Top 5 greenest cities in the world

Sustainabilty is the most important topic facing humanity today because embracing sustainability means embracing our future, whereas ignoring it means accepting the status quo. The status quo mentality does not address the difficulties presented by the world population's consumption of finite resources. In order for the public in first world countries, and the politicians, to fully appreciate the magnitude of the need for sustainability in our cities, the benefits of sustainability need to be fully understood. Much of the third world already understands the need to fight climate change by using sustainable technologies for energy, however, first world countries must lead the way as pioneers and financeers of the sustainability movvement.

Sustainable city development hinges first and foremost on economic prosperity. Once the financial benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency are established and developed, government officials will endorse and promote the use of renewable energy, as the benefits will be undeniable. Ecological well-being is also both a motivating factor and benefit of creating the sustainable city. Resource management is a practice which must be embraced in order to make the sustainable city function. Finally, sustainable transport is crucial when designing or retro-fitting the city.

The new Green Economy will focus on giving up fossil fuels for renewable energy, which will lead to undeniable progress in terms of energy efficiency. The success of the Green Economy will be ensured due to its ability to create lasting economic prosperity, create green jobs and to reduce costly pollution, the overuse of finite resources and global warming. The Green Economy will focus on sustainable development of clean energy, energy efficiency, green building, clean transit and other technologies designed to save money and build a dependable future.

The underlying factor in promoting a green city is its economic health. The Green Economy must first be recognized for what it is: economically vibrant. In 2005, China passed The Renewable Energy Law, which has since brought well over $20 billion into their economy and created over 1.5 million jobs. China demonstrates the tremendous economic potential of green industry. The United States plans to increase its energy originated from renewables due, in part, to the success of the Chinese.

The United States has tremendous potential to tap into a rich array of renewable energy sources. The U.S. is surrounded by ocean, and also has a wealth of lakes and rivers for hydroelectricity. The U.S. also has an abundant amount of wind and solar, albeit seasonal & geographically dependant. Both are potentially limitless energy sources (depending on the region in America targeted for wind and/ or solar development). In addition, many forms of biomass are being developed, including biofuelcellulosic biomass & biofueland untapped waste for biomass power plants. Individual states can investigate their own dynamic means to tap into renewables, as states have varying supplies of each energy type within their boundaries. California already looks to renewables for over 30% of its energy needs. There are many sources of renewable energy available to each state, including hydroelectric, wind (and offshore wind farms), solar and solar thermal (PV and CSP), geothermal (and heat pumps) and biomass, which vary in quantity due to factors such as geography. Of these energy types, hydroelectric is the most widely used in the U.S., as well as the rest of the world.

Dams are one of the most reliable energy producers available to states due to low maintenance costs, remaining operational with little overhead and almost no fossil fuel use. The low cost of energy production from dams are a big reason hydroelectric power accounts for the largest supply of the renewable energy needs of the U.S., a fact which has to be weighed when assessing the cons, namely pollution caused by stagnant water.

Unlike dams, wind and solar energy production each create no pollution after being deployed, and once they are in operation. It's possible that wind  and solar could overtake hydro as the primary source of the world's alternative energy, yet wind and solar still account for a small fraction of energy production. Like dams, once wind turbines are set up, there is very little cost associated with maintenance, which is part of the reason wind is the world's fastest growing energy source.

Solar power inexplicably accounts for a tiny fraction of the world's energy needs. Like wind and dams, solar power is very inexpensive once installed, requires very little maintenance and utilizes an ever-present energy source. Like wind, there is no environmental impact, and zero emissions are generated. Solar growth is unlimited, as costs keep diminishing and demand steadily increases by about 25% per year. Solar cells represent a technology with exponential growth potential as efficiency of cells keeps increasing.

Biomass and biofuel represent potentially tremendous energy sources that demand greater research and development. In California alone, over 60 million tons of biomass are created each year, which has enough energy potential to power 2 million homes. Of course, that is far from a realistic goal, but using our waste to our advantage, as opposed to just letting it sit (mostly in landfills) draining both our ecology and economy, is the only alternative that provides a positive outcome.

On a micro level, examples of the financial success of the Green Economy are abundant. Cities like Portland, Austin and Chicago have success stories that should serve to inspire any city in the world. The obvious benefits are savings from energy costs that are shared by residents and the government. In Portland, municipal buildings save over $2 million per year by using renewables. A renewable retrofit for a district of 40 schools in Austin, Texas saved the district almost $.5 million. Chicago estimates savings of $6 million annually by retrofitting a 15 million square foot section of the city.

These types of trends are evidence of the cost efficiency of renewable energy and green buildings. The green retrofit market will grow to over $15 billion in the next few years. Energy efficiency represents the biggest selling point of building green, as increased cash flow quickly follows the recoup of the initial investment. However, lower carbon footprints, higher employee productivity, and higher property values are also primary motives.

Using resources efficiently is another key characteristic of a sustainable city. Resource efficiency reduces demand by increasing supply without increasing production. Efficiency also reduces pollution, and the costs associated with pollution management. In the over 20 years that San Jose has implemented resource management, over $5 million has been cut from energy to residential homes and over $30 million has been generated for workers. Management of waste and carbon sequestration (see: creating clean coal - carbon capture and storage) are techniques which lead to these kinds of benefits. Right now, the U.S. wastes most of the energy it produces. A paradigm shift is needed to redefine all waste as an important resource.

In addition to resource management, sustainable transport is a necessary step in creating a sustainable city. Cities need to reduce traffic, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase efficiency and create a significant step towards what is clearly being demonstrated as an inevitability in future city planning. Cities will focus on reducing the need for car use, as people will rely on light rail, bus, cycle and other forms of ecologically friendly transport. Sustainable mass transportation will consist of electric, biofuel, hybrid, natural gas and hydrogen options for buses, light rail and trains, in addition to cars. Cities will design or retro-design around transportation options and "public spaces". The car and freeway becomes less of a necessity for transit in cities once sustainable means of transportation are established and utilized. However, the further development of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles is an important positive trend for sustainable transit, as well.

Cities will have to reduce their traffic, which will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This will be the most difficult step towards progress, as the demand for cars presents an obstacle which only keeps growing. Urban planning is a great tool to reduce car dependence, as in a very dense city in which alternative modes of transport, even walking, are preferable. Since most cities are already developed, urban planners would focus on a shift to density in further urban planning, land-use strategies that prioritize conservation and developing alternative transit.

Over 100 U.S. cities are continually developing light rail, which is the quickest form of transit available. Electric rail represents an especially positive trend as it leaves no carbon footprint while reducing traffic and creating productive urban centers. As the quality of public transport continues to improve, cities are finding it easier to make investing in alternative transport technologies a priority. These technologies include electric rail, and also electric, biofuel and even hydrogen buses. Many cities in Western and Northern Europe have embraced these new technologies. Standout cities for sustainable mass transit include Portland, LondonCuritiba and Vancouver.

In many ways, the most cutting edge breakthroughs in the field of sustainability are in energy efficiency, particularly the smart grid and smart meters. Breakthroughs include energy efficieny technologies for the home and business, such as Home Energy Management (HEM)demand response, community solar and net metering. Also, there have recently been great advancements in energy efficiency for entire municipalities such as district heating and combined heat and power (cogeneration). Smart grids, along with all of these other advancements in energy efficiency, will greatly help the cause of making cities more sustainable.

 

Urban planning has two primary components: land-use planning and transportation planning. In order for any sustainable city to thrive, these two components must be addressed. Ideally, a city would set out to have a land-use plan that preserves as much natural setting as possible. The most sustainable urban plans design bike routes and walking paths, along with roads, that feature natural settings, thus increasing the aesthetics and viability of transportation alternatives.

The more current definitions of urban planning include economic factors, along with conservation and environment. Urban planning is conceived much like a business plan, where potential revenue increases in order to attract investors (general public and government). Mass transit is a useful means for illustrating revenue increase in the urban planning process. A sustainable city incorporates sustainable mass transportation into urban planning. The best city plans design mass transit around areas that offer a high concentration of employment potential.

One major emphasis in sustainable city design has remained the reduction of urban sprawl. Bringing home, work and shopping as geographically close as possible has become quite important. Ideally, development would be concentrated around mass transit, jobs and shopping. Urban developments should also focus on pedestrian and cycle paths. The ideal city would have high-density, focused areas of productivity which have a variety of environmentally sound transportation choices, and make walking and biking good alternatives.

Urban planning draws on engineering and architectural disciplines, as well as social and political concerns. Urban planning is variously a technical profession, an endeavor involving political will and public participation, and an academic discipline. Urban planning concerns itself with both the development of open land (“greenfield sites”) and the revitalization of existing parts of the city. Therefore, it involves  goal setting, data collection and analysis, forecasting, design, strategic thinking, and public consultation.

The process of city design involves the disciplines of engineering and architecture, as in transportation and building planning. Ideally, a city would pursue green building and sustainable mass transportation. Before these modes of action can be initiated, the political and social will to change development ideas must be brought to the surface. Education and activism become the focus, in order to promote the concepts of sustainability and raise public awareness.

Mass transit reduces CO2 emissions

Sustainable mass transit reduces CO2 emissions, helps to produce numerous financial benefits, creates urban centers of productivity and reduces dependence on foreign oil. As far as carbon-based transit, the amount of oil used per passenger is greatly reduced with the use of any type of sustainable mass transit compared to the use of standard fossil fuel dependent cars. New fuel technologies such as biofuel and hydrogen, in addition to electric vehicles, represent a new trend in environmentally sound and economically beneficial mass transit. The higher the quantity and quality of public transport, the greater becomes the opportunity and incentive for people to look beyond traditional car use.

One of the more promising modes of public transport is rail, particularly electric urban rail. Light rail provides various benefits relating to cost effectiveness; the low maintenance needs and low energy demands of light rail make this form of transportation highly efficient. Environmental benefits include the reduction of carbon dioxide, as well as the reduction of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Traffic congestion is greatly reduced in any urban environment, and ultimately light rail systems can replace highways. Light rail creates jobs both by producing a new source of capital and by creating new, busy economic centers. Not only does electric light rail replace the use of fossil fuels, but the development cost of light rail systems (trams, trolleys, street cars, etc...) is about half that of building freeways.

Another exciting sign of progress in transportation is the further development of hybrid, electric-only and biodiesel/ ethanol-fueled cars and buses. As far as a complete departure from middle-east oil dependency, first world nations must embrace technologies now available which offer alternatives to fossil fuels. Electric and biofuel buses are just about the best means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transportation. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles are all fairly new transportation technologies which are poised, along with other technologies in the sustainable transportation movement, to make a positive transition for human transit. The newest and brightest of these technologies is hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen is used in mass transit vehicles in many countries in Europe (especially in Norway, Germany and Iceland), and Japan – just to name a few. One great benefit of hydrogen fuel is that it produces absolutely zero emissions, with water vapor being the only by-product. Please see - Clean Hydrogen in European Cities (CHIC).

These cities exemplify the concepts involved in green urban planning:

green city: bus system and urban planning in Curitiba

green city: Portland

green city: Vancouver

green city: London

 

Sustainable mass transit reduces CO2 emissions, helps to produce numerous financial benefits, creates urban centers of productivity and reduces dependence on foreign oil. As far as carbon-based transit, the amount of oil used per passenger is greatly reduced with the use of any type of sustainable mass transit compared to the use of standard fossil fuel dependent cars.

New fuel technologies such as biofuel and hydrogen, in addition to electric vehicles, represent a new trend in environmentally sound and economically beneficial mass transit. The higher the quantity and quality of public transport, the greater becomes the opportunity and incentive for people to look beyond traditional car use.

One of the more promising modes of public transport is rail, particularly electric urban rail. Light rail provides various benefits relating to cost effectiveness; the low maintenance needs and low energy demands of light rail make this form of transportation highly efficient. Environmental benefits include the reduction of carbon dioxide, as well as the reduction of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.

Traffic congestion is greatly reduced in any urban environment, and ultimately light rail systems can replace highways. Light rail creates jobs both by producing a new source of capital and by creating new, busy economic centers. Not only does light rail replace the use of fossil fuels, but the development cost of light rail systems is about half that of building freeways.

Another exciting sign of progress in transportation is the further development of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. As far as a complete departure from middle-east oil dependency, first world nations must embrace technologies now available which offer alternatives to fossil fuels. The newest of these technologies is hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen is used in mass transit vehicles in some countries in Europe (especially in Norway, Germany and Iceland),  and Japan – just to name a few countries. One great benefit of hydrogen fuel is that it produces absolutely zero emissions, with water vapor being the only by-product.

 Please see: Hybrids, Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Vehicles

As a finite resource, oil, and in turn gas and diesel, is eventually going to run out. The impacts from using, refining and also finding oil and other fossil fuels are vast and have a significant negative impact on the environment. All kinds of hazards and pollution stem from fossil fuels, including immediate dangers to the planet, such as, most significantly, the dramatic increase of greenhouse gas emissions. The only way to counter these issues is to find alternatives that allow us to produce clean and also plentiful energy – so, here are some of the alternatives:

Electric and Hybrid

Please see: Hybrids, Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Vehicles

Ethanol

Crops such as corn, sugarcane and soybean can be processed and then used to create more efficient, greener alternative transportation fuels. By blending ethanol with traditional gas, it is possible to increase octane levels and also the quality of emissions discharged from all forms of transit. However, the production of ethanol involves the use of crops as fuel, which some consider a waste of food and it is still carbon-based. Much ethanol used in transportation also still uses gasoline, making it a less than perfect answer. However, ethanol remains an alternative to fossil fuels.

Biodiesel

Made mostly from animal and plant fats, biodiesel (another type of biofuel, in addition to ethanol) can be in the form of oil ( mostly taken from restaurant kitchens) and then used in modified engines. It is also possible, with some engines, to mix the converted oil after it has been processed with traditional diesel and use it in modified engines. Biodiesel is a safe, effective alternative for buses and cars that causes a significant decrease in air pollutants relative to traditional gasoline. The most promising new source for the production of biodiesel is algae. Algae might just be the future of biofuel.

Of course, we currently use electric vehicles (EV's) on the road, whether in the form of tram (or other light rail), pure EV or hybrid. Electric vehicles and hybrids work on battery power and are charged through an external electric source (see Hybrids, Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Vehicles). These batteries can produce energy without combustion or pollution, however they do require the creation of electricity from a third party. Mass transit based on electricity (trolleys, street cars, other light rail, or electric buses etc...) have proven to be a great alternative. It remains important that the sources for the electrical generation used to power these alternative transit options comes from renewable energy, as well. 

Solar Power

PV panels are quite a common sight on homes these days and can produce enough power to heat homes. However, though using solar for cars has been well demonstrated, there are still many issues with using solar power to fuel transportation. Solar isn't produced efficiently in a cost-effective, compatible application to power a significant amount of transit options as of yet. However, especially with nanotechnology, solar is becoming increasingly efficient and also falling in price, meaning someday soon, it could be a feasible option.

The 5th option, like solar, is in the R&D phase - hydrogen, and hydrogen fuel cells. The biggest hydrogen fuel cell project is Clean Hydrogen in European Cities (CHIC) , operating in several countries throughout Europe. 

Whatever the future of motoring, viable innovations have to continue to be researched, developed and brought to the mass marketplace. Solutions to fossil fuels must continue to be explored and offered to the public sooner rather than later, for the good of humanity and the planet.

Subcategories

Green Urban Planning

Today, green urban planning is more important than ever. We provide facts about seven cities that are focused on utilizing various approaches to sustainable development. You can find out about many sources of renewable energy here.

City planning committees around the globe are becoming more focused on the importance of using sources of renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels and other finite resources. Our goal is to teach our readers about eight of the greenest cities in the world. As you peruse this site, you will gain insight into the worlds of renewable energy, urban planning, green building and sustainable mass transit. For instance, you will learn about an example of a bus system, located in Curitiba, Brazil, that serves as a standard of efficiency for other metropolises throughout the world...

 

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Sustainability Trends

Ideas for a Greener Home

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning supplies
  • Favor cloth over paper products
  • Chlorine-free baby diapers/ wipes
  • Choose natural lawn care - stop using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers
  • Use biodegradable detergent and oxygen bleach
  • For clean, safe drinking water without all of the waste - use a water filter and a reusable bottle
  • Install low-flow toilets

 

Energy Saving Ideas

  • Use CFL or LED light bulbs
  • Use Energy Star labeled equipment
  • Turn off all home and office equipment when not in use
  • Turn off lights when not in use
  • Turn down the thermostat - lowering it by just one degree can reduce heating energy costs significantly
  • Avoid "phantom loads" (electrical equipment that still uses energy even after turned off) by using a power strip
  • Reduce your water heater temperature from 140 degrees to 120 degrees
  • Install double-pane windows