Seattle is the most sustainable big city in the nation, according to a list compiled by Smarter Cities, an NRDC project that looks at the progress American cities are making toward going green. Not surprisingly, San Francisco and Portland are the runners-up.
Using data from the EPA and the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as some voluntary survey responses from city governments, the project identified the top 15 large, medium, and small cities according to 10 different environmental criteria, from air quality to recycling to transportation.
Here’s a look the top 15 large cities (population of 250,000 or more):
Photo: Simonds1. Seattle
The Emerald City gets props for its brand-new light rail system, reliance on hydroelectricity (and the resulting good air quality), Mayor Greg Nickels‘ U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Agreement, and two global warming initiatives: Seattle Climate Action Now and Seattle Climate Partnership. Seattleites are described as “highly educated and environmentally minded.” Think it’s just a coincidence that Grist is headquartered here?
Photo: ATIS5472. San Francisco
San Francisco’s dense population, walkability, plastic-bag ban, city-created carbon offset fund, solar power program, and booming local food movement propelled it to the No. 2 spot. (Read more about Mayor Gavin Newsom’s green efforts.)
Photo: Ben Amstutz3. Portland
Seattle’s neighbor to the south got its light rail up and running more than 20 years ago, and the city has always been ahead of the curve on controlling urban sprawl and suppressing greenhouse-gas emissions. Portland’s residents also recycle more than half their waste.
Photo: satanslaundromat4. Oakland, Calif.
This once-struggling city has a Green Jobs Corps, a New Urbanist 10K Downtown Housing Initiative, a Zero Waste Plan, and a growing local food movement (as urban farmer Novella Carpenter explains). It also gets 17 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Sounds like there is a there there.
Photo: the_tahoe_guy5. San Jose, Calif.
Always on the cutting edge of the high-tech world, this capital of Silicon Valley is fast on its way to leading the green-jobs revolution. Its Green Vision includes plans for bringing 25,000 new clean-tech jobs to the area.
Photo: Visualist Images6. Austin, Texas
A liberal outpost in red Texas, this city owns its electric utility (meaning voters elect the utility’s board) and plans to adopt a smart grid in the near future.
Photo: kla40677. Sacramento, Calif.
The Golden State’s capital, while suffering from the side effects of rapid population growth, has a progressive, publicly owned utility that, in addition to offering a 100 percent renewable power option, provides free trees to residents hoping to cool their homes with natural shade.
Photo: werkunz18. Boston, Mass.
Boston’s push toward wind and solar energy, its efforts to become more bike-friendly, and its LED traffic lights make it a leader on the environmentally lagging East Coast.
Photo: kla40679. Denver, Colo.
The Mile High City is already way ahead of its goals for reducing water consumption. Its new bike-sharing and composting programs and extensive system of city parks also helped it make the top 15.
Photo: Smarter Cities10. Chicago
Always famous for its architecture, today Chicago has more LEED-certified buildings than any other U.S. city and boasts 300 green roofs. (Read more about Mayor Richard Daley’s green efforts.)
Photo: mikeleeorg12. New York City
What it lacks in air quality and renewable energy it makes up for in density, walkability, and Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to reducing the city’s carbon footprint. (Read more about Bloomberg’s green efforts.)
Photo: dherrera_9614. Dallas
Dallas gets 40 percent of its electricity from wind, has seen a huge spike in public transit usage in recent years, and cracks down on lengthy truck idling during the “ozone season” from April to October.
Photo: jpmueller9915. Columbus, Ohio
A perhaps unexpected entry on the list, flat Columbus lends itself to bike-friendliness. The city has also been working hard to revitalize its downtown core and combat sprawl.