Five Major Cities That Get Sustainability Right

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on December 24, 2018
Vicky Harris
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“I think we’re past the stage where the car was something you built a city around.”

This statement, from the founder and CEO of Green City Ferries, one of the startups helping Stockholm become one of the greenest cities on the planet, summarizes the new approach that cities everywhere are taking when it comes to sustainability. Since the Paris Agreement was signed, cities have become all too aware of their disproportionate environmental impact accounting for 80% of the world’s carbon emissions and have taken the lead to become responsible global citizens. (Read our article on how cities lead the energy transformation here).

This final week of 2018, we celebrate urban progress with a photo essay on five cities that are changing the sustainability game for their citizens and our global village. We shine a light on Stockholm, London, San Francisco, Reykjavik, and Copenhagen as exemplary cities leading the way when it comes to urban innovation, art, and ideas that improve the quality of life for their citizens and reduce their carbon footprint―which can be easily adopted by other cities.

Stockholm: A Fossil-Free Public Transportation Fleet

Zero carbon emissions: a new reality in Stockholm’s public transportation system.

Citizens in Stockholm now move with zero carbon emissions through a public transportation system that includes a subway, light rail, ferries, and busses. For example, Stockholm’s bus fleet has evolved “from just 8% of buses being fossil fuel free in 2007 to a practically fossil-free fleet in 2018,” according to a recent report by CDP, a global disclosure system that enables companies, cities, states, and regions to measure and manage their environmental impacts. The city’s move to sustainable public transportation was made possible through a decade-long, public-private collaborative effort. The quote with which we opened this article comes from one of the CEOs whose company is part of this collaboration.

Some of the most beautiful urban art in Stockholm is underground.

To rally the public into choosing to use public transportation, every Stockholm station (Stockholm, T-Centralen pictured above) has its own art decoration, which makes their carbon-free metro one of the longest underground metro art galleries in the world.

London: Green Buildings on the Rise

“Aligned with the Paris Agreement, Mayor Sadiq Khan has set a bold target for the capital [of the United Kingdom], to be zero net carbon by 2050,” as reported by CDP.

Green buildings raise London to the top list of clean cities.

A recent article on the top ten green cities in the world reports, “Amazingly, half of London city is green. This city has 14,164 hectares of green spaces. It includes parks, wildlife habitats, natural reserves, gardens, and outdoor spaces. These green spaces ensure better bio-diversity, less rainwater run-off, less pollution, and better air quality.” The city’s skyline is part of this green belt, as some of the most sustainable buildings in the world rise in its financial center. A white paper entitled, “Top 10 Cities for Global Green Buildings,” explains that London “benefits from a high yield of green buildings, which can be linked to the fact that the United Kingdom was the first country ever to introduce a green building certification system.”

San Francisco: Birthplace of Ride-Sharing and the First Beneficiary of Silicon Valley Green Startups

Few people outside of California realize that San Francisco is a small city. With around 700,000 people situated at the tip of Silicon Valley, San Francisco is a hive for urban experiments and innovation. Just last week, the city’s Office of Innovation was elected as a finalist for Apolitical’s Public Service Team of the Year for 2018. This is because the city decided to embrace the startup culture it is famous for by creating an accelerator inside City Hall, with partners that include Harvard Business School and Google, among others.

Cable cars were only one of the clean energy startups that have taken root in San Francisco.

San Francisco has been the testing ground for urban innovation startups that are now rapidly expanding everywhere, such as Uber and Lyft. The founding idea behind these companies was partly driven by the insight that half of the city’s traffic is caused by people looking for parking spaces. The city was recently named one of the top green cities in the world for “the efficient environmental programs and policies in San Francisco that encourage the use of renewable energy. In the near future, the city plans to rely more on renewable energy sources like solar power, wind power, hydro-Geo thermal power, and biofuel, than fossil fuels.”

Reykjavik: The Green Capital of a Green Nation

Reykjavik was, arguably, the greenest capital in the world even before sustainability became fashionable. For Iceland’s capital city, 100% of their electricity and nearly all the hot water needs of their citizens are supplied from geothermal energy. This gift of nature comes from more than 30 active volcanoes that provide thermal vents from which the city, and the entire country, get their energy.

Reykjavik: blessed with clean energy for all of its electricity needs.

However, Reykjavik is not among the greenest cities on Earth only because of its natural environment. Earth & World named Reykjavik among its top ten cleanest cities last year because they “not only rank highly on sustainability, recycling, use of public transport and green spaces but also has a high overall human development index with people who are very environmentally conscious.”

Copenhagen: The Human Body and the Northern Wind Power the City

For Copenhagen, biking is the most common mode of transportation year-round, making it one of the world’s leading capitals for low CO2 emissions. In fact, biking is part of the Danish culture, made easier by the fact that Denmark has a flat landscape. All elementary school kids take a year-long class on everything related to bikes, and in the winter months, around one-third of all trips are carried out by bike. Any traveler to Copenhagen needs to be aware of the city’s affinity for biking when crossing the road, as most streets have bike lanes that are always busy.

Lanes of bikers move through the streets of Copenhagen without interference from cars.

In addition to leading the way for urban transportation that is healthy and clean, Copenhagen has hundreds of offshore wind turbines that provide one-third of the city’s electricity needs and has stated its determination to become carbon-neutral by 2025. The city’s Cleantech Initiative has attracted “leading companies and R&D opportunities in biomass, fuel cells, wind energy, wave energy, solar energy and geothermal energy, energy storage, low-energy buildings, and full-scale smart grid test and demonstration facilities.” In fact, the latter accounts for one-fourth of all smart grid R&D conducted in the European Union.

Copenhagen is rapidly expanding offshore wind farms to become carbon-neutral by 2025.

2018 was a year of strong progress in urban sustainability everywhere, which indeed, is worth celebrating. Happy holidays from all of us at Joi Scientific!


Photos under Shutterstock license.
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