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The 5 most Sustainable Cities are not in the U.S. Can you guess where they are?

Here are the 5 most sustainable cities on the planet, according to research by Arcadis. Unfortunately, none of them are located in the U.S. The list was created based on factors related to people, planet and profit.

The most sustainable cities are not just environmentally friendly--they’re also good for the economic and social benefits of their residents. 

Today’s cities are immense people-magnets. More people live in cities than ever and the size of our cities keeps growing and munching away at the planet. 

  • Roughly 4.2 billion people live in cities today and by 2050, that number will likely reach 6.5 billion. 
  • The number of mega-cities with a population of 10 million or more grew from 10 in 1990 to 33 in 2018. 
  • Cities make up 3 % of the land area of the globe, but account for 70 percent of global C02 emissions. 

What makes a city sustainable?

Zurich Switzerland

Research by Arcadis considers these factors to rank sustainable cities around the world:

  • Quality of life: health, education, work-life balance, and low income inequality, cost of living, crime, and average number of dependents
  • Environment: water quality, sanitation, air pollution, energy consumption, renewable energy, green spaces, recycling and composting rates, and low greenhouse gas emissions and risk of natural disasters
  • Economy: Transport infrastructure, business opportunity, tourism, GDP per capita, global importance, internet connectivity, and employment rates. 

As you can imagine, truly sustainable cities are hard to find. Arcadis chose these top 5 cities as leaders in sustainability. 

Top 5 sustainable cities

Based on the average of a total of 32 different indications of sustainability, these sustainable cities make it easy to live, work and spend time in nature. 

Zurich, Switzerland

Known as a leading center of finance, Zurich is environmentally conscious, and it has a 2000-watt target for renewable energy by 2050. It has a diverse network of public transportation options and plenty of business opportunities. It’s main downside is a lower ranking in the “people” categories, especially with its high cost of living.  

Singapore

Singapore

Sometimes called the Asian Wakanda, Singapore is an island nation known for its state-of-the-art urban center. Its infrastructure is also resource-friendly, as it reduces its fresh water need by reclaiming water in a system of canals. It incorporates gardens and solar panels throughout its architecture, thanks to taxes on carbon emissions and a Clean Air Act passed in 1971. However, like many cities around the world, it has high income inequality.  

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm’s sustainability is visible everywhere from its record high number of eco-hotels to its shelves. Products are labeled by their material sourcing (such as responsibly caught fish), and all of household waste is recycled. It’s a little unsurprising considering that Sweden was the first country to pass an environmental protection act in 1967 and the first to host the UN global conference on the environment in 1972. It’s also home to Greta Thunberg, known for her massive eco-influence. But is Stockholm affordable to live in? Not really.  

Vienna, Austria

If you need green space, Vienna’s the place to be with 120 square meters of green space per resident. Unlike other cities which are replacing fossil fuel energy with renewables, Vienna thought of a different approach: massively reducing consumption. Plus, where else can you drink water directly from the Alps in the tap?  

London, UK

London, UK

London has long been a global site for profits and economic power, but Brexit could change this dynamic. Environmentally, London has invested in low-emissions busses and city clean ups. Its civic engagement is also very high as home of the Extinction Rebellion protests. Socially, it’s a bit of a mess, though, with 28% of people living below the poverty line and high income inequality. 

Spend a day in your favorite city wearing our Mother Earth Bundle essentials with your favorite day-tripping accessories. 


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