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10 Greenest Cities in North America

Energy

What's the greenest city in North America? Electric-green cities such as Portland or San Francisco are usually given the title, but according to two new reports that have ranked metropolitan areas on green roofs and energy efficiency, the traditional favorites have not received top billing.

Green roofs in Washington, DC combat heat island effect and helps insulate buildings and lowers energy usage.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

With its installation of 1.2 million square feet of green roofs in 2014, Washington, DC can quite literally claim the crown of greenest U.S. city.

This is according to a new report from the nonprofit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC), which has ranked the top ten North American metropolitan regions that have installed the most square footage of green roofs last year.

This is the fourth time the nation's capital has sat on the top spot. According to a press release, DC has public policies and programs that support green roof investment, including rebates of $7-$15 per square foot per green roof installed and credits that reduce stormwater fees.

Green roofs have a number of environmentally friendly benefits, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Like an oasis in a concrete jungle, green roofs absorb heat which helps mitigate urban heat islands. They also act as insulators for buildings and thus reduces a building's energy needs for cooling and heating.

Green roofs aren't just good for the environment. A new study from the University of Melbourne found that being on a rooftop gardens for 40 seconds can markedly increase concentration and productivity levels.

Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City round out the top five. Incidentally, this is the first time a Canadian city has entered the top five, thanks to Toronto's 2009 law mandating that all new buildings include rooftop plants.

Photo Credit: Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

“It comes as no surprise that the top performing regions are those that invest directly and indirectly in green roof infrastructure projects to create green space, mitigate storm-water run-off, improve air quality and moderate the urban heat island effect,” said GRHC founder and president Steven W. Peck.

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The GRHC report, however, did point out that the green roof industry has declined 12 percent after seeing double-digit growth for the past decade. The GRHC said that possible contributing factors to this include a decline in government stimulus funding (which fueled much of the previous years' growth), as well as climate change causing extreme temperature fluctuations due to on the installation and maintenance of green roofs in North America.

In another nod to DC, the city also landed on the top five of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy′s (ACEEE) latest rankings of the most energy-efficient cities in the nation.

The council released an online scorecard of the 51 of the largest cities in the country based on energy efficiency in local government operations, community-wide initiatives, green buildings, productive relationships with energy and water utilities and transportation.

Boston, with a score of 82 out of 100, received marks for its ordinance that requires all buildings to benchmark and report its energy usage, as well as its partnership with local utilities to connect residents with energy-saving services.

"It is an honor Boston has been recognized as America's most energy-efficient city," said Mayor Marty Walsh. "Our goal is to help Boston residents and businesses save energy and money, and through collaborative efforts with our utility partners, Eversource and National Grid, we are creating a thriving, healthy and innovative Boston. I look forward to continuing these efforts for both our environment and residents."

Trailing Boston in energy efficiency are, in order: New York City, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Seattle.

“Our findings show that cities continue to be laboratories of innovation when it comes to energy efficiency, with many pushing the envelope for more energy savings in the last few years," said ACEEE research analyst and lead report author David Ribeiro. "Cities are also improving their approaches when it comes to tracking and communicating their efforts to save energy. By capturing these efforts in the Scorecard we hope local leaders from cities of all sizes can learn best practices from each other and deliver the benefits of energy efficiency to their communities, such as a stronger economy and a cleaner environment.”

Check out the graph below to see how cities scored.

Boston, New York City, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Seattle are the countries' most energy efficient cities, according to the ACEEE. Photo Credit: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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