Sustainability by 2022 is a top priority for most large cities, but we wanted to see which US cities are making the biggest strides towards going green.

For this study we looked at large US cities with a population greater than 500,000 people and tried to cover as many data points as possible and score them accordingly.

Some of the ranking factors include were:

  • Green spaces per capita
  • Air quality index
  • Green energy usage
  • Recycling rate
  • Public transport
  • Walkability

You can access the full data set here.

“Green cities” are typically those cities that promote and engage residents in sustainable habits to preserve the city’s environment. However, not all cities have put the same amount of effort into maintaining sustainability in city life.

Green programs like ensuring waste recycling and promoting renewable energy sources improve the environment, ensure good public health conditions, and create more job opportunities.

In some cases a higher score is best such as green spaces per capita and Recycling rate, but other ranking factors such as Waste generation and Air quality index a lower score will be better.

See below for an outline of each ranking factor.

City Rankings

RankCityIndex scoreEnvironment rankEnergy and resource efficiency rankTransport rank
1Seattle1001915
2Portland96.102147
3Philadelphia95.623126
4San Francisco95.372031
5Houston85.881417
6Boston80.538264
7New York80.0422192
8Phoenix75.189521
9Sacramento74.6919814
10Los Angeles74.2024119
11Austin70.8011723
12Chicago69.837343
13Baltimore69.70132112
14Denver68.363298
15San Jose66.9036211
16Washington66.42231613
17Milwaukee63.01103110
18Detroit61.55152315
19San Diego60.0930618
20Tucson59.61271716
21Mesa56.93181525
22San Antonio52.7962427
23Charlotte52.5551034
24Fresno50.36341320
25Dallas48.41292019
26Las Vegas47.79123324
27Memphis43.5542532
28Kansas City39.17211833
29Columbus35.76143626
30Albuquerque35.52333022
31Nashville28.22172837
32Indianapolis24.33282730
33El Paso24.08263528
34Jacksonville23.11252936
35Oklahoma City18.73352235
36Louisville9.00313729
37Fort Worth5373231

Recognizing the benefits of green practices, US cities elevated their sustainability approaches and obtained economic gain. Moreover, a survey suggested that 66% of US citizens agreed that we should conserve our environment for the future generation. About half of the population think the cost of putting strict measures as laws and fees are justified. We believe a careful empirical study is important to reveal how cities’ sustainability efforts across the US vary regarding preserving the cities’ nature and wellbeing of the residents. To determine that, we compared 37 most populated cities using ten critical matrices divided into three categories, i.e., environment, energy and resource efficiency and transportation.

Methodology and metrics

To determine the greenest cities in the US for 2022 top 37 cities based on their population were selected. Ten crucial indicators in three categories (i.e., environment, resource and energy efficiency and transport) were carefully picked to ascertain the greenest city in the US holistically. All the ten variables were weighted and assessed on a scale of 100 to characterize cities with the greenest practices and living conditions.

Finally, indicator scores were summed and normalized to 100, where 100 represented the greenest of all cities in the US.

CategoryVariableBest
EnvironmentGreenspaceHigher is better
Air quality indexLower is better
GHG emissionLower is better
Water consumptionLower is better
Energy and resource efficiencyWaste generation rateLower is better
Recycling rateHigher is better
Renewables energy portion Higher is better
TransportPublic transport Higher is better
WalkabilityHigher is better
BicycleHigher is better

Top five green cities in the USA

#1 Seattle

  • Environment #19
  • Energy and resource efficiency #1
  • Transport #5

This is no surprise that Seattle ranks first in sustainability with parks and forests all around the city. Seattle has the lowest air conditioner usage in the entire USA and a high standard of public transportation. Privately owned cars have to pass regular emission checks to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and maintain the air quality. The city of Seattle has the highest number of LEED energy-efficient certified buildings.

#2 Portland

  • Environment #2
  • Energy and resource efficiency #14
  • Transport #7

Apart from the fact that citizens of Portland agreed to increase their tax to conserve the city’s natural assets, Portland holds the second position for a range of reasons. Portland was the first city in the US to finalize a bicycle master plan in 1970. About 50% of the total energy consumption comes from renewable sources.

#3 Philadelphia

  • Environment #3
  • Energy and resource efficiency #12
  • Transport #6

Philadelphia, once an industrial hub, is one of the first cities to mandate building owners to report energy usage and promote investment in resource efficiency. The city developed a robust stormwater management system with rain gardens and storm-water planters. Philadelphia has 13% of its land as parkland, making it one of the top cities in the US with per capita canopy covers.

#4 San Francisco

  • Environment #20
  • Energy and resource efficiency #3
  • Transport #1

San Francisco has long been practicing sustainability and recorded to have the most recycling capacity (i.e., 77%) in the whole US. On top of that, this city has the best transportation system, and about 66% of the vehicles in the city run on alternative fuels resulting in lower dependency on conventional fuels.

#5 Houston

  • Environment #1
  • Energy and resource efficiency #4
  • Transport #17

Huston is showing commitment to the Paris agreement and highly investing in renewables as energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. Houston municipality is the top in the US as a user of renewables for its energy source.

Ranking Factors

Environment

Environmental rank considers % of the green quality of living, per capita greenhouse gas emission and consumption of water. These are all indicators of the quality of the environment. Houston held the top position in the environment rank, while Fort Worth was dead last.

Environment

Energy and resource efficiency

Some cities are doing an excellent job managing waste, creating an economy from recycling goods and adopting renewables as a source of energy. Seattle was a pinnacle for many US cities regarding energy and resource efficiency.

Energy and resource efficiency

Transportation

To have a better public transport facility, ensuring city-wide walkability and bicycle ways is a measure of sustainability for the city’s transportation sector. San Francisco held the top position in our transportation rank and found Nashville is less attractive for public transportation.

Transportation
Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.