America's Greenest Cities: Where Does Your City Rank?

Did you know that the U.S. city with the highest percentage of commuters who drive is Corpus Christi? Or that the best city in the nation for biking is Minneapolis? What about the fact that San Francisco has the largest number of farmers markets per capita? These are some of the many eye-opening facts that came out of a recent analysis of 100 of America's most populous cities and their environmental friendliness.


A strong majority of Americans favor living sustainably. According to a Pew Research poll, 71 percent said the U.S. "should do whatever it takes to protect the environment." And as more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, examining the environmental friendliness of cities is an excellent way to take the nation's overall "sustainability pulse."

Conducted by the personal finance website Wallethub, 2015's Greenest Cities in America analyzes each the 100 cities across 13 key metrics (including percent of green space, number of smart-energy policies and per capita greenhouse gas emissions) to identify those cities that most encourage an environmentally friendly lifestyle — and the ones that are lagging behind.

Champs and chumps

The researchers found that the nation's greenest city is New York City, followed by Portland, San Francisco and Washington, DC. The least green cities are Louisville; Indianapolis; Gilbert, Arizona; and — in last place — Baton Rouge.

Honolulu fared well. With the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emissions and the highest percentage of green space, the Hawaiian capital ranked first in environmental quality and scored fifth overall. Jacksonville, on the other hand, was found to have the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions and was ranked 94th overall.

This is an ideal time to be filling out the nation's sustainability scorecard: October is National Energy Awareness Month, which was created in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush to highlight the important of energy sustainability. According to the White House website, every October marks a "national effort to underscore how central energy is to our national prosperity, security and environmental well-being." But while sustainability may be a national goal, it is cities that are leading the green charge.

Cities are critical to a green future

The world is undergoing rapid acceleration of urbanization. A century ago, only one in ten people lived in cities. Now, most people do. With 75 percent of the world's population estimated to be urban dwellers by the 2050, it's no surprise that the 21st century has been called the "century of cities." If the world hopes to have any chance of having a sustainable future, cities must be at the forefront of change.

Thankfully, cities are generally excellent sustainability laboratories, and are better positioned than nations to push the needle in the transition to low-carbon economies and green living. Joe Arvai, director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, explains how the greening of cities has global impact:

The most significant benefits of cities going green will be felt globally. From a policy perspective, national governments are slow to change when it comes to policies aimed at sustainability. The classic example here is gridlock in the United States regarding much-needed policy and behavioral ships on climate change, a trend which has been spreading (e.g., to the conservative government in Canada). However, cities — especially large ones — have the critical mass in terms of population, as well as other criteria like industrial output, such that sustainability shifts in these places can have a significant impact from a planetary perspective. Add this critical mass to the fact that city and municipal governments may enact change much more quickly, has, in my view, led them to supplanting many national governments when it comes to making rapid and measurable impacts. Examples in the United States include Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Globally, we're looking at places like Frankfurt, London, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam. (And, don't get me wrong: these places still have work to do. But they're leading the sustainability pack, more so than many other cities and even nations.

Some key findings

Here are some of the key takeaways of Wallethub's analysis of America's cities:

  • The median air quality index is three times higher in Riverside, Calif., which has the worst air quality, than in Honolulu, which has the best.
  • The green space (percentage of parkland) is 35 times higher in Fremont, Calif., than in Hialeah, Fla.
  • The percentage of commuters who drive is four times higher in Chesapeake, Va., than in New York.
  • The excess gallons of fuel consumed per auto commuter is nine times higher in New York, than in Lubbock, Texas.
  • The bike score in Minneapolis is three times higher than in Birmingham, Ala.
  • New York is four times more walkable than Chesapeake, Va.

Source: WalletHub

For the full report and to see where your city ranks, click here.

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