The 10 Greenest Cities in the U.S.


The Mother Nature Network has just published their list of the ten greenest cities in the United States.

There is as yet no official criteria set by the EPA for determining a city’s “greeness,” MNN considered key areas to measure the effectiveness of a municipality’s efforts at carbon footprint reduction, including air and water quality, efficient recylcling and management of waste, percentage of LEED certified buildings, acres of land devoted to green space, use of renewable energy, and easy access to green products and services.

And the MNN winners are:

10 – Austin, Texas: Austin Energy is the country’s largest provider of renewable energy. The city has an ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020. Austin’s green space includes 206 parks, 12 nature preserves, 26 greenbelts, and more than 50 miles of trails.

9 – Chicago, Illinois: Chicago adopted a long-range plan for land sustainability as far back as 1909, when pioneering city planner Daniel Hudsen developed a land use plan for the lakefront that balanced urban growth and created a permenent greenbelt around the city. Today, the city pursues an aggressive green roof agenda through the Chicago Green Roof Program with more than 2.5 million square feet of city roofs supporting plant life. The city has also recently planted about 500,000 new trees.

8 – Seattle, Washington: More than 20 public buildings in the city are LEED-certified or under construction for LEED certification. An incentive program encourages residents to install solar panels, and Sustainable Ballard, a green neighborhood group, offers ongoing workshops teaching folks how to live in better harmony with the environment.

7 – Berkeley, California: A recognized leader in innovation in clean energy technology and development, Berkeley also has an abundance of organic and vegetarian restaurants. The city is known as a leader in sustainability.

6 – Cambridge, Massachusetts: Prevention Magazine deemed Cambridge the “best walking city” in 2008. The city is home to research and education powerhouses MIT and Harvard. In 2002 the city implemented a climate protection plan and today most city vehicles are fueled with B20 biodiesel or electricity. All new construction or major renovations must meet LEED standards. The “Compost that Stuff” program collects and processes organic waste from residents, restaurants, bars, and hotels.

5 – Eugene, Oregon: Otherwise known as the Emerald City, Eugene has been in touch with its green self since the 1960’s. In 2007 Eugene inaugurated a hybrid public transit system, winning a Sustainable Transport award in 2008. Bicycling is the preferred mode of transportation, with over 30 miles of off-street bike paths and 29 dedicated bike routes, Eugene sports an impressive 150 miles of smog-free tranportation throughout the metropolitan area.

4 – Oakland, California: The city currently gets 17% of its energy from renewable sources, with plans to be both oil-independent and have zero waste by 2020. Oakland has the country’s cleanest tap water, access to an abundance of fresh, locally-grown, organic food, and a hydrogen-powerd public transit system. The country’s oldest wildlife refuge is in Oakland.

3 – Boston, Massachusetts: In 2008 the city held its first annual Down2Earth conference designed to help educate residents on living a more sustainable lifestyle. Other green efforts include a “Green by 2015” goal aimed at replacing all traditional taxi cabs with hybrid vehicles, recycling trash to power homes, getting more solar panels in operation, and encouraging the use of electric motorbikes for getting around the city.

2 – San Francisco, California: My home town, San Francisco’s mayor Gavin Newson has declared “The City” as the nation’s solar power leader. San Francisco has an innovative recycling program complete with its own “artist-in-residence” that uses his work to inspire residents to conserve and recycle. The first U.S. city to ban the use of plastic bags, San Francisco plans to divert 75% of its landfill waste by 2010.

And the greenest U.S. city is…

1 – Portland, Oregon: Number one in sustainability, Portland has been named the most bikable city in the United States for its over 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes. The city offers classes for such do-it-yourself sustainability pursuits as container gardening, cheese making, beekeeping, and chicken-keeping, to name a few. Portland is also home to Powell’s Books, one of the few remaining independent booksellers in the United States.

Image credit: iStockPhoto

  1. Andy M.

    Congratulations to all these great cities. Just think how cool it will be when hundreds of cities are this green! Obama today said one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to make our economy stronger and cleaner is to make [it] more energy efficient. We can all do that, no matter what city we live in. Want to protest Big Coal this 4th of July? Then buy better lights – avoid the need for 14 dirty power plants – and put them out of business. Efficiency is Patriotism in Action.

    Andy M. New Leaf America

  2. Jon

    Green roofs, and trees? Yay, I guess? But Chicago seriously needs to step up its recycling program. Recycling bins in the alleyways are emptied every other week, and overflow within 2 days. Most of my trash goes to the trash bins because I have no choice. Sadly. And from what I can tell we get no power from renewables. Windmills in Lake Michigan? Bring it.

  3. Bobby B.

    It is widely known that California receives a large percentage of its electricity via high voltage transmission from neighboring states that produce excess electricity. Having three large cities from that state should be enough to cause one to ask, “Is a heavily populated city really green when its consumption of utilities exceeds its ability to provide those utilities for itself?”

    Tie that to the statement that “San Francisco plans to divert 75% of its landfill waste by 2010” and you should ask, “Divert the wastes to where?” Surely they are still going to generate wastes and surely those wastes will land somewhere.

    Displacing the cradle of production and the grave of landfilling wastes may make a given town cleaner, but is it really greener when you’re just transferring the burden to your neighbors? Well, I will just assume that I am splitting hairs and congratulate the winners.

  4. Cecilia

    As a San Francisco resident, I must comment that it is apparent that being green is apparently not synonymous with being clean. While we may be the ‘solar leader’ our streets remain filthy. I have seen our beautiful city turn into a urban trash can. Very sad that keeping our city clean and having a reliable mass transit system, MUNI, just do not seem to matter to the Mayor Nuisance.

  5. Victoria

    Austin made that list? huh. Their use of disposable napkins, plastic cups, and paper plates in regular restaurants is downright disturbing, and I was hard-pressed to find any recycling facilities on the streets–just garbage cans.

  6. pays to live green

    There are only one city from the east coast and one close by. It seems that cities on the west coast are way ahead of those on the east coast in terms of being green. I would hope that one day that east coast cities can catch up and make a list like this.

  7. Alison Kerr

    “San Francisco plans to divert 75% of its landfill waste by 2010”

    This sounds to me like they are diverting it to other uses, not diverting it to another location. Am I wrong?

  8. we

    @Bobby B.: Diverting the waste means to find other uses for it. I no longer have a “garbage” can, just recycling and composting cans and I avoid buying things that have to be thrown away. My neighbors do the same so our building only has one small garbage can for the lot. I would estimate this diverts 90% of our waste from landfills.

  9. Tom Schueneman

    Diverting from landfill refers to recycling for other uses.
    Cecilia – as a fellow resident of San Francisco, I must agree with you in regard to litter in the streets. I wish that Newsom would take more interest in keeping the streets cleaner. Nonetheless, I guess we’re #2!

  10. Bobby B.

    From some of the residents’ comments, it looks like “diverting” actually means “if it isn’t recyclable and there is no room in the dumpster, throw it on the sidewalk.” Just kidding. πŸ˜‰

  11. Fred

    To the south of Ballard, Sustainable West Seattle is at work building a more resilient community, and just held a festival in which backyard chickens and container gardening factored in. Here, transportation is a big nut to crack though.

  12. Bram

    Chicago’s 1909 urban plan was by Daniel H. Burnham as he is widely known as. Or Daniel Hudson Burnham. Not Daniel Hudsen Please correct your entry.

  13. Peter Wolfe

    I’m a political science major at Auburn University in eastern Alabama’s Auburn area. I’m a strong believer in global wrming, however, local areas especially in regards to recycling need to step up the effort. My city provides only a pickup bin area for people who own houses and also divert no energy in supporting pedesterian travel. The systematic issue in obesity is another challenge with public funding not being prioritized here at all what so ever. I’ve complained in public about this just seems like these arrogant southerners don’t care about Mother Earth.
    Basically, the 2020 goal commitee thinks that it can eventually solve some problems with only a bike trail which is misplaced. The students alost run over people just for the heck of it. Cohesion is serely lacking and congestion if becoming a issue here and else where in America. Bottomonline over population needs to be more addressed than just our use of energy cause at this rate its pointless like time.com magazine shows us with Yemen running out of water soon or the social demographic transition shows us about the U.S southwestern and southeastern water supply and energy supply show us. Wake up America this is starting to get very very serious with domestic oil peaks there is no doubt knowing this severity is serious. Talking about regulation like my very own LV Smog is considered socialist in these parts and rapid economic growth needs to become more ethical internationally.

  14. Mary

    Yay, for Portland!!

    Portland and Eugene are two great cities that really share a common bond with energy efficiency and cleanliness. Being a native from Oregon has given me the knowledge I need to continue this prospering knowledge of how to preserve our natural beauty. People may not like the random weather we get but, for some reason, we’re still #1 on this list and visitors keep on coming here because of this. Awesome!

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