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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 City Transportation Energy Environment
1 Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 16 8 5
2 Gainesville, FL 6 23 2
3 Santa Rosa, CA 11 17 4
4 Charlottesville, VA 1 29 8
5 Champaign-Urbana, IL 5 14 50
5 Urban Honolulu, HI 58 10 1
7 Burlington-South Burlington, VT 8 15 52
8 Duluth, MN-WI 33 41 12
9 Salinas, CA 7 75 6
10 Fort Collins, CO 18 13 58
11 Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 25 25 41
11 Madison, WI 32 46 13
13 Wilmington, NC 38 53 7
14 Boulder, CO 40 11 48
15 Eugene, OR 49 3 49
16 Ann Arbor, MI 19 51 43
16 Syracuse, NY 98 1 14
18 North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL 27 49 39
19 Chico, CA 2 9 106
20 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 54 2 65
21 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 45 4 80
22 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 47 61 30
23 Olympia-Tumwater, WA 36 26 77
24 Savannah, GA 75 48 18
25 Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL 12 42 88
26 Erie, PA 51 19 76
27 Reno, NV 20 82 46
27 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 53 6 89
29 Lincoln, NE 34 112 9
30 San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA 4 7 146
31 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 15 5 139
32 Colorado Springs, CO 100 31 29
32 Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA 3 88 69
34 Bremerton-Silverdale, WA 14 71 82
35 Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 88 63 17
36 Tucson, AZ 107 50 16
37 Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA 41 12 121
38 Albuquerque, NM 106 39 32
39 Lansing-East Lansing, MI 50 102 28
40 Cedar Rapids, IA 62 56 68
41 Tallahassee, FL 141 38 11
42 Boise City, ID 57 93 45
43 Asheville, NC 119 43 35
44 Austin-Round Rock, TX 65 47 87
45 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 60 20 120
46 Salisbury, MD-DE 48 74 81
47 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 35 111 63
48 Trenton, NJ 9 115 86
49 Springfield, MO 70 118 27
50 Stockton-Lodi, CA 21 15 184
51 Portland-South Portland, ME 23 104 95
52 Columbus, GA-AL 24 131 75
53 Jacksonville, FL 102 78 54
53 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 80 27 127
55 Lexington-Fayette, KY 76 100 60
55 Rochester, NY 153 43 40
57 Anchorage, AK 59 155 23
58 Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 54 32 152
59 Appleton, WI 115 89 36
59 Sioux Falls, SD 114 73 53
61 Raleigh, NC 134 36 72
62 Merced, CA 28 21 198
63 Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 172 53 24
63 Greeley, CO 26 90 133
65 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 129 95 26
66 Greensboro-High Point, NC 182 18 55
67 New Orleans-Metairie, LA 100 79 79
68 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 61 178 20
69 Roanoke, VA 138 76 46
69 Salt Lake City, UT 66 77 117
69 Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA 111 24 125
72 Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO 93 83 85
72 Salem, OR 84 34 143
74 Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL 56 182 25
74 Manchester-Nashua, NH 94 148 21
76 Richmond, VA 83 86 97
77 Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL 108 98 61
78 Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ 29 192 51
79 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 86 22 165
79 Fresno, CA 44 39 190
79 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 37 69 167
82 Pittsburgh, PA 64 55 155
83 Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 31 99 145
84 Binghamton, NY 74 66 140
84 Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 81 180 19
86 Lancaster, PA 30 92 159
87 Charleston-North Charleston, SC 143 136 3
88 Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 70 157 56
89 Prescott, AZ 13 146 128
90 Kalamazoo-Portage, MI 126 58 108
91 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 104 156 34
92 Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 45 120 132
93 Springfield, MA 120 141 37
94 Columbia, SC 176 101 22
95 Charleston, WV 91 198 15
95 Fayetteville, NC 136 97 71
97 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 79 59 172
97 Fort Wayne, IN 177 67 66
99 Bakersfield, CA 43 84 185
100 Chattanooga, TN-GA 172 70 72
100 Green Bay, WI 122 128 64
102 Toledo, OH 178 37 100
103 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 67 64 186
104 Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 167 57 94
105 Worcester, MA-CT 179 110 31
106 Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 159 33 129
106 Visalia-Porterville, CA 17 107 197
108 Columbus, OH 130 45 147
108 Huntsville, AL 170 93 59
110 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 88 130 105
110 Rockford, IL 174 116 33
110 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 77 104 142
113 Peoria, IL 150 134 44
113 Topeka, KS 121 197 10
115 Waco, TX 85 91 154
116 Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 158 52 122
116 College Station-Bryan, TX 10 122 200
118 Port St. Lucie, FL 69 174 91
118 Yakima, WA 90 61 183
120 El Paso, TX 135 30 170
120 St. Louis, MO-IL 128 96 111
122 Corpus Christi, TX 117 139 83
122 Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL 124 137 78
122 Provo-Orem, UT 22 186 131
122 Tuscaloosa, AL 109 131 99
126 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 82 85 177
127 York-Hanover, PA 97 81 168
128 Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 148 28 175
129 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 161 35 156
130 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 130 123 102
130 Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 145 143 67
132 Ocala, FL 42 167 148
133 Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 183 113 62
134 New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 39 150 171
135 Kennewick-Richland, WA 52 118 194
135 Utica-Rome, NY 126 121 117
137 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 147 68 151
138 Laredo, TX 92 153 123
139 Clarksville, TN-KY 103 176 90
140 Montgomery, AL 181 152 41
141 Lubbock, TX 63 125 189
142 Norwich-New London, CT 96 168 115
143 Modesto, CA 78 109 193
144 Knoxville, TN 193 87 101
145 Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 110 138 136
146 Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 165 165 56
146 Macon, GA 125 169 92
146 Mobile, AL 185 163 38
149 Fort Smith, AR-OK 139 175 74
149 Lynchburg, VA 113 149 126
151 South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI 112 129 148
152 Ogden-Clearfield, UT 68 183 141
153 Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 117 103 173
153 New Haven-Milford, CT 137 127 129
155 Reading, PA 73 140 182
156 Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL 116 177 103
157 Scranton--Wilkes-Barre--Hazleton, PA 99 160 138
158 Winston-Salem, NC 157 79 163
159 Cleveland-Elyria, OH 155 72 176
160 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 94 114 196
161 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 154 60 192
162 Spartanburg, SC 168 117 124
163 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 105 126 179
164 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 170 64 177
164 Kansas City, MO-KS 142 159 110
164 Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 162 151 98
167 Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA 160 185 70
168 Killeen-Temple, TX 70 158 191
169 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 123 161 137
170 Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC 169 162 92
171 Dayton, OH 151 106 169
172 Amarillo, TX 87 179 161
173 McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 133 189 112
174 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 186 135 119
175 Brownsville-Harlingen, TX 149 187 107
176 Barnstable Town, MA 130 164 153
177 Flint, MI 180 172 96
178 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 190 147 115
179 Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS 144 195 114
180 Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 146 154 157
181 Hagerstown-Martinsburg, MD-WV 140 188 133
181 Wichita, KS 164 194 103
183 Akron, OH 197 124 148
184 Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC 163 108 199
185 Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC 191 145 135
186 Jackson, MS 198 193 83
187 Oklahoma City, OK 194 173 109
188 Evansville, IN-KY 152 166 162
189 Tulsa, OK 187 184 112
190 Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 192 131 165
191 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 188 142 160
192 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 189 144 158
193 Canton-Massillon, OH 166 171 187
194 Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH 156 200 174
195 Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 183 169 179
196 Shreveport-Bossier City, LA 196 199 144
197 Baton Rouge, LA 200 190 164
198 Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 195 180 181
199 Lafayette, LA 175 196 195
200 Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX 199 190 188


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.

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.

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. 

One factor that the EPA uses to measure air quality is particle matter. Particle 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 bicycling ValuePenguin 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 residents U.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 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 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, then 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.

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