The World's Greenest Cities

It’s exceptionally challenging for cities to be green. Think about it -- all those people, the traffic, the trash, the air pollution. But 75% of the world’s energy is consumed by cities so something has to be done, and quick.

Luckily, the world is waking up to the reality of climate change, and experts say five cities in particular are taking the lead. They are celebrated for their inventiveness and dedication to making their districts increasingly friendly to Mother Earth.

Green City No. 5: Malmo, Sweden

Sweden is already a leader in green electricity solutions – most of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear and hydropower. One city in particular is taking its green endeavors even further.

Malmö, home to about 280,000 people, lands on the list for its pioneering use of renewable resources, and its plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25% by 2012. A few of the green solutions it boasts include:

  • Developers comply with green space factors that require a minimum amount of greenery, and impose a minimum of green points in every courtyard – examples include nesting boxes and enough soil depth to grow vegetables and beds for flowers.
  • Western Harbour, a community in Malmö, runs on 100% renewable energy from the sun, wind, hydropower, and biofuels generated from organic waste.
    • A nearby 2MW wind turbine provides much of the electricity to Western Harbour, the rest coming from solar panels.
    • Solar collectors on buildings provide 15% of the heating, but a more important source is a heat pump connected to aquifers undergrounds -- the water in the limestone bedrock is used to provide heat in winter and cooling in the summer.
  • Car use is reduced by frequent bus service (running on natural gas/biogas mix), pedestrian areas and bicycle paths.
  • The city also recycles more than 70% of the waste that is collected in its 12+ recycling houses.
  • The neighborhood of Augustenborg is home to the world’s first emissions-free electric street trains.
  • The district is also known for it botanical roof gardens that reduce runoff and add insulation to the buildings, keeping them warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, thereby reducing the building’s energy costs.

Green City No. 4: Copenhagen, Denmark

For some time Copenhagen, Denmark has claimed to be the world's greenest city. This statement may in fact not be too far from the truth.

  • The city has successfully reduced its carbon emissions by 25 percent since 1990.
  • Recently, city officials have begun pushing for local taxis to become more environmentally friendly by allowing alternative fuels and other energy-saving devices to be implemented in the vehicles.
  • Copenhagen was acknowledged for its green strides in 2006, winning the European Environmental Award for its long-term holistic environmental planning and introduction of a state-of-the-art bathing water forecast. 
  • The city is even more famous for its 5,600 windmills which supply 10% of the nation’s electricity.
  • In 2001, Copenhagen opened the world’s largest offshore windmill park which supplies power to 32,000 homes in the city.

Green City No. 3: Portland, Oregon

Portland has been a model of sustainable living for decades, ingeniously mixing urban and outdoor spaces. For over a century, it has been inspiring cities across the U.S. and the world to embrace green space in their urban planning. Thirty years ago, the city demolished a six-lane highway to develop a waterfront park in its place.

America’s top green city has it all:

  • Half of its power comes from renewable sources.
  • A quarter of the workforce commutes by bike, carpool or public transportation.
  • 50 buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • The city sports 92,000 acres of green space, including 74 miles of biking, hiking and running trails.
  • An urban-growth boundary has been established to contain the urban landscape and protect the 25 million acres of forest and farms that surround the city.
  • The city has also set ambitious energy goals, it plans to generate 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010. To meet this objective, officials are taking innovative action like installing solar powered parking meters.

Green City No. 2: Vancouver, Canada

Home to more than half a million people, Vancouver was named the most livable city by the Economist magazine. It’s also Canada’s model for renewable energy sources, currently supplying 90% of its power supply with hydroelectric energy.

  • In 2005, the City of Vancouver implemented a green building strategy to ensure that all buildings constructed offer better environmental and health performance for both occupants and citizens.
  • The city plans to reduce its greenhouse emissions to levels 20% lower than reported in 1990 during the formation of the Kyoto Protocol. To do this, the city plans to invest in wind, solar, wave and tidal energy systems.
  • Government honchos are even proposing to implement emerging technologies like solar-powered trash compactors that hold five times the waste of conventional bins, thereby putting fewer pollution-spewing garbage trucks on the roads.

Green City No. 1: Reykjavik, Iceland

With only 115,000 dwellers, Reykjavik is the smallest green city on the list, but its developments in green energy sources is no less impressive.

  • For more than 50 years, Iceland has been decreasing its dependence on fossil fuels by tapping the natural power that surrounds the island – waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers and hotsprings provide abundant electricity and hot water.
  • Reykjavik gets 100% of its energy from these natural resources that are renewable, pollution-free and cheap.
  • Some of the vehicles in the city run on hydrogen, including three city buses.
  • Because of citizens’ dependence on cars to get around (it’s typical for an Icelandic family to own two cars) and the exorbitant expense to ship gasoline (it costs almost $8 a gallon!) Iceland is making moves to become a hydrogen economy within the next fifty years.

Building Green
Scientific American
How Stuff Works
City of Vancouver