Most Environmentally Friendly Cities

by Douglas Burger

Cities across the U.S. are learning what Kermit the Frog sang about long ago: It’s not easy being green. Taking care of our environment is hard work, but as Kermit realized, being green is a good thing. For this study, we took a look at the most environmentally friendly cities in America, using 15 data points from 11 sources. Below you will find our results, as well as a detailed methodology explaining how we arrived at them.

Most Environmentally Friendly Cities

Here is how 200 metropolitan statistical areas with qualifying data stacked up in the three separate categories that we studied. In all rankings below, a lower number is better than a higher number.

Ranking

CityTransportationEnergyEnvironment

1

Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA1685

2

Gainesville, FL6232

3

Santa Rosa, CA11174

4

Charlottesville, VA1298

5

Champaign-Urbana, IL51450

5

Urban Honolulu, HI58101

7

Burlington-South Burlington, VT81552

8

Duluth, MN-WI334112

9

Salinas, CA7756

10

Fort Collins, CO181358

11

Durham-Chapel Hill, NC252541

11

Madison, WI324613

13

Wilmington, NC38537

14

Boulder, CO401148

15

Eugene, OR49349

16

Ann Arbor, MI195143

16

Syracuse, NY98114

18

North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL274939

19

Chico, CA29106

20

Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA54265

21

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA45480

22

Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH476130

23

Olympia-Tumwater, WA362677

24

Savannah, GA754818

25

Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL124288

26

Erie, PA511976

27

Reno, NV208246

27

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA53689

29

Lincoln, NE341129

30

San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA47146

31

San Diego-Carlsbad, CA155139

32

Colorado Springs, CO1003129

32

Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA38869

34

Bremerton-Silverdale, WA147182

35

Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA886317

36

Tucson, AZ1075016

37

Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA4112121

38

Albuquerque, NM1063932

39

Lansing-East Lansing, MI5010228

40

Cedar Rapids, IA625668

41

Tallahassee, FL1413811

42

Boise City, ID579345

43

Asheville, NC1194335

44

Austin-Round Rock, TX654787

45

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV6020120

46

Salisbury, MD-DE487481

47

Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI3511163

48

Trenton, NJ911586

49

Springfield, MO7011827

50

Stockton-Lodi, CA2115184

51

Portland-South Portland, ME2310495

52

Columbus, GA-AL2413175

53

Jacksonville, FL1027854

53

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA8027127

55

Lexington-Fayette, KY7610060

55

Rochester, NY1534340

57

Anchorage, AK5915523

58

Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD5432152

59

Appleton, WI1158936

59

Sioux Falls, SD1147353

61

Raleigh, NC1343672

62

Merced, CA2821198

63

Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY1725324

63

Greeley, CO2690133

65

Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL1299526

66

Greensboro-High Point, NC1821855

67

New Orleans-Metairie, LA1007979

68

Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL6117820

69

Roanoke, VA1387646

69

Salt Lake City, UT6677117

69

Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA11124125

72

Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO938385

72

Salem, OR8434143

74

Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL5618225

74

Manchester-Nashua, NH9414821

76

Richmond, VA838697

77

Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL1089861

78

Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ2919251

79

Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO8622165

79

Fresno, CA4439190

79

Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD3769167

82

Pittsburgh, PA6455155

83

Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA3199145

84

Binghamton, NY7466140

84

Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL8118019

86

Lancaster, PA3092159

87

Charleston-North Charleston, SC1431363

88

Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL7015756

89

Prescott, AZ13146128

90

Kalamazoo-Portage, MI12658108

91

Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC10415634

92

Vallejo-Fairfield, CA45120132

93

Springfield, MA12014137

94

Columbia, SC17610122

95

Charleston, WV9119815

95

Fayetteville, NC1369771

97

Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI7959172

97

Fort Wayne, IN1776766

99

Bakersfield, CA4384185

100

Chattanooga, TN-GA1727072

100

Green Bay, WI12212864

102

Toledo, OH17837100

103

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA6764186

104

Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN1675794

105

Worcester, MA-CT17911031

106

Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI15933129

106

Visalia-Porterville, CA17107197

108

Columbus, OH13045147

108

Huntsville, AL1709359

110

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL88130105

110

Rockford, IL17411633

110

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL77104142

113

Peoria, IL15013444

113

Topeka, KS12119710

115

Waco, TX8591154

116

Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY15852122

116

College Station-Bryan, TX10122200

118

Port St. Lucie, FL6917491

118

Yakima, WA9061183

120

El Paso, TX13530170

120

St. Louis, MO-IL12896111

122

Corpus Christi, TX11713983

122

Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL12413778

122

Provo-Orem, UT22186131

122

Tuscaloosa, AL10913199

126

Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA8285177

127

York-Hanover, PA9781168

128

Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC14828175

129

Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN16135156

130

Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI130123102

130

Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA14514367

132

Ocala, FL42167148

133

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR18311362

134

New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA39150171

135

Kennewick-Richland, WA52118194

135

Utica-Rome, NY126121117

137

San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX14768151

138

Laredo, TX92153123

139

Clarksville, TN-KY10317690

140

Montgomery, AL18115241

141

Lubbock, TX63125189

142

Norwich-New London, CT96168115

143

Modesto, CA78109193

144

Knoxville, TN19387101

145

Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA110138136

146

Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC16516556

146

Macon, GA12516992

146

Mobile, AL18516338

149

Fort Smith, AR-OK13917574

149

Lynchburg, VA113149126

151

South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI112129148

152

Ogden-Clearfield, UT68183141

153

Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV117103173

153

New Haven-Milford, CT137127129

155

Reading, PA73140182

156

Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL116177103

157

Scranton--Wilkes-Barre--Hazleton, PA99160138

158

Winston-Salem, NC15779163

159

Cleveland-Elyria, OH15572176

160

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA94114196

161

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX15460192

162

Spartanburg, SC168117124

163

Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ105126179

164

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX17064177

164

Kansas City, MO-KS142159110

164

Providence-Warwick, RI-MA16215198

167

Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA16018570

168

Killeen-Temple, TX70158191

169

Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT123161137

170

Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC16916292

171

Dayton, OH151106169

172

Amarillo, TX87179161

173

McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX133189112

174

Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT186135119

175

Brownsville-Harlingen, TX149187107

176

Barnstable Town, MA130164153

177

Flint, MI18017296

178

Memphis, TN-MS-AR190147115

179

Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS144195114

180

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ146154157

181

Hagerstown-Martinsburg, MD-WV140188133

181

Wichita, KS164194103

183

Akron, OH197124148

184

Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC163108199

185

Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC191145135

186

Jackson, MS19819383

187

Oklahoma City, OK194173109

188

Evansville, IN-KY152166162

189

Tulsa, OK187184112

190

Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN192131165

191

Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN188142160

192

Birmingham-Hoover, AL189144158

193

Canton-Massillon, OH166171187

194

Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH156200174

195

Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA183169179

196

Shreveport-Bossier City, LA196199144

197

Baton Rouge, LA200190164

198

Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI195180181

199

Lafayette, LA175196195

200

Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX199190188

Best and Worst Cities…

Cities and people affect the environment both with direct initiatives and indirect consequences. We aimed to put together a list of data points that encompassed both of these factors. Here is a detailed description of a few data points.

Percentage of Commuters Who Drive

Twenty-six percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are caused by transportation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Using the U.S. Census Bureaus commuter data, we looked at the percentage of commuters that drive to work by themselves. Cities with a higher percentage (meaning fewer carpoolers, public transit takers, walkers, bikers, et cetera) ranked lower. The New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area topped the list, with just 50.6% of commuters driving solo.

Most LEED Certified Buildings

There are many different ways a building can be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED means making buildings that are more resource-efficient. Using the USGBC as a resource, we looked at the number of LEED certified buildings in each city. In order to account for a city’s population, we calculated the data point per 1,000 residents.

Air Quality: Particulate Matter

One factor that the EPA uses to measure air quality is particulate matter. Particulate matter includes dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets, according to the EPA. Data was only available for 179 of our 200 cities.

Methodology

In order to determine the most environmentally friendly cities, we looked at 15 data points from 11 reputable sources. Not all data points were available for every city. In these cases, cities without a data figure were given a last-placed ranking in that specific category. Incomplete data points were given a lower weighting (in parenthesis below) in order to accommodate for missing data, while full data was weighted more heavily.

A likely data point -– greenhouse gas emissions –- was omitted from our study due to a lack of current data at the state or city level. According to the EPA, more than 50% of greenhouse emissions come from transportation and electricity -– two factors we highlighted in our study. We attempted to capture as many details about a city that makes it environmentally friendly.

Data points (1) and (4) were important to us as we felt they directly affect harmful emissions entering the atmosphere. We also felt it was better for a city to be using less energy overall (7) while still producing more renewable energy (8). Air quality (13, 14) was also important to our study. We chose to use ozone and air particles because those data points were the most complete and covered the most cities in our study.

Below, we breakdown each statistic and point to its origin. Those marked with an asterisk are state-based (not city-based).

Transportation

1. Percentage of residents who drive to work alone (1.5)U.S. Census Bureau (2014)
2. Walk score (.5)Walk Score (2016)
3. Best cities for bicyclingValuePenguin Research (2016)
4. Annual excess fuel consumed (gallons per commuter) (1.5)Texas A&M Transportation Institute (2014)

Energy

5. Number of LEED certified buildings per 1,000 residents (2)U.S. Green Building Council (2016)
6. Percentage of Green Goods and Services employment (.5) *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011)
7. Total energy consumed per capita (.5) *U.S. Energy Information Administration (2013)
8. Renewable energy production (.5) *U.S. Energy Information Administration (2013)
9. State Energy Efficiency Scorecard (.5) *American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (2015)

Environment

10. Number of environment, conservation and wildlife organizations per 1,000 residentsU.S. Census Bureau (2014)
11. Farmer’s markets per 100,000 residents (.5)Priceonomics (2014)
12. Parkland as a percentage of city area (.5)The Trust of Public Land (2016)
13. Ozone (daily maximum 8-hour average) (1.5)U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2015)
14. Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (mean weighted by calendar quarter) (1.5)
15. Water quality (.5)Environmental Working Group (2009)

Experts' Take

Tom Paladino

← Tom Paladino is the CEO of Paladino and Company.

1. What factors should be considered when determining the most environmentally friendly cities?

Efficient and accessible public transportation, transit oriented development, infrastructure to support alternative modes of transportation (bike lanes and walking paths), green building codes, incentive programs for solar/energy efficiencies, abundant green space, public recycling and compost receptacles and green leadership.

2. How has the way we looked at the environment and conservation changed in the last 10, 20, 30 years?

In the past, we tried to fight the environment with development, but we are now relearning how to co-exist and integrate within the environment. We consider nature an abundant provider and use abundance thinking as a driving force for change. Poor soils are a good heat sink; excessive solar gain is free pre-heat; heavy rainfall can be a collected and reused water source. Buildings and development can be sustained over time, with culture and ecology in balance.

All natural systems are balanced as they maximize the resource base that is presented to them; the system takes form around abundant resources and does not search out what it does not have. A coral reef maximizes the use of high mineral content, high solar gain and shallow water to create an underwater structure that attracts fish that deposit more minerals to build more coral. A succession forest uses an abundant resource base of cloudy skies and consistent rain to support undergrowth that provides the nutrient base for tall trees that create more shade to create more undergrowth.

In both examples, the natural systems optimize available resources to generate sustained growth. This focus on abundance is the driving force behind successful natural systems and is the model for any human system. A city or county can create naturally sustaining greenhouse gas reductions by harvesting readily available momentum to reach its carbon neutrality goals. An abundance approach assumes that within any context, the needed resources exist and simply need to be harnessed and allocated.

3. What cities are already ahead of the curve when it comes to being environmentally friendly?

Seattle recently released a new building ordinance to increase transparency and educate customers about energy efficiency. These factors used to be obscured from buyers and tenants until they committed to purchase or lease, but now they can use efficiency data as a factor in their decision-making.

San Francisco has a new green building policy that requires all buildings up to 10 stories to install rooftop solar panels. Solar for commercial buildings has been a huge hurdle, and San Francisco is changing the game with this ordinance. Santa Monica followed suit only a couple weeks later, passing an ordinance requiring rooftop solar systems for all new construction in the city, effective almost immediately. The ordinance will contribute to the city’s energy and climate reduction goals, including becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

New York is known for its leading green building policy with its “One City Built to Last” resilience and sustainability program.

Dr. Chaden Diyab headshot

← Dr. Chaden Diyab is the CEO of Autopia.

1. What factors should be considered when determining the most environmentally friendly cities?

Nowadays, the urban development design has changed. City planning and development is no longer simply about focusing on housing and safety. Although these elements remain crucial, the model city is now diversifying and is considered almost as an intelligent element, almost independent.

The factors that determine and should determine the city of the future are those that ensure compliance with the essential ecological elements: air quality, space arrangement, water quality and conscious and reasonable exploitation of energy.

2. How has the way we looked at the environment and conservation changed in the last 10, 20, 30 years?

The way we looked at the environment and its conservation has drastically changed over the past 30 years. The consideration, and the progressive acceptation -- which hasn’t reached all minds -- flowed over the time, reaching more and more citizens, than politicians. As a result, along with the climate change, political decisions are now more and more shifting toward the anticipation of the latter. More specifically, with the incoming flows of migration due to climate change, from poor or rural areas, states and cities need to take the right actions in order to apprehend correctly the social and economic impact of environmental unpredictability.

3. With the aim of making a better environment to live, what technology or tool will change how we live the most in the next 10 years?

Mostly, we believe that technologies aiming at energy consumption reduction will be prominent in the market. There are already so many different alternative sources of energy, and almost autonomous technologies to produce these energies.

Secondly, the type of technology most likely to be developed is technology aiming at improving living conditions. Life quality, especially in rural and poor areas will become essential to ensure the welfare of these populations, which are more and more threatened by climate change.

Stay tuned as we poll more experts in the field about what makes a city environmentally-friendly. Have a tip? Drop us a line @VP_Careers.

Comments and Questions