The 50 Greenest Cities in the U.S.
Gone are the days when sustainability was seen as a distinct, standalone issue with its own set of supporters. The climate crisis is now a defining fact of our era, and we all share a responsibility to shift our individual lifestyles and collective awareness in order to respond to the moment accordingly.
But the truth is, there is no single metric that indicates whether something is “sustainable.” That’s certainly true when you look at the cities of the world. What makes a city “green” or sustainable?
Like a living ecosystem, a city is a dynamic and ever-changing place where a matrix of interlocking factors — from carbon emissions and available green space to waste management and infrastructure — all contribute to its degree of sustainability.
As a leading travel insurance provider, battleface believes in preparing our customers for whatever they may face on the road, whether they’re traveling to the next city or the next continent. Today, in the wake of a world-changing pandemic and accelerating crises caused by climate change, we believe the places most worth visiting are also the greenest, most sustainable, and resilient ones.
Hover over each city below to see more details on its ranking.
Whether you’re an intrepid traveler, a longtime local, or someone who’s looking to relocate more permanently, we set out to create a list of the most sustainable cities in the U.S. to equip you with the knowledge and context you need.
Synthesizing data points around CO2 emissions, sustainable transportation like public transit networks, green spaces, and even vegan restaurants and sustainable food options, the team at battleface narrowed down the 50 greenest cities in the U.S.. Read more on our methodology.
The Top 50 Sustainable Cities in the US
|Overall Ranking||City, State||Carbon Emissions Rank||Sustainable Transportation Rank||Electric Vehicle Rank||Green Spaces Rank||Vegan Options Rank|
|2||New York, NY||2||2||23||3||6|
|6||Las Vegas, NV||5||36||20||5||11|
|7||Los Angeles, CA||8||21||10||18||15|
|8||San Francisco, CA||38||18||1||4||2|
|17||San Diego, CA||33||20||13||6||18|
|19||San Jose, CA||37||19||7||10||22|
|20||Long Beach, CA||46||15||9||25||13|
|25||Colorado Springs, CO||23||10||40||32||42|
|29||Virginia Beach, VA||28||22||44||9||26|
|32||Kansas City, MO||30||29||21||29||33|
|39||Oklahoma City, OK||17||48||50||47||48|
|41||San Antonio, TX||39||44||36||20||28|
|46||El Paso, TX||49||40||48||7||46|
|49||Fort Worth, TX||45||41||39||42||35|
Here’s a breakdown of the top ten greenest cities in America out of our total list of 50, including where each of these cities stood out in their efforts towards a more sustainable future.
|2||New York, NY|
|6||Las Vegas, NV|
|7||Los Angeles, CA|
|8||San Francisco, CA|
#1 – Washington D.C.
While being home to the seat of the federal government may be what Washington D.C. is most known for, its sustainability credentials shouldn’t be overlooked. The city ranked first overall on our list for both lowest carbon emissions and sustainable transportation. This was thanks in no small part to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “Sustainable D.C.” plan to halve carbon emissions by 2032 and reach net zero by 2050 in line with the UN Paris Climate Agreement goals. To get there, the city has done things like modernize infrastructure, increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use in residential and commercial buildings, scale up micro-mobility options including solar powered bikeshare and scooter programs, all on top of its zero emissions circulator bus network.
A diverse city with a vibrant food scene, D.C. placed 3rd in the ranking for vegan-friendliness and 2nd for its parks and greenspace – boasting more than 150 acres of park per square mile in the city.
#2 – New York City, NY
It calls itself the “greatest city in the world,” but New York wants to be the greenest, too. Like D.C., it’s pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but it also has committed to providing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, earning it the second spot in our carbon emissions ranking.
More than half of the city’s population regularly use public transportation. Plus, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “The Big Apple” boasts the second-highest percentage of commuters who report walking their commute, earning it the number two spot on our transportation ranking. Finally, while the 840 acres of Central Park may be known the world over, less known is that the city actually contains 2,300 parks and greenspaces for residents and visitors to enjoy, ranking it at number three in the greenspace category.
#3 – Portland, OR
Portland has long been hailed as the land of eccentric hipsters, artisanal vegan bakeries, and craft breweries. But at number three on our list, Portland also deserves to be known as one of the most progressive and most environmentally friendly cities in the U.S. as well.
The Portland Clean Energy Fund, passed by ballot initiative in 2018, is one of the first programs of its kind to look at climate justice through the lens of race, diversity, and income. It offers services like job training for people of color entering green industries as well as funding for high-efficiency heat pumps to help low-income communities prepare for future heatwaves, which are worsening in the Pacific Northwest.
#4 – Seattle, WA
Seattle has a lot to offer visitors and residents alike – including a bold vision of a future without fossil fuels under its Clean Transportation Electrification Blueprint. The city is incentivizing both individuals and businesses to switch to electric vehicles, take up biking, and rely on public transportation instead of cars. It’s also looking to take the bold step of forbidding cars from a major area of the city, and require that all ride-hailing trips be electric and emissions free. In fact, it ranks number three for cities with the most electric vehicle charging stations per square mile.
#5 – Boston, MA
Boston earned itself the top spot in our ranking for sustainable commuting and transportation, thanks to the city’s ambitious goals when it comes to electric and alternative transportation. Plus, nearly a third of its population report using public transportation for their commutes, and 5% walk to work. Only DC and New York have a higher number of walking commuters. Among other steps, it has pledged to ensure that every household is a less than a ten minute walk from a public electric vehicle charging station or EV car-share program. With its location on the Boston Harbor making it particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, the city clearly has a keen eye on reversing the trend of climate change to protect its historic position.
#6 – Las Vegas, NV
The famed Las Vegas Strip may not immediately come to mind when you try to think of the greenest city in America. But, if you take into account the greater Las Vegas metro area, the picture looks quite different. With places like Red Rock Canyon, Springs Preserve, Floyd Lamb Park and many more, the city boasts 123 acres of park for residents to enjoy per square mile. Plus, aggressive targets to lower carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement have helped Vegas earn the number five rank in the carbon emissions category on our list. The city also recently introduced the country’s first battery-powered, driverless shuttle, offering modern mobility options to visitors and locals, alike.
#7 – Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles is known the world over as a car-dependent city. But it’s making strides to improve its green credentials and become one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S. Thanks to all that sunshine, it has consistently ranked as the number one city in America for solar power generation. In addition, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Los Angeles Green New Deal in 2019, intended as a model for how cities might meet the UN Paris Climate Agreement goals. And despite all those cars, LA’s emissions are already at least 24% lower than 1990 levels, with goals to go much farther.
#8 – San Francisco, CA
In many ways, the nation’s environmental consciousness was first raised in the Bay Area, and specifically San Francisco, decades ago. The city has held onto the reputation to the present day. Transportation-wise, San Francisco offers more electric vehicle charging stations per mile than any other city on our list, as well as the most developed cycling infrastructure per square mile, helping to offset the use of personal vehicles. Plus, people following a plant-based diet will be especially happy here, with more vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants and chains per capita than all but one city on our overall list.
#9 – Chicago, IL
Chicago is another city that perhaps doesn’t immediately spring to mind for a lot of people when they think of the greenest cities in the U.S. But the midwestern metropolis has made big strides, managing to expand its public transportation system while still cutting its carbon emissions in the process. Furthermore, Chicago has long been a leader in energy efficiency when it comes to building and construction. Roughly 70% of Chicago’s commercial office space is LEED or Energy Star certified. This means that the city is mitigating what is known as a huge contributor to carbon emissions by building and maintaining energy efficient buildings.
#10 – Denver, CO
Denver has long been a favored destination for outdoor adventurers, but it’s also gained a reputation for being one of the leading eco-friendly communities in the nation. Aiming to overcome a historic reliance on single-occupancy vehicles, the city has invested in its RTD light rail and inter-city bus systems to lure commuters off the roads and onto public transport. The city is also part of a program called the Million Tree Initiative, which aims to increase canopy cover and urban forests in order to leverage trees’ ability to reduce temperatures, sink carbon, and improve quality of life for residents.
The Top 10s
|2||New York, NY|
|5||Long Beach, CA|
|7||San Francisco, CA|
|10||San Jose, CA|
|2||New York, NY|
|5||Las Vegas, NV|
|8||Los Angeles, CA|
|3||New York, NY|
|4||San Francisco, CA|
|5||Las Vegas, NV|
|6||San Diego, CA|
|7||El Paso, TX|
|9||Virginia Beach, VA|
|10||San Jose, CA|
|2||San Francisco, CA|
|6||New York, NY|
In commissioning this study, battleface looked at cities of all sizes and in regions across the nation. The company was intent on using only the highest quality metrics available to inform this ranking – sustainable commuting/transportation options, access to parks and greenspace, vegan friendliness, carbon emissions, and electric vehicle infrastructure.
battleface gathered the raw data from sources and organizations including the United States Census Bureau, the International Council on Clean Transportation, the Trust for Public Lands, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and others.
Read more below on the specific approach and methodology.
This study on the greenest cities in the United States examined data across the following categories:
- Carbon emissions: Carbon emissions data was sourced from state level data, calculated per capita in the city (metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide) from EIA.
- Parks: For the parks ranking we used data from the TPL Parkserve database, calculating the acres of park per square mile in the city.
- Vegan Options: For the vegan rating, we utilized vegan only restaurants and eateries data taken from Happy Cow and calculated the number of establishments per square mile of each city.
- Sustainable Transportation/Commuting: For the transportation score, we took data from the following sources, created a points system, and finally, calculated a transport score which went on to inform the ranking: BTS Commute mode, BTS Public Transportation Usage, bike infrastructure data from League of American Bicyclists.
- Electric vehicle charging infrastructure: Data taken from a study compiled by the International Council on Clean Transportation. Our analysis looked at the raw number of electric vehicle charging stations per city and then on a per square mile basis.