Big Surprises, Lessons From Top Ten Greenest Cities In America List

Nerdwallet recently released its list of the top ten greenest U.S. cities, and the findings might surprise you. Sure, some of the country’s centers of sustainable living are on the list, like San Francisco, but so did Jersey City. Likewise, being in a sunny climate surely helps with solar power generation, like with Honolulu, but then what is Seattle’s reason for being green?

Ranking cities is always a difficult thing to do, but breaking down data that way can reveal some important things. The researchers at Nerdwallet used four criteria to judge which of America’s largest 150 cities are the “greenest:” EPA daily air quality data, commuter surveys, energy sources (solar, coal, etc.) and housing density (urban sprawl creates longer commutes and stretched resources.)

The analysts said based on those factors the top ten are:

  1. Honolulu, Hawaii
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Arlington, Virginia
  4. San Francisco, California
  5. Miami, Florida
  6. New York, New York
  7. Boston, Massachusetts
  8. Orlando, Florida
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. Jersey City, New Jersey

A top five list based on an index from the Economists’ Intelligence Unit found similar results, with the top five Canadian and American cities being: San Francisco, Vancouver, New York City, Seattle, and Denver.

For the Nerdwallet list, not much can be learned from Honolulu. It’s an outlier that, somehow, heats over 100 percent of its homes with solar power and has an unbelievable median daily EPA air quality score of 28 (anything under 50 is good, a measure few cities regularly achieve.)

Most cities don’t have the kind of abundant sun and warmth of Hawaii, but what makes a place like San Francisco or New York so green?

Nerdwallet says those two cities have a high percentage of commuters using public transit, and it helps to have many people living in high rises and other dense housing options.

Cities like these led the analysts to a surprising conclusion: bigger is better. Bigger cities can take advantage of population densities to plan effective public transit and get resources where they need to go.

Of course, that lesson only goes so far.

America’s second largest city, Los Angeles, wasn’t even in Nerdwallet’s top 25 cities, and with good reason. The Atlantic ranked the city as one of the five worst in terms of public transportation, and the air quality standard is a constant problem, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Another major finding from the ranking is that solar energy adoption is sluggish, while traditional sources, like coal, remain steady. Still, cities where walking is popular, like Seattle, can make up for that problem to some extent.

The full list of America’s greenest cities can be found on Nerdwallet here.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]