“Green” living means a choice to engage in cleaner, more sustainable habits in order to preserve the planet as much as possible. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say that protecting the environment for future generations is “very important,” and 56% believe that stricter environmental laws are worth the cost. The good news is that the market for greener energy is getting bigger – and renewable energy was the only type of energy for which demand increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the International Energy Agency.
Clean energy and other “green” practices, such as recycling programs and urban agriculture, help create jobs and benefit both the environment and public health, all of which contribute to America’s bottom line. Recognizing those advantages, cities across the U.S. have increased their sustainability efforts and benefited economically.
To determine the cities promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle, WalletHub compared the 100 largest cities across 28 key “green” indicators. Our data set ranges from greenhouse-gas emissions per capita to number of smart-energy policies and initiatives to green job opportunities.
Green Cities in the U.S.
Lifestyle & Policy
|1||San Diego, CA||69.99||7||25||7||11|
|2||San Francisco, CA||69.44||14||3||14||3|
|10||San Jose, CA||65.52||12||39||9||23|
|12||San Bernardino, CA||59.26||61||44||1||20|
|14||Chula Vista, CA||58.49||59||68||8||26|
|17||Long Beach, CA||58.09||79||31||10||18|
|21||Los Angeles, CA||57.28||85||36||11||17|
|23||New York, NY||56.99||49||28||27||19|
|25||St. Paul, MN||56.04||36||45||23||31|
|32||Santa Ana, CA||52.67||89||52||1||33|
|42||New Orleans, LA||48.93||16||32||61||82|
|46||San Antonio, TX||47.97||67||64||32||50|
|48||St. Petersburg, FL||47.88||5||77||84||73|
|50||Las Vegas, NV||46.97||96||29||25||43|
|54||Kansas City, MO||46.58||62||24||58||55|
|56||St. Louis, MO||46.31||42||85||62||42|
|60||Jersey City, NJ||45.66||88||6||99||39|
|62||Colorado Springs, CO||45.29||66||94||33||60|
|69||El Paso, TX||44.47||52||56||60||77|
|72||North Las Vegas, NV||44.12||76||76||26||99|
|75||Virginia Beach, VA||43.81||3||95||87||74|
|81||Fort Wayne, IN||43.40||44||71||91||97|
|86||Fort Worth, TX||41.60||73||79||52||69|
|88||Oklahoma City, OK||41.17||91||63||43||86|
|90||Corpus Christi, TX||40.41||84||89||44||78|
|97||Baton Rouge, LA||34.25||87||97||100||95|
Note: *No. 1 = Greenest
With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that city, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.
Ask the Experts
Environmental sustainability is one of the biggest challenges of our time. For additional insight, we asked a panel of experts to share their advice on living a greener lifestyle. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- Should cities invest in “going green”? What are the benefits of doing so?
- What types of “green” policies or investments offer the biggest bang for the buck?
- How can state and local authorities attract renewable-energy companies and other “green” businesses?
- What effect might the Biden administration Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice have on the environmental health of cities?
- What are some easy ways individuals can “go green” without much cost or effort?
- In evaluating the greenest cities, what are the top five indicators?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the greenest cities in America, WalletHub compared the 100 most populated cities across four key dimensions: 1) Environment, 2) Transportation, 3) Energy Sources and 4) Lifestyle & Policy.
We evaluated those dimensions using 28 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the greenest practices and policies. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), we used the square root of the population to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across cities.
Although recycling is vital to the sustainability efforts of each city, the types and sizes of recycling facilities vary widely by city. We therefore were unable to include — due to the lack of comparable city-level data — metrics that either measure the availability of recycling programs or the amount of waste recycled in each city.
Finally, we determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample. In determining our sample, we considered only the “city proper” in each case and excluded surrounding cities in the metro area.
Environment – Total Points: 40
- Air-Quality Index: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
Note: This metric measures the average exposure of the general public to particulate matter of 2.5 microns (PM2.5) or less in size.
- Greenhouse-Gas Emissions per Capita: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Urban Heat Island Effect: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
Note: This metric measures the average daily urban-regional temperature differences over a 10-year period.
- Green Space: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of parkland.
- Water Quality: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
Note: This metric refers to the number of drinking water violations from Community Water Systems per 100,000 residents.
- Daily Water Consumption per Capita: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Share of Green Hotels: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Population Density (Proxy for Overpopulation): Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Light Pollution Level: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
Transportation – Total Points: 25
- Share of Commuters Who Drive Alone: Double Weight (~4.55 Points)
Note: This metric includes commuters who do not carpool, walk, ride public transit or bike.
- Average Commute Time by Car: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
- Walk Score: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
- Bike Score: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
- Miles of Bicycle Lanes: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
- Presence of Bike-Sharing Program: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures the presence or absence of bike-sharing programs in a city.
- Annual Excess Fuel Consumption: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
Note: This metric measures gallons per auto commuter and was used as a proxy for “congestion level.”
- Intersection Density: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
- Accessibility of Jobs by Public Transit: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of jobs that are accessible by a 30-minute transit ride per 100 civilian employed population.
- Alternative-Fuel Stations per Capita: Full Weight (~2.27 Points)
Energy Sources – Total Points: 20
- Share of Electricity from Renewable Sources: Double Weight (~10.00 Points)
- Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Installations per Capita: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Number of Smart-Energy Policies & Initiatives: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Lifestyle & Policy – Total Points: 15
- Farmers Markets & CSA Programs per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: “CSA” refers to community-supported agriculture.
- Certified Organic Farms per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Community Garden Plots per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- “Green” Job Opportunities: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Number of Local Programs Promoting Green-Energy Use: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Presence of Plastic Bag Bans: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures the presence or absence of policies that have banned the use of disposable plastic bags in a city.
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency, Trust for Public Land, U.S. Department of Energy - The Alternative Fuels Data Center, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Environment America, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, Walk Score, Alliance for Biking & Walking, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Bikeshare.com, Indeed, Climate Central, U.S. Geological Survey, TripAdvisor, USDA Organic INTEGRITY Database, American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, lightpollutionmap.info and Yelp.
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