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  • Christie Johnson

Top 10 Sustainable Cities in the World

Woman wearing a yellow summer dress standing on a street in Paris, France taking a photo of trees and plants growing on a side of a high rise building.
Paris, France. Photo by Sirisvisual on Unsplash

The phrase “sustainable cities” feels like an oxymoron, right?

Rather than thriving green metropolises, the world’s cities often bring to mind oppressive concrete jungles overrun with never-ending streams of traffic, high levels of pollution, and environmental degradation.

Although cities only take up 2% of the planet’s surface, they play a huge role in the climate crisis, using 78% of global energy and producing over 60% of greenhouse gas emissions.

With approximately half of the human population currently living in urban areas and an astounding 68% of people expected to become city dwellers by 2050, we must turn to our global municipalities for sustainable solutions.

So which cities are leading the way in sustainable urban development?

The Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2022 identifies the top 10 sustainable cities in the world that are working to create thriving eco-friendly cityscapes where people and the planet are paramount.

Read on to find out what is meant by sustainable cities, which of the world’s urban powerhouses made the top 10 sustainable cities in 2022 and the many green features each one is championing!

What is Meant by Sustainable Cities?

Sustainable cities are resilient urban spaces designed to enhance social, environmental, and economic development through urban planning and city management. Sustainable cities are places that feature (but are not limited to):

  • Green areas and parks

  • Eco-friendly houses powered by renewable sources of energy

  • Apartment blocks blooming with rooftop gardens

  • More pedestrians and cyclists than cars

  • Sustainable transport

  • No air pollution or waste

According to global consulting company Arcadis, sustainable cities are places that “look beyond economic development to the health of their natural environment and the quality of the people that live there.”

A screenshot showing a  summary of how Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index ranks 100 global cities on three pillars of sustainability: Planet (environmental), People (social), and Profit (economic).
A summary of how Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index ranks 100 global cities on three pillars of sustainability: Planet (environmental), People (social), and Profit (economic). Source: Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2022.

The Top 10 Sustainable Cities in 2022

1. Oslo, Norway

Named the European Green Capital in 2019, the Norwegian city of Oslo is now considered the most sustainable city in the world.

Oslo is celebrated for its pioneering eco-friendly architecture, car-free (“Bilfritt byliv”) urban living initiatives, and the almost self-sufficient neighbourhood of Vulkan. Although the city is surrounded by beautiful forest land, Oslo itself boasts of many green areas, from artificial reefs made to protect marine life right through to a large city community garden.

2. Stockholm, Sweden

Creating a sustainable society is at the heart of Stockholm’s green city planning. Over 60% of Stockholm is green space which includes 1 million trees; 7 nature reserves; and the iconic city national park (the first of its kind!).

Stockholm is not only known for its exceptionally clean water, but it also prevents less than 1% of residential waste from being sent to landfill. Plus, Stockholmers are experts at finding new sources of untapped energy, with the city’s central station harvesting the body heat of some 250,000 commuters each day to heat a nearby building!

3. Tokyo, Japan

Considered the “greenest city of the Asia-pacific region”, Tokyo’s hosting of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games has left an eco legacy for its citizens as the sustainable city strives to meet net zero emissions by 2050.

Following the Nature Conservation Ordinance in 2001, many of Tokyo's buildings are blooming with impressive rooftop gardens and other green areas to help reduce the effects of urban heat island effect. Not to mention the city’s revered Super Eco Town featuring sophisticated waste treatment and recycling plants as part of its national urban regeneration project.

4. Copenhagen, Denmark

Another green Scandinavian metropolis smashing its sustainability goals! Celebrated as an eco-friendly city for many years, Copenhagen’s proximity to the Baltic sea means natural spaces are manifold, with 80% of residents living within 300 metres of water, green areas, and sandy beaches. When visiting Copenhagen you won’t struggle to find eco-certified hotels, and bicycle lanes hug most streets so it’s no surprise citizens cycle 3.0km each day!

Like most sustainable cities, Copenhagen has ambitious CO2 targets, aiming to be 100% carbon neutral by 2025.

5. Berlin, Germany

Berlin is the epitome of green city living, with natural spaces covering approximately 40% from 2,500 parklands and gardens through to 3,000 lakes and 30,000km of rivers and streams.

Renowned for its volatile historical past, avant-garde artistic trends, and vibrant techno scenes, Berlin also embraces a culture of sustainable living, home to the largest natural goods department store in Germany; extensive urban garden projects; and buzzing bee-keeping initiatives, with colonies dotted across many city locations!

6. London, UK

Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and quintessential red phone booths aren’t the only things London should be celebrated for. London is one of the top sustainable cities in the world for green mass transportation networks, as well as being among the few cities globally to action a citywide congestion charge.

Striving for a sustainable city and society, London plans for no biodegradable and recycled waste to enter landfills by 2026, over 50% of the city to be green space and 100% carbon neutrality by 2050.

7. Seattle, US

Often referred to as the Emerald City, Seattle will become a “thriving urban forest” with plans to restore 2,500 acres of forest parkland by 2025 and increase tree canopy coverage to 30% by 2037. What’s more, Seattle facilitates a neighbourhood tree-planting scheme, helping Seattle residents plant over 12,300 trees in their gardens since 2009.

Only one of two US cities to reach the top 10 sustainable cities in the world, Seattle is powered by 90% hydroelectric energy and has plans to manage 700 million gallons of stormwater with green infrastructure by 2025 alongside working towards a fossil-free future.

8. Paris, France

The City of Love has turned its tenderness to the planet, carrying out an extensive car ban by 2024 and investing €250 million to become the “most bike-friendly city in the world” by 2026.

Amid growing concerns about urban heat island effect, the city aims to implement an islands of freshness initiative which includes planting vast urban forests around iconic landmarks such as Hôtel de Ville and Opéra Garnier by 2026. Plus, exciting plans are afoot to transform Paris’s most famous street, Champs-Élysées, into an “extraordinary garden” by 2030, so walking in nature will become a daily pleasure for locals and tourists alike.

Learn more about the health and wellbeing benefits of walking in nature.

9. San Francisco, US

A long-standing advocate of the sustainable cities movement, San Francisco is considered the greenest city in North America and was the first major US municipality to eliminate the use of plastic bags, preventing 80% (over 1.5 million tonnes) of waste from entering landfills per year - that’s almost double the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge!

San Francisco was also the first city in the US to create a large-scale food composting collection programme, transforming more than 2 million tonnes of food waste into compost for local orchids, vineyards, and farms.

10. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Celebrated as the “bicycle capital of the world”, Amsterdam plans to reduce its carbon footprint to 95% by 2050, with 80% of household electricity generated by renewable sources of energy by 2030.

To live in harmony with the natural environment, Amsterdam aims to be a 100% “circular city” by 2050, developing strategies to prevent waste and preserve and reuse finite raw materials. Championing a sustainable fashion culture, Amsterdam is paving the way for sustainable urban living, ranking as the 5th most eco-friendly city in the world for workers in 2020.

A handful of bikes chained to a bridge in Amsterdam overlooking a canal.
Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash.

Sustainable Cities: Final Thoughts

As humanity rapidly shifts to a more urbanised existence, one sure way governments and change-makers can effectively address the climate crisis is through the development of sustainable cities.

Many of our global metropolises are already tackling the challenges posed by climate change, championing a green ethos from carbon neutrality and thriving green areas, right through to renewable solutions and efficient waste management initiatives.

Have you visited any of the top 10 sustainable cities?

Do you think sustainable cities have a place in humanity’s future? Comment below and make sure to share this article with someone else who might find it useful.


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