2021’s Most Sustainable Cities

Multi-ethnic people practicing sustainable living

Driving an electric car, drinking from compostable cups, growing food in our own gardens — making sustainable choices this Earth Day will help save our planet.

Some cities, though, are better at promoting an eco-friendly lifestyle, while others belch smoke and throw away recyclables. Which cities are the leaders and laggers of our Earth-friendly future?

LawnStarter ranked the Most Sustainable Cities by comparing the 200 largest U.S. cities across 24 key sustainability indicators. Among the metrics we looked at are the:

  • Number of incentives and policies supporting renewables and energy efficiency
  • Number of zero-energy buildings
  • Share of green commuters
  • Prevalence of community-supported agriculture. 

Check out our ranking below, followed by some highlights, lowlights, and expert insights. 

(And on Thursday, Earth Day, don’t forget to reduce, reuse, and recycle.)

Table of Contents

  1. City Rankings
  2. Highlights and Lowlights
  3. Ask the Experts
  4. Methodology
  5. Why This Study Matters

City Rankings 

See how each city fared in our ranking:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScorePolicy RankInfrastructure RankPollution RankTransportation RankFood Production Rank
1San Francisco, CA61.55125104361
2Boston, MA59.5812287556
3Sacramento, CA59.5574416621
4Washington, DC57.7277108312
5Baltimore, MD55.62133348265
6Rochester, NY55.361011263047
7San Diego, CA55.33121179992
8Oakland, CA54.144111701479
9Salt Lake City, UT52.5633462484
10Seattle, WA52.491819147625
11Philadelphia, PA51.752515577810
12Syracuse, NY51.741067843440
13Portland, OR51.52696931315
14New York, NY51.169135192237
15Pittsburgh, PA50.925481101627
16St. Paul, MN50.471485423145
17Providence, RI5059121111914
18San Jose, CA49.7311001057091
19Honolulu, HI49.586466191926
20Sunnyvale, CA48.4716361083764
21Riverside, CA48.0476211311886
22Arlington, VA47.3410214142103
23Los Angeles, CA46.9842219145170
24Buffalo, NY46.476726851763
25Denver, CO46.3655491513352
26Alexandria, VA46.2510215779211
27Des Moines, IA46.111569911582
28Atlanta, GA46.048111337129
29Bakersfield, CA45.956117135128126
30Fort Collins, CO45.796116895081
31Hayward, CA45.692660626290
32St. Louis, MO45.627291434338
33Chicago, IL45.6252121177762
34Minneapolis, MN45.4976741251134
35Salem, OR45.456917103547
36Elk Grove, CA45.08261733815944
37Eugene, OR44.996932614289
38Santa Rosa, CA44.76404112210712
39Durham, NC44.2957545914222
40Columbus, OH43.965613011056
41Richmond, VA43.911320256116
42Worcester, MA43.78825776924
43Milwaukee, WI43.7253181954160
44Vancouver, WA43.679030378718
45Jersey City, NJ43.588515618448
46Springfield, MA43.518279804711
47Austin, TX43.4762139910176
48Fremont, CA43.3526146567488
49Stockton, CA43.0740159829154
50Modesto, CA42.73401479711448
51Charlotte, NC42.6957822417953
52Oxnard, CA42.6726142907873
53Madison, WI42.679995203839
54Nashville, TN42.599747173680
55Bellevue, WA42.29071236433
56Fresno, CA42.18169610780130
57Irvine, CA42.13401217383114
58Ontario, CA41.951973118116101
59Grand Rapids, MI41.899653664919
60Bridgeport, CT41.85741691283523
61Salinas, CA41.692617269153100
62Pasadena, CA41.69264819022125
63Escondido, CA41.12616313212466
64Cincinnati, OH41.0712859456813
65Dayton, OH40.9213251296731
66Louisville, KY40.748494812774
67Kansas City, MO40.32722339152133
68Tampa, FL40.2788271198436
69Santa Ana, CA39.084017418128161
70Knoxville, TN38.997151816083
71San Bernardino, CA38.841913616646159
72Fontana, CA38.7419152120145140
73Orange, CA38.594014117685136
74Rancho Cucamonga, CA38.4119143116165128
75Long Beach, CA38.291913819440142
76Spokane, WA38.2990587173102
77Huntington Beach, CA38.224016118069112
78Chula Vista, CA38.2226183121136160
79Miami, FL38.1716091022371
80Winston-Salem, NC38.12104811218941
81Cleveland, OH38.1128176514424
82Moreno Valley, CA3840162114167117
83Norfolk, VA37.98113186117268
84San Antonio, TX37.9756131112123165
85Rockford, IL37.951091346511320
86Anaheim, CA37.914014817579127
87Fullerton, CA37.834017517989120
88Detroit, MI37.76100118545272
89Torrance, CA37.49268919648148
90Corona, CA37.444011415219196
91Scottsdale, AZ37.37518146133131
92Houston, TX37.04609017496152
93Phoenix, AZ36.98783415592172
94Lancaster, CA36.971946186140176
95Lexington, KY36.9218684715111
96Tacoma, WA36.769014513910649
97Jacksonville, FL36.69884431174164
98Raleigh, NC36.58104357315457
99Springfield, MO36.56149293310987
100New Orleans, LA36.54941499439153
101Birmingham, AL36.49955627157105
102Indianapolis, IN36.48118983615046
103Yonkers, NY36.46671791951842
104Greensboro, NC36.38104805818430
105Orlando, FL36.09171515010043
106Newark, NJ36.04851771981217
107Fayetteville, NC35.98104636415867
108Omaha, NE35.77169125282598
109Glendale, CA35.72617018859173
110Savannah, GA35.61162421676108
111Oceanside, CA35.422618916817159
112Tulsa, OK35.388011216153163
113Newport News, VA35.26113185513597
114Pomona, CA35.232617818981103
115Virginia Beach, VA35.12113133316485
116Fort Wayne, IN34.981231231514878
117Akron, OH34.961321677810528
118Arlington, TX34.8766113136192116
119Tempe, AZ34.79155211593299
120Toledo, OH34.461321017411275
121Boise City, ID34.34148457298110
122Palmdale, CA34.326105187162187
123Naperville, IL34.291099212616335
124Lakewood, CO34.161191881347558
125Garden Grove, CA33.954016619751134
126St. Petersburg, FL33.6817186405577
127Plano, TX33.561247055151104
128Aurora, CO33.481191501159569
129Paterson, NJ33.3985165200209
130Aurora, IL33.3810913716711132
131Brownsville, TX33.231354367132191
132Lubbock, TX33.111351645256186
133Baton Rouge, LA32.7710114010694175
134Lincoln, NE32.7418564686154
135Oklahoma City, OK32.779128158161118
136Colorado Springs, CO32.641198787144119
137Irving, TX32.5413565143103139
138Mesa, AZ32.3915512415329121
139Augusta, GA32.27162713482174
140Tallahassee, FL32.231715523120122
141Tucson, AZ32.231501269657107
142Chesapeake, VA32.12113192119493
143Dallas, TX31.951247616390141
144McKinney, TX31.721351084919395
145Garland, TX31.48135104137121113
146Chattanooga, TN31.471903121155106
147Frisco, TX31.111308353198146
148Fort Lauderdale, FL31.021669710963109
149Little Rock, AR3115110913175145
150Columbus, GA30.81162722188147
151Albuquerque, NM30.621531279288137
152Las Vegas, NV30.6117724124119124
153El Paso, TX30.57124139101130188
154Laredo, TX30.0313517168108200
155Fort Worth, TX29.78124107148172143
156Overland Park, KS29.741983732166138
157Grand Prairie, TX29.72135115131182131
158Huntsville, AL29.51187781019094
159Macon, GA29.31621844181144
160Cary, NC29.2210415814118055
161Corpus Christi, TX29.1813588164125192
162Joliet, IL29.0610919417214665
163Chandler, AZ28.9815275157129135
164Glendale, AZ28.58155110156102157
165Wichita, KS28.5319413214137169
166Mobile, AL28.371875263168168
167Amarillo, TX27.99135193140126195
168Memphis, TN27.8719015335143149
169Sioux Falls, SD27.8615418257147180
170McAllen, TX27.51135120138117193
171Kansas City, KS27.1819811644170162
171Killeen, TX27.18135103130156179
173Murfreesboro, TN27.131901548818770
174Hollywood, FL27.091661901546550
175Anchorage, AK27.0419712960122166
176North Las Vegas, NV27.0217710698138197
177Henderson, NV26.917799100169171
178Reno, NV26.681775014597123
179Clarksville, TN26.561901878199115
180Montgomery, AL26.4918719122173177
181Santa Clarita, CA26.3526180199195181
182Thornton, CO2611915117819651
183Jackson, MS25.9317016891149158
184Gilbert, AZ25.37155130162177156
185Shreveport, LA24.7819516086141190
186Mesquite, TX24.72135102182178150
187Spring Valley, NV24.5117738171104184
188Paradise, NV24.2317711916958194
189Midland, TX23.89135195185134199
190Olathe, KS23.641986847176151
191Pasadena, TX23.42130198193127178
192Hialeah, FL23.1316120016060167
193Sunrise Manor, NV22.9317738170131196
194Metairie, LA22.791951965077189
195Enterprise, NV21.317738165185198
196Port St. Lucie, FL21.117177127200182
197Cape Coral, FL20.917193129197183
198Peoria, AZ20.72155144183183129
199Miramar, FL19.83171199149139185
200Pembroke Pines, FL19.48166197144186155

Highlights and Lowlights

Golden State Is the New Green

California cruises its way to the top of our sustainability cities ranking. Four Golden State cities sit in the top 10, including San Francisco at No. 1, Sacramento at No. 3, San Diego at No. 7, followed by Oakland at No. 8. 

It’s easy to see why California cities are trailblazers in sustainability: The state was first to propose banning sales of gas-powered cars, to construct America’s first high-speed rail line, and a years-long drought has forced California to reimagine water management in a far more sustainable way. While other states are making incremental changes, California is implementing sweeping reforms.

Big Isn’t So Bad

A striking trend in our sustainability study: Larger cities are often greener than smaller ones. The most populated city in the country — New York — ranks at a respectable No. 14, coming in first on transit score and the share of green commuters. Washington, D.C., ranks at the top of the transportation category and second in the food production category. 

With population density comes increased efficiency, which can reduce waste and carbon footprints. But there’s a dark side to these metro areas: Despite their high scores in all other categories, the biggest cities tend to perform poorly on pollution metrics. 

While some larger cities are far better than others — Boston’s pollution rank is 75, while New York’s is a dismal 192 — it’s clear that keeping tightly packed cities clean can be a real challenge.

Falling Behind in Florida 

Florida lands at the bottom of our sustainability ranking, with five of the 10 lowest-ranked cities all hailing from the Sunshine State. Infrastructure and transportation were the major challenges faced by Florida cities. Port St. Lucie is the worst city for transportation, while Hialeah is the worst city for infrastructure. 

Florida is being pulled down by a rapidly increasing population and an over-reliance on cars — though doing away with vehicle inspections and emissions testing hasn’t helped the state’s carbon footprint, either. Fort Lauderdale sits at a disappointing 159th place for greenhouse-gas emissions, while Orlando is even lower at No. 163.

Ask The Experts

Sustainability is a big priority for the Biden administration. But which ideas will stick? Our panel of experts weigh in and share their best advice on adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle. See what they had to say below.

  1. What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years?
  2. What are your top three tips for green living?
  3. In its current form, what impact will the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill have on the nation’s sustainability efforts? Which parts of the bill should change and why?
  4. Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?
  5. An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?
Sossina M. Haile
Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
Pankaj Lal, PhD
Director, Clean Energy and Sustainability Analytics Center, Professor, Earth & Environmental Studies
Jan Kleissl
Director, Center for Energy Research, Co-Director, Study Abroad, Deputy Editor, Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, Professor, Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
John Harte
Professor of the Graduate School, Ecosystem Sciences, ERG/ESPM
Rajesh Sharma
Associate Professor
Ximing Cai
Colonel Harry F. and Frankie M. Lovell Endowed Professor in Civil Engineering
Bradley Edward Layton, PhD PE
Founder, Human Powered Future PLLC, Affiliated Faculty
Sossina M. Haile
Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
Northwestern University

What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years?

Ideas that teach the general public that sustainable matters and it’s not all some hoax made up by scientists who want their research funded. Once we get past that, it will be the idea that we should live in “integrated” neighborhoods in which we can maintain our daily lives without having to commute long distances in single-occupancy vehicles.

What are your top three tips for green living?

  1. Live close enough to work and shopping that you can walk or bike.
  2. Avoid eating meat.
  3. Buy second-hand items when you can (I find this the hardest).

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?

U.S. cities have been designed with the car in mind. We would need wholesale redesign of cities like Los Angeles and Houston to make mass transit effective. With political will, we could do it, but that requires a true appreciation for the magnitude of the calamity that awaits us if we don’t.

An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?

I love the fact that New York City has created lots of outdoor dining and decreased the public space allotted to parking personal vehicles. This should be replicated throughout the country and beyond.

The ability to work from home has been beneficial for many office workers, but I don’t think it should fully and permanently replace working in a common space.

Travel for business and meetings has similarly declined, but I’m not sure that is entirely good from the perspective of human interactions. Perhaps we don’t need to travel as much as we did before, but I would not want to see it stay at the current level.

What we do not want to keep is the huge amount increase in packaging materials generated by the increase in online shopping, including even food delivery from local restaurants. When my family first moved to the U.S. (in 1976) we purchased milk from a local dairy in glass bottles. We paid a hefty deposit on the bottles and, on each milk purchase, returned the previous bottles for the shop to wash and reuse.

Pankaj Lal, PhD
Director, Clean Energy and Sustainability Analytics Center, Professor, Earth & Environmental Studies
Montclair State University

What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years?

  • Investments in carbon capture and storage, green infrastructure, renewable energy technology, energy storage technologies, electric vehicle deployment infrastructure mass transit upgrades, energy-efficient buildings, and land conservancy, and habitat restoration
  • Appropriating funds to advancing science and research, as well as programs aimed at informing the public on environmental concerns and sustainable practices
  • Energy-efficiency technologies will make a huge impact on global emissions. By transitioning to clean energy (like wind, solar, etc.) we can reduce industry and household carbon footprints substantially. As energy-efficiency technology continues to gain popularity, there is incentive to continuously improve efficiency, which in turn makes these technologies more affordable and accessible globally.
  • Reforming environmental policy and ensuring equitable access to the proposed sustainable development.

What are your top three tips for green living?

  • Prioritize sustainability over convenience. This can be done in many ways in your day-to-day life. Purchase and use consumable goods thoughtfully to reduce waste, reduce energy consumption in your home, limit personal vehicle use where possible, and, when upgrading appliances or vehicles, make energy efficiency a priority.
  • Support businesses that are prioritizing the environment. Do your research on the companies you choose to support via purchases and choose those that are being managed responsibly. Businesses are partially consumer-driven, when consumers demand sustainability, more industry is likely to meet those demands.
  • Find a way to connect with the natural environment. Whether this be through hiking, gardening, visiting farms, etc., being proactive about engaging with the natural world can help make green living easier. When you are enjoying the natural world, you’re more likely to want to preserve it and make responsible earth-friendly decisions.

In its current form, what impact will the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill have on the nation’s sustainability efforts? Which parts of the bill should change and why?

Biden’s bill focuses on building resiliency, which is rooted in sustainability. Each target of the bill addresses sustainability in one way or another, via improved environment, creating jobs, building a circular economy, and improving accessibility to all.

Much of the bill focuses on creating equitable access to reliable energy, technology, clean water, and jobs with a fair wage and benefits, which involve the three major factors of sustainability: environment, equity, and economy.

The biggest issue that I see is that perhaps the bill proposes both a lot of spending and also tax cuts. This makes it a difficult bill to pass, asking much all at once, and the Senate votes might be difficult to muster.

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?

Advancements to sustainable transportation in the U.S. is so far behind other countries due to its high costs, lack of investments, and public awareness. Personal vehicles in the U.S. are both a cultural choice and a much-needed asset because of minimal mass transit nationwide! Much of the focus for sustainable transportation has been on improving personal vehicles (via hybrid and electric cars availability and infrastructure), but there is still much to be done for many consumers to buy in.

The way most cities are laid out do not allow for mass transit, and the shear expanse of the country provides challenges that other countries with well-developed mass transit have not had to deal with. To catch up, national collaboration is essential in making cross-country and cross-city travel easier.

An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?

  • Companies need to make working remotely or working from home not only culturally acceptable but also encouraged to reduce transportation emissions.
  • Industries producing any goods should prioritize forecasting in order to avoid excessive production and waste.
  • Policymakers, scientists, and media must work together to make smart, environmentally friendly decisions that provide the framework for making measured changes and educating the public on sustainability.
Jan Kleissl
Director, Center for Energy Research, Co-Director, Study Abroad, Deputy Editor, Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, Professor, Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
University of California-San Diego

What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years?

Flexible loads: With smarter appliances, such as electric vehicles, water heaters, air conditioners, and refrigerators, it will be easier to manage the power grid to provide more economical and reliable energy. At UC San Diego, we are building a large testbed for the communications backbone for the future power grid.

Heat-pump technology for water heating and space heating: Heat pumps allow heating with electricity rather than fossil fuels, and their efficiency is roughly a factor of three times the efficiency of traditional electric resistance heating.

What are your top three tips for green living?

  1. Dense urban living: Living in apartments/condos in dense urban areas dramatically reduces energy use for transportation and space heating/cooling. A condo typically has one or two outside walls that heat up the living space versus six for a single family home. So you get a factor of five or so reduction in cooling needs. Dense urban cores also are more walkable reducing vehicle mileage and improving health.
  2. Induction cooktops: Induction cooking is more efficient, faster, and safer compared to standard electric cooktops.
  3. Behavior: Combine car trips and online orders. Turn the AC off when you are not home. Eat leftovers.

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?

Low density of living and strong individuality: Low density of living dramatically increases vehicle miles traveled. Large streets, parking lots, single-family homes cause everything to be spread out, making distances to central train stations too large to be attractive to commuters. Americans like to be in control of their schedules and have a fast-paced lifestyle, which is inconsistent with the fixed schedules and slower pace of mass transit.

For those reasons, high-speed trains will never be feasible in the U.S. COVID sent mass transit into a death spiral in all but the densest urban areas such as New York City. The only viable solution in the U.S. are electric cars and scooters, but the former will require a massive investment into the electric grid as car travel is much less efficient than train or bus travel.

An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?

The COVID-19 changes are not sustainable. The primary reason for the decline was a decrease in vehicle miles traveled. As people get vaccinated, they will resume driving, and all savings will be lost. In a few years, COVID-19 will be seen as a temporary dip in carbon emissions. Permanent reductions will require investment in renewable energy and electrification of the transportation sector.

John Harte
Professor of the Graduate School, Ecosystem Sciences, ERG/ESPM
University of California-Berkeley

What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years?

  • The idea that small families are desirable, and that all women, everywhere, have the right to exercise freedom over their own reproduction.
  • The idea that green energy is cheaper in the long run than fossil energy, and has multiple benefits that go beyond reducing the threat of climate catastrophe.
  • The idea that regulations and taxes enlarge our freedoms and make our lives better.

What are your top three tips for green living?

  • Walk or bicycle, rather than drive, whenever possible.
  • Avoid buying crap wrapped in plastic.
  • In winter, a room at 60 degrees F plus a sweater is more comfortable and healthier than a room at 65 or 70 degrees F.

In its current form, what impact will the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill have on the nation’s sustainability efforts? Which parts of the bill should change and why?

The major impact this bill will have is if it spurs industry to start moving at a serious pace toward a green economy. The most important elements of the bill are those that encourage such movement by industry. In other words, the Biden plan can be catalytic.

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?

Because a while back, largely under Reagan, a large segment of the the U.S. public bought into the notion that government was bad, regulations are bad, taxes are bad. We lost 40 years because of this. The folly of those notions has to become apparent to people before we can catch up.

An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?

It was a small decline, we all knew it was transient, and nothing practical that we can do “immediately” (on the time scale of the lockdown) will get us back to even that small decline. Over five, 10, and 20 years, our actions, which should begin now, can bring about a much larger and more permanent decline in emissions. Those actions include implementing the ideas I listed in my first response above.

Rajesh Sharma
Associate Professor
Arkansas State University

What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years?

Modernizing our electric transmission infrastructure, coupled with renewable power generation (wind and solar) and storage, will have the biggest positive impact on our environment in the near future.

I am also hopeful of breakthroughs in technologies, such as nuclear fusion and renewable hydrogen production, which can have a significant impact on the energy landscape.

What are your top three tips for green living?

  1. Food choices: A vegetarian diet or even cutting down on meat consumption can have a big impact on the environment.
  2. Conserve water: This may not seem like a problem right now, but it could be a challenge in the future.
  3. Energy-efficiency: This should be the proposition; everybody should follow everywhere.

In its current form, what impact will the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill have on the nation’s sustainability efforts? Which parts of the bill should change and why?

The Biden administration’s infrastructure bill will significantly advance the nation’s sustainability efforts. I mostly agree with the emphasis of this bill.

My only suggestion would be to keep it focused on infrastructure, clean energy, and sustainability. Parts not directly related to these areas should be separated from this bill.

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?

I don’t think the U.S. should strive to be like other countries in developing sustainable transportation infrastructure. We should look for solutions that are geared toward our specific problems.

That said, we should still look into developing high-speed trains between population centers on the East Coast as well as the West Coast. This may not be the optimal mass-transit solution for the sparsely populated middle part of the county. A self-driving fuel-cell/electric bus may be a better and sustainable mass-transit solution here.

An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?

  1. Incentivize working from home for all employees as much as possible. This can significantly cut down carbon emissions as seen during the pandemic.
  2. Implement cap-and-trade programs at local and regional levels to reduce greenhouse emissions.
  3. Provide considerable tax credits for all energy-efficiency residential, commercial, and industrial projects.
Ximing Cai
Colonel Harry F. and Frankie M. Lovell Endowed Professor in Civil Engineering
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years?

We should promote the circular economy to largely reduce wastes, enhance recycling (i.e. zero waste), and save energy and resources.

Cities, rural communities, and companies should have a designated target of zero carbon emissions in the not-too-distant future, say 2050, by regional-specific portfolio, including increasing renewable-energy generation and use, increasing energy-use efficiency, reducing wastes, controlling vehicle uses, and/or enhancing best management practices in land uses, etc.

What are your top three tips for green living?

1. Everyone should change their behaviors to reduce food and water waste in daily life.

2. Governments and communities should invest in recycling facilities to enable residents to do better at recycling (most communities in the U.S. still do not have the typical three-bin — waste, paper, and can — recycling systems).

3. Residents should be encouraged to adopt rain gardens, green or solar roofs, and geothermal systems; incentives (e.g., additional property tax) may go with house sizes.

In its current form, what impact will the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill have on the nation’s sustainability efforts? Which parts of the bill should change and why?

The Biden administration’s infrastructure bill is to improve America’s existing infrastructure score from C- (assessment of American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE) to a better one; mitigate inequality to some degree (e.g., ensuring no child ever is forced to drink water from a lead pipe); and reduce emissions from vehicles by adopting more electric vehicles (EVs).

In particular, Americans may expect more sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems to deal with growing weather shocks and compounding extreme events, especially via a total of $180 billion for research and development.

Hopefully, the implementation of the bill will result in significant emissions reduction, energy and resource savings, cost savings, local and regional economic growth and job opportunities, as well as social stability.

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?

Large-scale new infrastructure development in the U.S. has been difficult. The reason(s) is certainly different from that in poor developing countries. I guess this might be related to the lack of an appropriate benefit/cost assessment approach, especially the benefit/cost share mechanism among multiple stakeholders.

This might also be related to the decision making procedures, which need to better balance human and environmental requirements, coordinate priorities from the various societies, and more effectively resolve conflicts among stakeholders.

Overall, actions are needed today rather than never-ending wait-and-see.

An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?

Some virtual work may continue by:

1. Improving remote work facilities so as to reduce office hours and increase hours working at home for people who usually work in an office. This can reduce office space and vehicle use.

2. Improving virtual meeting facilities so as to maintain virtual meetings as much as appropriate. This can reduce both local transportation and long-distance travel.

3. Developing virtual firms/companies/agencies (part of e-business) without physical offices.

Bradley Edward Layton, PhD PE
Founder, Human Powered Future PLLC, Affiliated Faculty
University of Montana

What innovative sustainability ideas will make the most impact in the next 10-20 years? Developing the circular economy as described here.

What are your top three tips for green living?

My top 12 are in my latest book, “Zero Waste in the Last Best Place.”

In its current form, what impact will the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill have on the nation’s sustainability efforts? Which parts of the bill should change and why?

One impact I am particularly excited about is my recent contract to pull rare earth elements out of coal ash.

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries on sustainable transportation advancements like mass transit, including high-speed trains? What would it take to catch up?

In the ’70s, Nixon established the oil standard. Messing around with this could cause substantial harm to the U.S. dollar (USD), since it’s basically illegal to sell oil in any currency other than the USD. This is primarily why Sadam Hussein was assassinated and Iraq was invaded. It is going to take a very special techno-financial innovator to break this spell.

An unintentional positive effect of COVID-19 was a sharp decline in global carbon emissions early in the pandemic. What three changes, if any, can countries implement immediately to duplicate that effect with forces within their control?

Working remotely is probably the biggest one.

Methodology

We ranked the 200 largest U.S. cities from most to least sustainable based on their overall scores, averaged across all the weighted metrics listed below. 

The city that earned the highest overall score — out of a possible 100 points — ranked No. 1, or “most sustainable.”

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. ValueBest
Policy
Number of Incentives and Policies Supporting Renewables and Energy Efficiency33363Max. Value
Presence of Local Clean City Coalitions301Max. Value
Rating of State Waste Regulations and Measures3251Min. Value
Number of Electric Vehicle State Laws and Incentives3183Max. Value
Infrastructure
Number of Zero-Energy Buildings3026Max. Value
Share of Roads in Poor Condition24%71%Min. Value
Alternative-Fuel Stations per 100,000 Residents30.4375.08Max. Value
Pollution
Greenhouse-Gas Emissions per Capita3097.43Min. Value
Annual Excess Fuel Consumption31379323712Min. Value
Median Air Quality Index11977Min. Value
Water Quality Violations101Min. Value
Population Density1171.9828028.79Min. Value
Transportation
Share of Workers Who Walk, Bike, Carpool, or Ride Public Transit to Work3771.8Max. Value
Average Commute Time116.643.7Min. Value
Transit Score20.384.3Max. Value
Walk Score21398Max. Value
Bike Score22497Max. Value
Bike-Rental Facilities per 100,000 Residents1072Max. Value
Food Production
Farmers Markets per 100,000 Residents2019.49Max. Value
Local Food Hubs Within 100 Miles2031Max. Value
On-Farm Markets Within 50 Miles2039Max. Value
CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) per 100,000 Residents106.09Max. Value
Number of Community Gardens per 100,000 Residents1051.55Max. Value
Farm-to-Consumer Food Sales10.02127.68Max. Value

Sources: American Community Gardening Association, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, DSIRE, LawnStarter, New Buildings Institute, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, TRIP, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Walk Score, Yelp

Why This Study Matters

The world is more than 40 years behind schedule to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals — and the U.S. is among a handful of countries significantly dragging down progress.

What gives? 

In 2020, America’s rank in the Social Progress Index fell for the sixth year in a row, with Environmental Quality still one of its major weaknesses. 

Joe Biden’s $3 trillion sustainable infrastructure bill stands to turn things around for the country. 

LawnStarter’s study aims to provide insights at the local level, highlighting the cities that set the example for others with robust and thoughtful conservation efforts. 

They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and 2021’s Most Sustainable Cities are leading the way. Maybe in the years to come we all will be driving Teslas, growing our own tomatoes, and drinking out of compostable Starbucks cups.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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Staff Writer