Quantcast

Top 25 Greenest Cities in America

Business

A solid majority, 71 percent of Americans, believe the country “should do whatever it takes to protect the environment,” according to a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center.

This strong public interest in our environment extends to urban living, prompting NerdWallet’s curiosity: Even though we all know that the city we live in influences our transportation and energy choices, how do environmental impacts differ across the U.S.?

We explored the data for the nation’s 150 largest cities to shed light on the best places for those seeking a green lifestyle and a healthy environment.

The city pictured above is America's greenest city, according to NerdWallet's 2015 ranking.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

NerdWallet’s analysis

Environmental quality: To uncover the impact of pollution on residents’ health, we looked at each city’s 2014 median of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s daily Air Quality Index—a measure of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone levels that guide the assessment of acute health effects. The higher the index number, the more polluted an area. In most cases, air quality in U.S. cities has a median index score under 100, which falls into the EPA’s “moderate” range.

Transportation: To understand how cities might influence lifestyle choices, we looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey on commuting methods to find out how many workers are walking, biking, carpooling and taking public transit.

Energy sources: To gain insight into the fuels people are using in each city, we looked at data from the American Community Survey on heating in homes. We were specifically interested in the number of homes using coal and wood because these fuels are particularly harmful. We also examined the use of solar energy because of its sustainability.

Housing density: Urban sprawl increases transportation needs and resource use, so we looked at data from the American Community Survey on the percentage of residential buildings with 10 or more residences in each city.

What we learned

Bigger is better: We might associate larger cities with polluting industries, but bigger cities tend to be denser, which reduces urban sprawl and energy needs for transportation per capita.

Air quality is fairly uniform: Many of the cities we examined fall within a narrow range of the EPA’s Air Quality Index, sitting between the classification of “good,” an index number under 51, and “moderate,” a number under 101. Of course, there are notable outliers, like Riverside, California, where the air quality about 30 days in 2014 reached “unhealthy” levels over 150.

Traditional fuels remain: While solar power is part of mainstream energy conversations, the data suggest adoption is lagging. Nationwide, out of 116 million homes, only 72,707 houses use solar heating, up from 2005 when the number was 36,682. While the use of traditional heating methods—including coal and wood burning—have remained stable.

America’s top 10 greenest cities

1. Honolulu, Hawaii

This city in the nation’s 50th state tops our list with its air quality, the best of all the cities we analyzed, and for residents’ widespread use of solar energy. In 2014, the city received the EPA’s highest classification of “good” for 351 of the 360 days measured, giving it a median Air Quality Index of 27 for the year.

2. Washington, DC

The national’s capital lands near the top of our list probably because of its excellent public transit, which carries 38 percent of commuters to work. Other highlights include the city’s low levels of pollution from heating fuels, such as coal and wood, in the dense city.

3. Arlington, Virginia

With a slightly higher number of dense residential buildings, but fewer commuters who walk or take public transportation, Arlington comes in just below its neighbor. Given their proximity, it isn’t surprising that Washington, DC and Arlington share a median Air Quality Index of 48, which is just within the EPA’s “good” classification.

4. San Francisco, California

San Francisco, long known as a center of activism around sustainability, scores well in terms of transportation, with 10 percent of commuters walking in the hilly city to work. The city also shines in terms of solar energy use, with slightly over 13.8 of every 10,000 homes using the sun’s energy for heat. In comparison, 6.25 of every 10,000 homes use solar heating nationwide.

5. Miami, Florida

When it comes to healthy air quality and the number of residents who carpool, Miami shines. But in this city, fewer commuters use public transportation. Only 11 percent of residents commute on transit, one of the lowest public transportation figures in our top 10.

6. New York City, New York

It’s big and a lot of people live here, but New York City’s density is why it made our list. Many of the city’s over 8 million residents walk to work while still more use the city’s comprehensive public transit system. However, 7.2 of every 10,000 homes still use coal for heat.

7. Boston, Massachusetts

More of Boston’s residents walk to work than in any other city on our top 10 list: 15 percent of Bostonians brave the seasons, including the harsh winter, on foot.

8. Orlando, Florida

Like Miami, Orlando does well when it comes to air quality, with only one day in 2014 with unhealthful air. The quality of air here isn’t surprising, since residents don’t use coal and they burn little wood for heat.

9. Seattle, Washington

While the city’s gray skies limit use of solar energy, Seattle makes our list for its air quality, high residential density and commuters who walk and use public transit at above-average rates. In the Emerald City, nine percent of workers walk to their jobs and four percent commute on a bike.

10. Jersey City, New Jersey

The city shares a mediocre air quality index with its neighbor New York City. However, Jersey City also shares a positive trend: residents use public transit at far above-average rates. At least 46 percent of workers living in Jersey City commute on public transit, second only to New York City’s 56 percent.

Top 25 greenest cities in America

Methodology

The score for each city was calculated from the following measures:

1. The 2014 Median Air Quality Index from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is 25 percent of a city’s score.

2. The percentage of workers who carpool, bike, walk or use public transit to commute to work from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. Together the transportation variables are 25 percent of a city’s score.

3. The percentage of occupied buildings with 10 or more residents is from the 2013 American Community Survey, this was 25 percent of a city’s score.

4. The number of residential buildings with a primary heat source of solar, coal or wood per 10,000 buildings is from the 2013 American Community Survey. Solar was taken as a positive variable and accounted for 8.33 percent of the final score while coal and wood heat sources were treated as negative and were 16.67 percent of a city’s final score.

Note: Newark, New Jersey, was originally ranked 24th, but because of environmental hazards outside the scope of the study, the city was omitted from the final list.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Find Out How Committed Your State Is to Local Foods

25 Most Energy Efficient Cities—Find Out Which City Dethroned the Six Time Champion?

Solar-Powered 3D Printers a Game-Changer for Developing Countries

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.

Read More Show Less

gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images

By Nicole Greenfield

Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
TeamDAF / Getty Images Plus

The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
The Eqip Sermia Glacier is seen behind a moraine left exposed by the glacier's retreat during unseasonably warm weather on Aug. 1 at Eqip Sermia, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Andrew Yang's assertion that people move away from the coast at the last Democratic debate is the completely rational and correct choice for NASA scientists in Greenland.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
hadynyah / E+ / Getty Images

By Johnny Wood

The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.

The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.

Here are some of the challenges the river faces.

Read More Show Less

Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

DESIREE MARTIN / AFP / Getty Images

Wildfires raging on Gran Canaria, the second most populous of Spain's Canary Islands, have forced around 9,000 people to evacuate.

Read More Show Less