From the community

5 Most Environmentally-Friendly Cities in America

Posted Dec. 16, 2013, at 2:29 p.m.

Few eco-warriors would pair environmentally friendly with America. After all, the U.S. accounts for just five percent of the world’s pollution, yet it creates almost a third of its waste and uses a quarter of its resources. It seems to care little for its own backyard, since about 46 percent of its lakes are too polluted for marine life or swimming. But a handful of American cities are bucking the trend and proving it’s possible to live sustainability in the U.S.

San Francisco Cuts Waste

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom once claimed his city as America’s solar energy leader. With 3,524 solar panels on residential buildings and 202 on commercial properties, it’s hard to argue with him. Since the launch of the GoSolarSF program in 2008, twice as many San Francisco residents have invested in the technology. Not content with these numbers, officials are considering making solar panels compulsory for all new buildings.

San Francisco also declared a war on waste in 2007 when it became the first American city to ban plastic grocery bags in supermarkets and pharmacies. Earlier this year, the city extended the ban to include all retailers, bakeries, takeaway outlets, and restaurants.

Austin is an Environmental Pioneer

Austin has proven itself to be a committed environmental steward for more than three decades. Few cities considered environmental measures in the consumer driven 1980s, but in 1982 Austin introduced its first energy efficiency initiative. In 1991, Austin became the first American city to unveil a green building scheme. It followed this measure with the launch of its first wind program in 1995.

Austin’s dedication to environmental causes runs from its council to its people. When Texans received the power to choose their electricity providers in 2002, the residents of Austin didn’t simply chase more affordable plans. Many residents willingly add between 15 and 25 percent to their electricity bills when they sign up for green power. Their efforts have paid off, though. In 2011, Austin continued to show other towns how it’s done when it became the country’s largest city operating on 100 percent renewable resources.

Chicago is Historically Green

Austin has made a sustained effort to implement sustainable measures for decades. But it’s got nothing on Chicago, whose green history dates back to 1909. That’s when city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham created a permanent greenbelt around the city’s metro region.

There’s not a lot of space for green within the city’s busy streets, but the residents have thought laterally with the launch of the Chicago Green Roof Program. Look up and you might spot more than 2.5 million square feet of plant life thriving on roofs around the city, including atop Willis Tower and City Hall.

But Chicago’s crowning achievement is its Center for Green Technology, which is one of the only municipal buildings in the world honored with a platinum rating for green operations and design.

Cambridge Cuts Transport Emissions

Cambridge was dubbed the best walking city by Prevention Magazine in 2008. Without a doubt, this distinction helped it earn its green stripes. Transport emissions are limited further by the city’s decision to fuel official vehicles with B20 biodiesel and electricity.

While its streets feature many historic buildings, the modern structures are of most interest to eco-warriors. New construction and major renovations to existing buildings must meet strict LEED standards.

Cambridge is revolutionizing traditional recycling schemes with its curbside composting initiative. Starting April 2014, the city will pickup compost waste from between 500 and 800 local households.

Portland Gets Creative with Sustainability

About 180 miles of dedicated cycling lanes helped Portland ride into the number one spot in Bicycling.com’s most bikeable city in the United States list last year. Bike boxes at intersections and bike commuting trains for elementary schools help encourage Portland residents to ditch their gas-guzzling cars and get on their bikes.

Classes in beekeeping, cheese making, chicken keeping, and container gardening inspire locals to rely less on the supermarkets. All these measures led green blog Mother Nature Network to name Portland the greenest U.S. city.

These cities set an example for the rest of United States, showing what’s possible when citizens work together to live more sustainably.

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