The Greening of American Cities

A little over half of Americans think environmental protection is more important than economic growth, according to a Gallup poll. Most Americans also support working towards a carbon-neutral future. Greener cities are critical to achieving that goal. What cities are setting climate action goals?

Every year, WalletHub ranks the greenest cities in the U.S. by comparing the 100 largest cities across four key dimensions: environment, transportation, energy sources, and lifestyle and policy. Researchers evaluate these parameters using 28 key indicators. This year, WalletHub found that among the top 10 cities, eight are on the West Coast, and five of the cities are in California.

The number one spot on the list is San Diego. The Southern California city has a Climate Action Plan to achieve an ambitious goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. Washington, D.C., is the fourth city on the list. The most ambitious target of the Sustainable D.C. 2.0 plan is reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all local sources, putting the city on track to reduce emissions by 50% by 2032 and eliminate emissions by 2050.

West Coast. vs. East Coast Cities

Other comparisons show that San Diego is far ahead of Washington, D.C. The West Coast City plans for all energy by the San Diego Community Power to be renewable or greenhouse gas emission-free by 2030. The East Coast city plans to increase renewable energy to 50 percent of the city’s energy supply and reduce per capita energy use city-wide by 50 percent by 2032.

San Diego

San Diego is farther ahead of Washington, D.C., in decarbonizing buildings. The city has a target of phasing out 45 percent of natural gas use from existing buildings and phasing out 50 percent of natural gas use in municipal facilities by 2030. San Diego plans to phase out 90 percent of natural gas use from existing buildings and 100 percent in municipal facilities by 2033.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., set a target of meeting net zero energy use standards for 100 percent of new construction projects by 2032. The city also has a 2032 target requiring new buildings, major infrastructure, and neighborhood plans to consider climate risks and identify adaptation solutions.

Fremont, CA

Fremont, CA, is in the ninth spot on the list, and Minneapolis, MN, is in the 10th. Looking at the climate action plans of both cities shows why the western city is in the higher spot. Fremont’s target year is 2030. By that year, the city plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent. The Bay Area city also plans on the following:

  • Transition to 100 percent clean electricity consumption.
  • Retrofit existing nonresidential buildings to all-electric and low-carbon.
  • Retrofit existing City buildings to all-electric and low-carbon.
  • Install infrastructure for electric vehicle (EV) charging and other zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) fueling needs.
  • Replace the city’s gasoline and diesel-powered fleet vehicles and other equipment with low-emission and zero-emission vehicles.


Minneapolis’ target year is 2025, and by that year, the Midwestern city’s goals are to:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent.
  • Generate 10 percent of our electricity from local, renewable sources.
  • Increase our recycling rate to 50 percent.
  • Reach a composting rate of 15 percent of the entire waste stream.
  • Reduce energy use by 17 percent.
  • Improve energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings by 20 and 15 percent, respectively.

The Importance of Greener Cities

Greener cities bring a host of benefits to urban dwellers. They increase habitat and biodiversity while lowering healthcare costs through improved air and water quality. They also reduce the urban heat island effect and increase property values. Greener cities reduce energy costs by deploying renewable energy, creating jobs, and improving the livability of cities.

“By choosing to act sustainably, we choose to build cities where all citizens live a decent quality of life and form a part of the city’s productive dynamic, creating shared prosperity and social stability without harming the environment,” the UN states.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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