San Diego5
San Diego, California

The 5 Most Eco-Friendly Places in the US


In recent years, the sustainability movement has gained momentum at an exponential rate. More and more people are becoming environmentally conscious, driven by their desire to live sustainably. There are many eco-friendly cities all over America that focus on sustainability and encourage cost- and energy-efficient lifestyles.

The below eco-friendly cities have initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint and create truly sustainable cities. This article will focus on these 5 greenest cities - 1. San Diego, 2. Portland, 3. Seattle, 4. St. Paul, and 5. Washington, D.C.  

Another study of the most sustainable US cities has different results, with Washington, D.C. placing 1st, followed by 2. New York City, 3. Portland, 4. Seattle, and 5. Boston (see: the-50-greenest-cities-in-the-us). Yet another study of sustainable US cities has 1. Berkeley, 2. San Diego, 3. Portland, 4. Washington, D.C., and 5. Denver.

Green City Times has San Diego and Portland in the top 10 greenest cities in the world, and you can also find GCT articles on the sustainable US cities of Austin, Chicago, and New York City

Here are the top 5 most sustainable US cities:


1. San Diego, California


The push for 100% renewable energy is a major part of the San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP); adopted citywide in December 2015. San Diego’s CAP is billed as a continuing push to make San Diego, “America’s cleanest city”, now also its most sustainable city. San Diego plans to eliminate half of all greenhouse gas emissions (reach 50% GHG reduction by 2035 compared to 2010 levels) from the city; and run entirely on renewable energy, by 2035.

The Carlsbad, San Diego, desalination plant provides 10% of the clean water of San Diego County residents. Desalination represents an important potential source of clean water and is one of several major solutions to the world water crisis. 

San Diego
San Diego, California

San Diego was one of the first cities to mandate solar panels on all new construction in the city and it has strict regulations around water consumption. The City of San offers free composting services for residential customers, which means food scraps can go directly from your home into the ground to help fertilize soil rather than sitting in landfills or incinerators.

2. Portland, Oregon


Portland has developed over 92,000 acres of green spaces in the city with a connected system of trails and parks ideal for walking and biking. Portland has almost 500 square feet of green space per person, thanks to green urban planning. Portland also has the highest rate of recycling, as well as biking to work, of any US city (as explained in this article).

Portland has committed to meeting the community’s electricity needs with renewables by the year 2035 and to move all remaining energy sources to renewable ones by 2050.

Portland, Oregon

Portland is a city with an eco-conscious spirit. One of the most popular things to do in Portland is to bike around, and there are more than 200 miles of biking trails that connect neighborhoods throughout the city. Another way this eco-friendly city encourages its citizens to conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint is by providing incentives for residents who install solar panels on their homes or businesses.

Over the course of the last few decades, Portland's waste management programs have been expanded. In 2005, the 'Portland Composts!' program was implemented, and in 2006 the 'Portland Recycles!' program was launched. Portland became one of the first cities in America to use compost as fertilizer (among other productive uses of compost in the citywide program). The city aims to recycle between 60-75% (or more) of its recyclable waste.

Portland also has a Climate Action Plan -

"In 2009, City Council adopted the Climate Action Plan, a strategy to put Portland County on a path to achieve a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). The plan included three goals for 2030 relating to consumption and solid waste and identified a number of actions to achieve these goals:

Reduce total solid waste generated by 25 percent.

Recover 90 percent of all waste generated.

Reduce the greenhouse gas impacts of the waste collection system by 40 percent." 

FROM  -   portland.gov/bps/garbage-recycling/history-portlands-garbage-and-recycling-system

3. Seattle, Washington


Seattle sources a bulk of the city's energy from a large share of hydroelectricity. Seattle City Light is America's first carbon-neutral utility, supplying over 1/2 of the energy Seattle uses, with over 80% of the electricity for the city sourced from hydroelectric dams.

"Seattle City Light generates and delivers affordable electricity to power the homes, businesses, and communities we serve. We provide carbon-neutral electricity, generated primarily from carbon-free hydropower. And we are people, committed to making a difference and helping our community and customers thrive.

Seattle City Light is a community-owned, not-for-profit utility. We don't have shareholders — we're accountable only to you, our customers. We're focused on providing affordable, reliable, and environmentally responsible energy services every day."   

FROM -  seattle.gov/city-light/about-us

Seattle, Washington

Seattle is a beautiful city with many eco-friendly transportation opportunities. One of the most popular ways to explore Seattle's natural beauty is by bike. Seattle has a downtown bike-share program (in addition to a scooter-share program, an extended pedestrian program, bus-only lanes on roads, and other alternative transit programs).

"Seattle's Bike Share consists of electric-assist bicycles, which have the potential to make bike share a more accessible and convenient mobility option. Bike share lets you borrow a bike for a quick errand, a trip to Link light rail, an all-day adventure, and everything in between. You pick up the bike-share bike closest to you, ride it to where you want to go, and leave the bike for the next person to ride." 

FROM  -  seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/bike-program/bike-share 

Seattle was one of the first American cities to ban plastic bags in supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other retail outlets (in July 2012). Seattle also pioneered a composting program that recycles food scraps into fertilizer to grow greener urban gardens (among other positive uses of composting).

"Food & yard waste (or compost) service, is required for every home and business in Seattle. It's an important part of sorting your waste that helps the environment and cuts down on your waste costs.

  • What can I compost? Fruit and vegetables, yard trimmings, meat, dairy, and fish are all accepted..."

FROM  -   seattle.gov/utilities/your-services/collection-and-disposal/food-and-yard

4. St. Paul, Minnesota


St. Paul has over 700 square feet of green spaces per person. Although the state of Minnesota has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, St. Paul has taken their efforts a step further, planning to achieve carbon neutrality by the same time.

As part of its strategy, the city has turned its attention toward large buildings, as their energy use makes up 40% of St. Paul’s emissions. Every year, St. Paul undergoes a yearly audit that measures its sustainability. The audit scores the city's progress in key areas such as air quality, energy efficiency, and waste management. To help ensure Minnesota’s capital achieves its goal, the city now requires owners of these buildings to track and report their energy and water use

St Paul
St. Paul, Minnesota

In 2006, St. Paul became the first U.S. city to be certified as an International Dark Sky Community by the International Dark Sky Association for reducing light pollution and making efforts to preserve night skies. This is important for animals like bats and owls who use night skies for hunting and migrating patterns.

5. Washington, D.C.


D.C. has over 8,000 acres of parks and trails maintained by its Department of Parks and Recreation. The city is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. Additionally, the city has also been able to motivate residents to recycle more than 60% of their waste and compost nearly 25%.

Washington D C
Washington, D.C.

D.C. is in the top 2% of the country for LEED-certified buildings. In the last decade, D.C. public schools have led the way in energy-efficient construction. As the U.S. capital continues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the city is now working toward creating net-zero energy schools that produce as much energy as they consume.

D.C. has also invested in using wind and solar power to generate energy for municipal and residential buildings, which has helped push the city into the top 3% of the country for renewable energy.

For more on sustainable U.S. cities, please see these GCT featured articles:

San Diego, California

Portland, Oregon

New York City, New York

Austin, Texas

Chicago, Illinois