Many U.S. cities are working hard to be as green as possible. Things such as recycling, public transportation, and alternative energy sources like biofuels, solar, and wind power are among some of the indicators used to determine how green a city is. Other factors include parks and trees, consumption of local foodstuffs, water quality, and sustainable building techniques.
Cities doing the best job of meeting these criteria are the greenest cities in the United States.
What Makes a City Green
Here are the main contributing factors that will make the city more sustainable and eco-friendly:
- Bike facilities: Many cities have already adopted a dedicated bike lane and a pay-as-you-go bicycle system. Opting to leave the car at home and get to work by pedal power will have a significant impact on the environment.
- Efficient public transportation: Public transportation can help reduce emissions. For example, implementing a rule that all taxis must be hybrids can help the environment.
- Green buildings: Many businesses and facilities do what they can to have a green building. These buildings can have their facilities assessed and get certified for an Energy Star or LEED label.
- Green spaces: The more green space a city has, the more beneficial it is on the environment. Not only is more green space pleasing to the eye, but the addition of new trees will help reduce greenhouse emissions.
- Recycling and composting programs: Cities can provide dedicated recycling bins and conveniently located and collection points for your recyclable waste.
- Smart energy policies: Everyone wants to reduce energy usage and as a result, lower energy bills. Cities can have policies to help make it easier to switch a renewable energy source such as solar energy. These small steps reduce the impact that energy use has on the climate crisis.
Here are the top 5 greenest cities in the US.
5.) Eugene, Oregon
The Pacific Northwest is heavily represented in eco-friendly places.
Eugene edges out Seattle for green initiatives with 150 dedicated biking miles — almost as many as Portland. For those who don’t bike, Eugene has an award-winning hybrid public transit system.
Furthermore, at home and work, residents of Eugene reap a significant amount of their power needs from wind farms — a rarity for a city.
What Makes Eugene a Green City
Eugene has been striving to be a sustainable city since the 1960s, and it shows. Here are a few things that make Eugene a green city:
- The city has set a community goal to reduce community fossil fuel use by 50% of 2010 levels by 2030.
- An operation goal has been set that all City of Eugene owned facilities and operations should be carbon neutral by 2020. This will have a massive impact on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Hydroelectric and wind power contribute over 85 percent of Eugene’s power, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions considerably.
- Over 16 percent of Eugene is green space. This includes parks, public gardens, athletic fields, trails, and waterfront.
- The local community supports its local small business and products. The people eat and dine with sustainability in mind and buy from their local market, which is filled with local, organic foods.
4.) Oakland, California
Right across the bridge from San Francisco, Oakland, California, is next on the list. It has the cleanest tap water in the U.S., according to the Mother Nature Network.
Along with San Francisco, Oakland residents benefit from California’s climate and many organic farms to enjoy locally sourced foods. With food and water in great shape, Oakland managed to cut pollution significantly with hydrogen-powered transit despite its many freeways.
The birds that take advantage of the nation’s oldest wildlife refuge in Oakland probably appreciate the smog reduction.
What Makes Oakland a Green City
Oakland is in the top 10 Cities in the US for Renewable Energy. Here are some other contributing factors that make Oakland one of the greenest cities in the US:
- Back in March 2006, the Oakland City Council set a goal to have a zero waste 2020.
- Oakland reportedly has got the safest tap water in the country.
- Twenty-three percent of Oakland residents commute by bike or public transportation. That cuts greenhouse gas emissions
- The city is trying to prevent new wood-burning stoves from being installed in homes to rein in air pollution.
- Oakland gets 17 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
3.) Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts, represents the East Coast as its greenest city.
The East Coast’s seasonal climate allows Boston’s plan to use 50,000 tons of fall leaves, as well as grass clippings, for power and fertilizer. The city also uses solar panels, turbines for wind power, hybrid vehicles, and trash recycling to power homes.
Boston also boasts the most used public transportation system in the U.S. Additionally, like in Portland and San Francisco, bike usage is high.
Nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts, is also on many lists and has been called the “best walking city,” by Prevention magazine.
What Makes Boston a Green City
Boston is one of the greenest cities in the US, leading the way towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of life. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Boston is home to 26 Energy Star hotels, and many more are taking action to earn certification.
- Taxis are also going greener; the goal is to have all cabs in the city replaced with hybrids.
- Boston’s Logan Airport is eco-friendly having achieved LEED certification, making it one of the greenest airports in the US.
- The city has pledged to Grow Boston Greener, which is an ambitious plan to plant 100,000 trees by 2020.
- Local like to travel under their own power by using the city’s pay-as-you-go Bixi bicycle system. Biking is a great way to keep fit and cut down greenhouse gas emissions.
2.) Portland, Oregon
The second greenest city in the United States is Portland. The city’s green credentials include 200 miles of street bicycling lanes. A full quarter of the population takes advantage of the bike lanes or uses public transportation. For those who drive, carpooling is encouraged and free plugs are available for electric cars.
Portland certifies green buildings, and half of its electricity comes from renewable energy resources. City planning sets aside green space and land for farming, allowing residents to enjoy local, sustainable foods.
What Makes Portland a Green City
Portland has made massive strives to become one of the greenest cities in the US. Here’s why:
- Portland has over 92,000 acres of developed green spaces with a connected system of trails and parks. These trails are ideal for walking or biking to work and therefore reducing any gatehouse emissions.
- The city’s goal is to supply the city’s electricity need with renewable energy by 2035 and to use 100% renewable energy by 2050.
- The city of Portland has set out a plan to raise the recycling rate of recyclable materials to 90% by 2030.
- A whopping 32 percent of Portland’s offices are green certified with an Energy Star or LEED label.
- Portland enforces aggressive rules protecting its trees, forcing businesses to plant trees with new development. It even controls what can be done with the trees in people’s yards.
1.) San Francisco, California
Last but not least, it’s not surprising that San Francisco tops the list of green cities. It’s been a bastion of progressiveness for a long time. The whole Bay area did well with Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose on many top lists.
With a zero-waste policy in place, recycling and composting are compulsory. There’s even an artist-in-residence at San Francisco’s recycling center. Green rooftop spaces are mandated for certain new buildings, and bicycling is encouraged. Businesses can receive a green certification if they meet the criteria, and local farms provide much of the food for the city.
San Francisco’s banning of plastic grocery bags in 2012 and its subsidized solar panel program in 2013 pushed San Francisco to the top of the list.
What Makes San Francisco a Green City
San Franciso is the number of the greenest cities in the US. They are the front runner when it comes to achieving and maintaining a sustainable city.
Here are some of the ways that they do it:
- Since 2009, San Francisco has had the first large-scale urban food waste and composting program in the country. Due to this, greenhouse gas emission has decreased by 12% from 1990 levels.
- San Francisco residents use 49 gallons of water a day on average, compared to 100 gallons a day used statewide.
- A record-breaking 77 percent of its municipal waste is recycled.
- San Francisco is the first city in the US to prohibit the use of plastic bags and implement the use of reusable bags.
- San Francisco has made it a goal to be completely waste-free by the year 2020.
Do you know what your current city is doing to make it greener?
There are many things that you can be doing to do your bit for the environment, and there are ways to green your home. Why not switch up your commute to work and leave your car at home and get to the office by a bit of peddle power? Or get your food from the local farmer’s market? You could even start a composting bin with any leftover food waste.
These small changes that you can make every day will all add up and make a significant difference to the impact they have on the environment. After all, we still want our beautiful little planet to still be around for our children and our grandchildren. Start small so that you can improve your city’s eco-friendliness.