is recycled, and their goal is to reach zero waste by 2020. Beyond recycling and composting, they acknowledge that this will mean increasing producer and consumer responsibility for the environmental impacts of the products they use. Frankly, that’s the innovative and ambitious cultural and economic changes we need to see more of around the world. You go San Fran!
Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador
A proclaimed “Eco City,” Bahía de Caráquez thrives on tourists who come to see the incredible surrounding biodiversity. They have invested in preserving the city vegetation and surrounding wildlife, and recently revved up composting and organic agriculture operations. Bahía is home to one of the first (claimed) certified organic shrimp farms, and practices aquaculture in a way that their natural mangrove forest is preserved.
Once plagued by rush hour nightmares, the efforts by one very determined mayor helped to increase the bus system, restrict personal car use during rush hour, and improve sidewalks and bicycling lanes. The city aims to eliminate personal car use during rush hour completely by 2015!
Oslo plans to be carbon neutral by 2030, 20 years ahead of the entire country's carbon neutral goal. Oslo is prime habitat for electric vehicles - they all receive free parking, toll immunity, and can access lanes reserved for public transport. Who’s the cool kid on the block now.
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