These Are the Top 25 Cities for Eco-Friendly Living in the U.S.

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Credit: Lauren Naefe/Stocksy

If you feel guilty about not using reusable straws and using the odd single-use plastic bag, don’t worry. Living in a city, you might already be doing more for the environment than you think. Cities are often associated with pollution and over-consumption, but a well-designed city with eco-friendly planning and policies is far more climate-friendly than a suburban or rural area. City planners and politicians often boast of their area’s green credentials, but can you really tell if one city is greener than another? WalletHub, a personal finance website, thinks so.

WalletHub reviewed the 100 largest cities in the U.S. to find out which cities are greenest. The study assessed cities on 28 key indicators across four different categories: environment (is the air and water quality okay), transportation (how easy is it to get around sustainably), energy sources (how much is renewable), and lifestyle and policy (from the number of farmers markets to community garden plots to “green” job opportunities available).

According to the WalletHub study, for green living, the West Coast is best with the only non-Pacific facing city in the top 10 being the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. With seven cities in the top 10, and the top spot going to San Francisco, California’s combination of sustainable transport initiatives, climate-friendly policies, and urban green spaces make it the greenest state for city living in the U.S.

At the other end of the scale is Baton Rouge. With the joint highest per capita CO2 emissions and a severe lack of both public transport and renewable energy use, the capital of Louisiana ranks lowest on the list. 

The WalletHub ranking also shows that being green is about more than just having low emissions. While the city of Virginia Beach has the “lowest emissions per capita,” it still ranked ninth-worst overall due to poor energy use, lack of environmental policy, and deficient public transportation.  

Take a closer look at the study, and you’ll notice that WalletHub left out recycling. While that might seem odd to some, there’s a good reason behind this omission. “Although recycling is vital to the sustainability efforts of each city, the types and sizes of recycling facilities vary widely by city,” acknowledged WalletHub. “We, therefore, were unable to include—due to the lack of comparable city-level data—metrics that either measure the availability of recycling programs or the amount of waste recycled in each city.”

WalletHub also asked a panel of urban sustainability experts what they think are the best ways city dwellers can reduce their environmental impact, regardless of where they live. A common answer was to waste less. According to Alysa Remsburg, Lecturer in Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, “One of the cheapest ways individuals and businesses can reduce their environmental impact is by wasting less food.” 

While you can see the full list on WalletHub’s website, the top 25 eco-friendly cities in the USA according to the study are:

  1. San Francisco, CA
  2. San Diego, CA
  3. Irvine, CA
  4. Washington, DC
  5. San Jose, CA
  6. Seattle, WA
  7. Fremont, CA
  8. Sacramento, CA
  9. Portland, OR
  10. Oakland, CA
  11. Minneapolis, MN
  12. Honolulu, HI
  13. Buffalo, NY
  14. Chula Vista, CA
  15. Boston, MA
  16. San Bernardino, CA
  17. St. Paul, MN
  18. Madison, WI
  19. Los Angeles, CA
  20. Austin, TX
  21. New York, NY
  22. Long Beach, CA
  23. Riverside, CA
  24. Fresno, CA
  25. Stockton, CA