The US is known for its sprawling cities, but some cities have taken measures to become more eco-friendly or “greener” than others.
To be considered environmentally friendly, cities often implement sustainable practices such as recycling programs, renewable energy sources, eco-friendly public transportation, and building codes that meet LEED certification standards.
Bike-friendly streets, abundant green spaces, and access to locally sourced and organic foods are also common characteristics of the greenest US cities.
Considering the above criteria, below is a list of the greenest cities to visit in the US from coast to coast and beyond.
1. San Diego, California
San Diego is taking significant steps to reduce the negative effects of climate change. Not only is it encouraging the use of renewable energy, but it's also increasing the availability of scooters, bicycles, and pedestrian spaces. It was one of the first cities in the US to mandate solar panels for all new construction, and with the Claude "Bud" Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, San Diego has been able to convert seawater into drinking water since 2015 using reverse osmosis technology. The plant provides 50 million gallons of drinking water, reducing carbon emissions by 25%. Moreover, the city aims to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035.
2. Portland, Oregon
In 1993, Portland became the first city in the US to develop a local action plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions. It's no surprise, then, that this quirky and environmentally-conscious city ranks highly on the list of the greenest cities in the US. To reduce its carbon footprint, Portland has replaced 45,000 streetlights with LED technology, resulting in a 50% decrease in energy consumption. Additionally, it recovers 81% of all waste produced by city operations, with a goal to increase this number to 90% by 2030. The city boasts a high number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and almost half of its power comes from renewable sources. Portland aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
3. Honolulu, Hawaii
The Honolulu Climate Action Plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 through nine primary strategies, including protected bike lanes and a fleet of electric buses. These efforts will focus on green modes of transportation, renewable energy, building efficiency, waste reduction, and sustainable land use practices. Honolulu has one of the highest usage rates for bike-share programs in the nation and is ranked in the top 1% for solar installations. Hawaii also emphasizes community participation to make climate action achievable and enjoyable for everyone. Visitors are encouraged to respect the land and people while enjoying outdoor activities in Hawaii.
4. Seattle, Washington
Seattle is taking bold steps to tackle carbon emissions by targeting major sectors like energy, transportation, and construction. In 2005, Seattle City Light became the first electric utility in the country to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to hydroelectric dams, Seattle ranks among the top 1% of US cities in terms of renewable energy, with 80% of its energy coming from clean, carbon-free hydroelectricity. It's no wonder Seattle is one of the greenest cities in the US, with government and environmental organizations working together to create electric and energy-efficient buildings and resources. The city also provides free trees for neighborhoods and programs for learning how to care for them.
5. Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas has made a name for itself as one of the greenest US cities, thanks to its commitment to sustainability and the environment. The city’s efforts are visible through its green initiatives such as increasing the number of bike lanes and trails, promoting public transportation, and encouraging the use of electric cars. Austin is also recognized for its green infrastructure initiatives, including the Austin Energy Community Solar program and LEED-certified buildings. Last but not least, Austin's Climate Equity Plan aims to reduce the city's carbon emissions to net-zero by 2040, and the city is proactively preparing for the future by adjusting floodplains and protecting urban forests.
6. Washington, D.C.
Washington D.C. is taking steps to combat the urban heat island effect, including constructing LEED-certified buildings and investing in wind and solar power. The city's public schools are leading the way in energy-efficient construction, with the goal of creating a net-zero energy school system by 2045. Additionally, farmers' markets are providing fresh produce and implementing composting systems. And if this weren't enough, the city government is investing in renewable energy and energy preservation measures to reduce emissions. Washington D.C. is proudly ranked among the top 5% of the country for renewable energy and the top 2% for LEED-certified buildings, making it one of the most eco-friendly cities in the US.
7. New York City, New York
New York City is taking significant measures to tackle global warming. Its OneNYC 2050 campaign has been met with some controversy by climate change deniers. The campaign includes several initiatives, such as "congestion pricing" to reduce vehicular traffic in Manhattan and a ban on City purchases of unnecessary single-use plastic foodware. Additionally, the city has implemented an extensive bike-sharing program (Citi Bike NYC) and is converting some vehicular transit zones into pedestrian-friendly green spaces. These efforts aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
8. Denver, Colorado
Ranked as one of the greenest cities in the world, Denver has implemented various programs to eliminate waste and promote sustainability. The city offers rebates for e-bikes and electric vehicles, car shares, and rideshare program pilots. Business partnerships promote sustainability in cannabis production and offer green career pathways for under-resourced communities. In 2019, Denver received the LEED for Cities Platinum Certification for their efforts to improve sustainability. The city is committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030 and is constructing solar gardens on parking lots and rooftops for this purpose.
9. San Francisco, California
San Francisco is a leading sustainable city with a multi-faceted approach to reducing its carbon footprint. It has implemented widespread recycling and composting systems, diverting 80% of waste (or 1.5 million tons of material) from landfills annually, and transforming them into useful resources. The city is also promoting efficient plumbing systems and water reclamation policies to save water and money. One initiative aims at creating a greener environment by increasing the urban forest and implementing green roofs. San Francisco has ranked in the top 2% for the number of green commuters and achieved the top spot on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's (ACEEE) scorecard.
10. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is a pedestrian-friendly city that values its land and nature spots such as the Boston Common. The city's Climate Action Plan aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. A growing number of energy consumers in Boston can choose their energy source, and companies are working to make this a cost-effective choice for residents. Boston ranks in the top 5% of US cities for residents who rely on energy-efficient transportation modes. It met its carbon reduction goal for 2020 five years ahead of schedule and was recognized by the ACEEE as the most energy-efficient city in the US from 2013 to 2019.
Sustainable Travel With Gravel
At Gravel, we take pride in offering sustainable travel gear to adventurers who want to explore the world while minimizing their impact on the environment.
Our collection includes eco-conscious travel accessories made from sustainably sourced materials, which are both stylish and functional.
You can visit our online store to find some amazing options that will help you travel the world in a more sustainable way.For more travel tips and tricks, check out the rest of our Gravel Travels blog.