With the environmental movement gaining traction in all corners of the globe, some of the most populated areas have been exhibiting improvements regarding green infrastructure and development. Nearly 50% of the world’s population reside in cities alone. Having such a heavy concentration of people, industry, and energy use in small industrial areas, one can only imagine the environmental impacts cities have. “According to UN Habitat, cities consume 78 percent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The good news is that urban areas around the world have been making immense strides to scale down their environmental impact. Methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat solid waste, and enforce policies to mandate the use of safer energy resources have been in effect throughout multiple cities. Being one of the largest contributors to climate change, the remodeling of urban areas is most imperative for the planet’s revival. Which may lead one to question what makes a city green other than having a recycling program and public bicycles. With a goal to lessen their carbon footprint, cities have developed creative methods to improve environmental quality.
Efficient Public Transportation
Since transportation accounts for an estimated one fifth of carbon dioxide emissions across the world, this category of concern deems highly critical. Some people avoid driving their own car within city limits due to sheer inconvenience and the difficulty moving about can impose unto them. While walking is an obtainable alternative, it’s not always realistic. Electric buses are one sustainable solution to transport the bulk of commuters and travellers. “About 425,000 electric buses are in use worldwide, with 99% of them operating in China.” Electric buses tick many boxes regarding sustainability – aside from no longer requiring a diesel-fueled source of energy and releasing zero carbon emissions, these vehicles are quieter, easier to maintain, and have lower operating costs.
Bike-sharing systems have been implemented across thousands of cities worldwide. Whether you’re looking to change your commute for work or explore a new city, a bicycle is an efficient and emission free way to get about. These programs reduce traffic congestion and make urban areas more accessible to maneuver. Amsterdam is known for the authority cyclists have over the road, so it’s only fitting to discover the small city implemented the original bike-share program in 1965. With today’s advances, docking station ID-systems have been the most widespread method of use. For bike-sharing services to be environmentally beneficial, they must be used in great quantity. Next time you have your day out in the city, consider locating your nearest bike dock and gain a more intimate encounter with your surroundings.
The world creates nearly 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste each year. However, you might be wondering where exactly all of this waste ends up? In most cases, the final resting place for items “thrown away” is a landfill, other times incineration. Communities are recognizing that excess waste continues to pollute various landscapes and ecosystems. Cities everywhere are undertaking zero waste initiatives in efforts to tackle the growing waste dilemma.
A topic we are all aware of, yet could inform ourselves better on. Since the 1960’s, recycling has greatly improved – but we still have a long way to go. A mere fraction of recyclable items actually end up getting recycled. Due to lack of education, legislation, incentives or penalties – society has been conditioned to a “single-use” and “throw away” lifestyle, not considering the products afterlife, post disposal. Within the past few years, awareness has begun to spread with some specific areas providing the perfect example of how to properly recycle.
Not just a single city making immense improvements towards recycling infrastructure, but the entire country of Germany has approached recycling in a particular manner generating exceptional results. Der Grüne Punkt, or The Green Dot system, has been one of the most effective recycling initiatives to surface. “…manufacturers and retailers have to pay for a “Green Dot” on products: the more packaging there is, the higher the fee. This clever system has led to less paper, thinner glass and less metal being used, thus creating less garbage to be recycled. The net result: a drastic decline of about one million tons less garbage than normal every year.” Paired with various bins accepting different materials, the rate of recycling has greatly increased throughout the country. Pioneers we should all be looking up to, Germany has set the bar high.
On the rise are composting programs, gaining traction across cities and creating a new trend everyone wants to be a part of. Not only is it a technique to avoid the disposal of organic material in landfills, composting demonstrates a means to create nutritious soil to aid in the reconstruction of native regions. San Francisco mandates the cities residents to responsibly separate their waste. Three bins are provided; landfill, recycling, and compost materials. The green compost bin accepts food scraps, soiled-paper, and plants – these ingredients are reused by local farmers to produce nutrient-rich soil. Thanks to efforts of The Golden City, 255,500 tons of organic waste is diverted from landfills annually. Instead of contributing to the developing waste stream and greenhouse gas emissions, composting reduces toxic fumes and supports the regeneration of soil.
Alternate Energy Sources
As the cost of renewable energy drops, a growing number of cities are pulling the plug with fossil-fuel based energy. As of 2018, more than 100 cities across the globe receive at least 70% of their electricity from sustainable sources. Renewable elements such as hydro, geothermal, biomass, solar, and wind – non deriving from nuclear or fossil fuel elements. The leader for renewable energy consumption is Latin America. Roughly 65% of Latin American cities obtain electricity through hydropower. Hoping to match this region’s standards, a Sierra Club analysis determined that if all the conference’s members (more than 1,400 U.S. cities) converted to 100% renewable energy, 42% of the country’s electricity would come from renewable origins. A few setting the example; Santa Barbara, Orlando, and Denver. The evolution of sustainable power sources is a continuous operation gaining attention in all the appropriate areas.
With industrial and apartment buildings dominating most urban development, finding an open space can be difficult at times. That being said, public spaces are the heart of a city. Redeveloped areas are surfacing in cities around the globe with efforts to advance urban livability. The spaces are geared to encourage social and political gatherings, a place to hang out, play, and interact. The reappearance of open areas serve as magnets for the advancement of new communities.
In Marseille, France, redevelopment of the Old Port cleared the docks of visual and architectural barriers, hence making the presence of recreational boats appropriate for all residents and their excursions. “The central Quai des Belges, now devotes 60% of its surface to pedestrians and protects them from the sun beneath the Grande Ombrière, a rectangular canopy of 1,000 m2, which can also be used for large-scale events with big audiences. New floating docks have been installed in order to accommodate water activities without interfering with the pedestrian flow or views.” Not all common spaces are constructed from modern material, many host a literal green environment. The environmental benefits found throughout these parks begin with their largest factor, trees! Trees can alleviate climate change, while other permeable surfaces absorb water from storms and counter flooding. Parks also maintain biodiversity and act as rest areas for migrating birds.
Urban sustainability doesn’t just consider how we get energy and where trash goes. A key element to stimulate public support is to make living eco-friendly, enjoyable, and achievable. The best green cities celebrate their environmental efforts with farmers markets. Notably the highlight for certain areas, farmers markets boast community and cultural unity. Traditional retailers may allocate their products from international suppliers, thus, increasing their demand for fossil-fuel induced transportation services. Supporting local growers and artisans strengthens the local economy and lessens our carbon footprint.
While festivals and events generate ludicrous amounts of waste, considerable efforts have been enforced to lessen the negative effects. Cities host a number of festivals, some making stronger attempts to decrease their carbon footprint than others. However, we should be more concerned with the environmental and green celebrations that occur worldwide. One amongst the flock being the UK Green Film Festival, which spans across an entire week each year. The goal is to showcase films discussing current environmental issues. Aiming to reach a broad audience, venues can be found scattered throughout the United Kingdom during this designated week. Social gatherings to promote environmental education could easily pivot the public’s mindset and attitude towards living a more eco-conscious lifestyle.
Supporting Green Leadership and Laws
Perhaps one of the most imperative components to cultivate a sustainable city is to support environmentally mindful policy and law makers. After all, our representatives are the ones calling the shots and making decisions on what responsible practices to implement. Though not all elected officials put the environment on their main list of to-do’s, some exist to look up to. City leaders of Copenhagen, “set a goal to become the first carbon neutral city in the world by 2025.” Through tracking the progress being made, it’s not secret this Scandinavian city is headed in the right direction. Since 1995, Copenhagen’s carbon emissions have diminished by 50%. The responsibility to implement change does not solely fall upon our leaders; lawmakers will not take action unless a concern is heard. The public, you, must use your voice and words to reflect the necessary modifications needed to make our communities flourish again.
Where are Green Cities?
With the popularity of harnessing sustainable practices increasing over time, coming across a green city has become more common. Some are more advanced than others, however the acknowledgment of each makes evident the desirability to overcome a fossil-fuel charged society.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Fresh, local seafood is a staple in Western Canada. Not only famous for incredible cuisine, but for containing the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in any North American city. Taking advantage of the city’s large reserve of hydroelectricity enabled Vancouver to obtain 90% of its power from a renewable source. Furthermore, the city also decided to tackle waste management and distributed compost bins to single-family homes and multi-unit buildings, decreasing solid waste in landfills and incineration by 28%. Vancouver figured out how to utilize landfills, by capturing released methane and using the gas to heat greenhouses.
San Francisco, California
In 2017, The Golden City rated first on WalletHub’s ranking of America’s greenest cities. “In terms of cleaning up the environment, San Francisco is leading the way when it comes to proper disposal of waste, eco-friendly buildings, air quality, carbon emissions, transportation, and land use.” San Fran set the bar high concerning green urban areas; they were the first American city to ban the use of plastic bags, enforce the use of reusable bags, bags made from recycled materials, and compostable bags.
When Texas comes to mind, traditional thoughts involve cowboy hats and comfort food. Most wouldn’t suspect the states capital to rank as one of the most eco-friendly cities within the U.S. With the help from the local government, sustainability groups, and non-profit organizations, Austin, TX holds fame for being a widely recognized eco-friendly city. Austin provides solar energy for customers from local community solar photovoltaic projects, 15% of the city’s land is dedicated to parks and open, green spaces, as well as many new homes and businesses to meet the latest energy efficiency standards.
Being the Capital of the United States, it made sense that D.C. fell in line with other forward-thinking cities. If I chose to list all of Washington D.C.’s environmental accomplishments I could dedicate an entire chapter, but for now I’ll focus on just a few. Aside from being the first jurisdiction to initiate a bike-share program in North America, D.C. was the first LEED Platinum City in the world, and passed the Clean Energy DC Act in 2018 which is the country’s first 100% renewable energy bill and fastest-acting climate change legislation in the country.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
While not boasting a varied assortment of eco-friendly accomplishments compared to cities in more developed countries, some South American urban areas have incorporated sustainable practices and are on the road toward resiliency. Carnival, samba (an energetic dance of Afro-Brazilian origin), and world famous beaches attract visitors to Rio de Janeiro from all across the world. Rio was the region’s first city to disclose its carbon emissions in 1988 and keeps up to date with environmental monitoring. Almost 90% of Rio’s electricity sources are from renewable elements, predominantly hydropower. Not to mention the expanded bicycle framework has amplified the importance of cycling as a main mode of transportation. The influx of bikers has improved urban mobility, social inclusion, and environmental quality.
One of the oldest cities in the world was titled as the European Green Capital for 2020. Lisbon reduced their energy consumption by 28% between 2012 and 2017 and well exceeded the 2030 goal of 40% carbon emission decrease in 2016. The Portuguese capital leads by example in numerous other ways; their tree-planting tactic not only increases biodiversity and green spaces, but it also helps alleviate climate change effects, pollution, and provides land for urban farming. Now, over 700 organic gardens are utilizing collected rainwater and composted materials to produce soil.
With nearly 50% of the total area covered in trees and no other European city to match the high density of green space, Vienna confirmed to be one of the greenest cities in the world. Vienna is globally acknowledged for a city of conservation and an eco-standard setting leader in issues regarding wastewater management, air, and water supply. The eastern european city makes use of renewable energy, sustainable public transportation, a healthy recycling infrastructure, water consumption, air quality, and offers a number of local markets.
Where the vikings once roamed now accommodates the largest percentage of electric vehicles (EV) and alternative fuel vehicles in the world. The bulk of new car sales in Oslo are hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or 100% EV. If driving isn’t your fancy, Oslo contains a vast green public transportation system; trams, electric buses, and ferries that all run on renewable energy. Unique geography of the surrounding country made it possible for Oslo to generate 98% of the city’s electricity from hydropower. A leader in urban sustainability, Oslo is vigorously striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of over 95% by 2030.
Ever since announcing its independence in 1965, Singapore pledged to create a vibrant, lush city, and clean environment. Though most notable for the abundance of greenery throughout the city, Singapore’s water consumption strategy should have other metropolitan areas begging for their superior tactics. “Today, up to 40 percent of Singapore’s water demand is met by a process of purifying treated, used water with advanced membrane technologies and UV disinfection. This process and desalinated water is expected to meet up to 85 percent of Singapore’s water demand by 2060.” Since deeming themselves as global leaders of sustainability, Singapore hosts an assortment of international events promoting environmental sustainability education amongst world leaders while providing informative ways to tackle current issues.
Known for the Opera House and active harbor, Sydney additionally earned the reputation for being another one of the most sustainable cities. Sydney has been executing environmentally responsible adjustments for years – being carbon neutral since 2007, certified in 2011, Sydney became the first government district in Australia to accomplish such a feat. The entirety of the city collects power from renewable energy sources; including three local wind and solar farms.
The Rise of Green Cities
The world’s cities have been opening their eyes to the unavoidable modifications that must be made in order to preserve the population and environment. Significant goals have been set with some districts going above and beyond to meet their objectives before the anticipated completion date, while others lose momentum and fall behind. However, this is not a race. Individual accomplishments push society towards a brighter and more sustainable future.
As I discussed earlier, if we want to see change in our communities or those we travel to, we have to speak up. Our leaders will not feel the need to alter toxic routines we have grown accustomed to unless the public unifies and emphasizes their concerns. Instead of cultural hubs being the epicenter of pollution and climate change, new technology and engineering methods are revamping the infrastructure and the way humans tackle issues. Hopefully, sometime in the near future, we will look back and recognize how innovative of a species we can be.
ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.