Europe’s Most Sustainable Town

The Most Sustainable City District in Europe

Solar Roof Picture Id91777635
Homes in the Sun Ship (Das Sonnenschiff)

Vauban, Germany, is one of Europe’s most significant solar communities; with a substantial share of plus-energy homes, as well as passive solar homes and buildings.

Renewable Energy in Vauban


Vauban Germany
Residences in the Sun Ship

Vauban, a city district in Freiburg, Germany, is known internationally as one of the most sustainable towns in Europe. The "Sun Ship" is in the Solar Settlement in Vauban, and is part of why Freiburg is known as Europe's "solar city".

The Solar Settlement is known internationally as a pioneering community for consisting of buildings that all produce a positive energy balance.

Solar Ship Vauban Freiburg German
Another view of the Sun Ship

Buildings that generate more renewable energy than the building's occupants consume are known as plus-energy (or positive energy) buildings. The Sun Ship (Das Sonnenschiff) consists entirely of plus-energy buildings.

Residents in the Sun Ship simply sell excess energy generated by rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels back to the municipality (for use in other homes in the community), resulting in lower electricity bills.

Augmenting solar energy to provide additional energy (electricity and heating) to the town is a high-efficiency municipal biomass and natural gas cogeneration plant. Vauban's local cogeneration power plant (also known as a combined heat and power - CHP plant), in addition to Vauban's large supply of rooftop solar PV, provides electricity for buildings in the town.

District heating to Vauban is also supplied by the local high-efficiency Vauban CHP plant. Heating is environmentally friendly, provided to the town by a 14 km long district heating grid fed heat by the town's CHP plant, which mostly burns woodchips for energy.

Passive Homes and Plus-energy Homes


Inhabitants of Vauban primarily live in co-ops, including many plus-energy buildings, and the rest in passive solar buildings. Plus-energy co-op residences are not only found in the Sun Ship, but are also found throughout Vauban.

Residences in every part of Vauban consist of either passive homes and buildings (“passivhaus”), buildings that consume as much energy as they produce, or the aforementioned plus-energy buildings (producing even more energy than they consume). 

The plus-energy home category is the highest level of energy-efficient building development in the field of passive home construction. Passive home construction refers to cutting-edge energy-efficient green building construction practices that produce buildings with minimal energy needs.

Passive homes and buildings are almost entirely heated by passive-solar gains and technically simple heat recuperation systems. Passive buildings are popular throughout European cities (such as in Green City Times' featured cities Freiburg, Germany, Växjö, Sweden, and Copenhagen, Denmark). Passive, cutting-edge, energy-efficient building construction is practiced throughout Europe, with the town of Vauban being a stand-out example.

Typical features of passive buildings include buildings that:

  • - are well-insulated with high-quality, super-efficient insulation materials
  • - use timber construction for the framing
  • - are sealed airtight to keep out external weather completely, and to keep heat inside
  • - often use solar PV panels and/ or heat pumps, for electricity and heating
  • - have double or triple-pane windows

For a more detailed guide on passive home, as well as plus-energy building construction, please see Green City Times' article on cutting-edge energy-efficient construction practices in the Swedish city of Växjö.

Urban planning in Vauban


The town of Vauban is virtually absent of all GHG emission-producing sources. Vauban is a “zero-emission” district in Freiburg, Germany.

However, Vauban is not completely emissions-free, as cars are actually allowed. Residents of Vauban can own cars and park them in town (but not necessarily in front of their homes). Parking a car in Vauban is possible for a large annual fee (comparable to at least $23,000 USD), for a parking spot on the outskirts of town.

Freiburg Im Breisgau Vauban
Tram route in Vauban

Thus, the majority of residents in Vauban don’t own a car, choosing instead to use the tram, cycle, or simply walk. In Vauban, roads designated for cars are very narrow. Most streets don’t even have parking spaces.

Plenty of space on Vauban's streets is given to bicycles, and pedestrians, as well as to designated lanes for electric trams.

The urban planning techniques of “filtered permeability” and "fused grid" were implemented in the design of the municipality of Vauban. These urban planning terms refer to a town design of connected streets throughout the town, as well as plenty of pedestrian and bike paths. Ultimately, urban planning efforts in Vauban have led to cycling as the primary mode of transit.

Vauban Germany
urban plan of Vauban, Germany
Urban planning layout of the city district of Vauban, Germany

Vauban's Unique History


Vauban is a town with a radically dramatic history. A military town through WWII and into the early ’90s, when the military left, Vauban's vacant buildings were inhabited by squatters. These vagabonds were the people who organized Forum Vauban, creating a revolutionary eco-community. Modern Vauban today represents the very cutting edge of sustainable living.

The following quotes from and nicely highlight the ecologically-focused development of Vauban:

"The district Vauban is known as a model for a sustainable ecological collectively planned urban district...On the area of an old military base a whole new district with a lot of housing spaces was be built with the participation of the citizens. The City of Freiburg responsible for the planning and development of the district-project cooperated with an extended citizen participation organized by an association called Forum Vauban.

Under guiding principles concerning different high ecological standards different environmental projects such as a co-building group and a car reducing traffic system began in 1996. The city simply gave away land at the start of the building phase. Nowadays nearly 5000 people live in Vauban - a nearly car-free, low-energy, social integrating, and sustainable [town] full of playgrounds, and its own kindergarten.

All houses were built with improved low energy standard...[many homes in Vauban, as well as commercial buildings, co-op buildings are] "passive house"  or "plus energy house" standard, producing more energy than they use.

A highly efficient co-generation plant (CHP) operating with wood-chips [and natural gas] is connected to the district's heating grid. Good insulation and efficient heat supply creates CO²-savings. A large number of solar collectors and photovoltaic modules were installed. The electricity needed in Vauban is produced on-site through CHP and photovoltaic [solar PV].

The ecological traffic concept reduced the number of private cars, provided good public transportation, and a car sharing system. Streets and other public spaces became playgrounds for children or other public uses."   

[FROM   -]

Freiburg Im Breisgau Vauban
Trams in Vauban

"The district was planned around green transportation (as with another city known as a global beacon of green urban planning, Curitiba in southern Brazil), because, besides consumption, transportation is the hardest ecological impact of development to reduce.

While the district includes streets, cars hardly ever pass through, and car parking is not catered for. Residents who do own vehicles can park in a community lot on the edge of the district, unsubsidized by the car-free households.

Pedestrian and bicycle paths form a highly-connected, efficient, green transportation network with every home within walking distance of a tram stop, and all schools, businesses, and shopping centers located within walking distance. When moving into Vauban, 57% of the households that previously owned a car decided to let their car go. All in all, 70% of the inhabitants live without a car in Vauban."

[FROM  -]

Details Of The Sunship In Green City Freiburg The Solar
Residences in the Sun Ship

Please also see:

Europe's Solar City - Freiburg


Sustainable Urban Planning in Curitiba

Like Vauban, Germany (but in a variety of unique ways), these world cities below are also taking the lead on climate action through novel urban planning strategies -

Paris - Curbing Auto Emissions for Cleaner Air

Olso - Climate Goals: Is Oslo Leading the Way?

San Diego - Profiles in Sustainable Cities

(and please also see the Green City Times article on desalination for information about the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere; in Carlsbad, San Diego)

Chicago - A Sustainable City

Austin, Texas