The Greenest Big Cities in America

  • America Goes for the Green

    Green living and renewable energy is said to be the future, but for many cities in the U.S., it’s already a reality. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group, released a study last month highlighting the most energy efficient cities across the country. All in all, the study picked 22 cities of varying sizes that deserve to be praised for their smart eco-friendly policies. In order to come up with the list, the researchers incorporated a number of factors including “the city's aggregate kilowatt hour consumption, top three fuel sources, whether it had completed a greenhouse gas inventory, energy conservation programs (including targets for reduced consumption) and processes to measure energy conservation.” The only big indicator missing from the study is transportation use, which according to the researchers, will be featured in a separate study later this year. Nonetheless, taken together, these factors provide an excellent picture of which cities are at the forefront of the new energy movement. Here are the 12 greenest cities with populations of 250,000 or more, in alphabetical order. Photo Credit: kevindooley
    Austin, Texas
  • Austin, Texas

    For Austin, the driving force of energy innovation is simple: It’s too hot not to change. According to the NRDC, the intense Texas sun warms the tops of buildings, raising the city’s temperature and making it that much harder for residents to keep cool. In order to deal with the excess heat in a cost efficient manner, the city launched the Austin Climate Protection Program back in 2007. Among other things, this program offers rebates to buildings that upgrade to reflective roofs, which reduce heat, and it has initiated energy audits for homes and businesses citywide to ensure they are meeting new levels of energy efficiency. The program also goes so far as to protect natural forests around the city, as more trees over time can further reduce the heat. Photo Credit: andinarvaez
  • Boston

    We may think of Chicago as the windy city, but Boston may soon deserve this title. According to the NRDC, Boston has invested more in wind power than any other city in New England, in the hopes of reducing energy costs, and during the past three years, it made a similar push for solar power too. Now, more than one-tenth of Boston’s energy comes from renewable sources, and that number will only grow in the coming years. Photo Credit: Getty
  • Chicago

    Chicago has turned energy efficiency into a kind of citywide competition. As part of the Chicago Climate Action Plan, property owners can take part in what is known as the Green Office Challenge, where they compete to show that their buildings are the most energy efficient. In return, they get a ton of press and praise. In the process, the city gets more buildings to upgrade their energy standards and cut energy costs. It’s essentially a win-win for the city and the residents. Photo Credit: cikaga jamie
    Columbus, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio

    Columbus may be more well known for being the home of the first Wendy’s and White Castle, but during the past five years, this city has become one of the nation’s leading innovators for energy efficiency. According to the NRDC, Columbus has built dozens of new green affordable housing units, introduced a public education program to teach residents about environmentally friendly living, and in the last year, began offering training and millions in loans to city manufacturing plants to help boost their energy efficiency. Photo Credit: kla4067
  • Dallas

    Texas may be the oil capital of the country, but it boats more energy efficient big cities than almost any other state. Dallas, in particular, is a shining light for the movement toward energy efficiency, as nearly half of the city’s energy comes from renewable sources. The city has also begun installing solar panels and other technology into several major buildings, including the City Hall, in order to make them more energy efficient. Photo Credit: pcxHB
    El Paso, Texas
  • El Paso, Texas

    Like Austin, El Paso is subject to intense heat waves year-round, which make it expensive to cool down. But this city uses the sun to its advantage. Since the late 1970s, El Paso has demonstrated an interest in making use of solar power and next year, it is beginning work on a large-scale solar plant to help power the city. Beyond this, dozens of buildings throughout El Paso are being retrofitted in ways big and small in order to make the city more energy efficient.Photo Credit: Paul Garland
    Long Beach, Calif.
  • Long Beach, Calif.

    In Long Beach, solar power is everywhere. The city has installed panels in prominent places like the city convention center as well as in less glamorous spots like dog parks and trash cans. The city also fast-tracks the approval process for solar permits and provides rebates to residents so that they can install these panels cheaper and more quickly. In this way, Long Beach may one day become the first city in the U.S. to truly run on solar. Photo Credit: kevindooley
    New York City
  • New York City

    Just call it the big green apple. New York has worked hard in recent years to ensure that energy consumption does not spiral out of control, even as the population continues to boom. As part of this, the city has offered rebates to residents who buy energy efficient air conditioners and has created a new agency called the Division of Energy Management, which provides conservation guidelines to city buildings and is tasked with significantly reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions going forward. Plus, if you were to factor in transportation use, few cities are as efficient as New York, where the vast majority of residents get around by subway or bus, rather than driving individually from place to place. Photo Credit: Getty
    Oakland, Calif.
  • Oakland, Calif.

    In Oakland, green is big business. This California city has launched a special Green-Collar Jobs Campaign that trains low-income residents in new energy skills in order to provide them with “green pathways out of poverty.” In the process, the city hopes to upgrade its own energy efficiency and make its residents more competitive in the job market. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library
    Portland, Oregon
  • Portland, Oregon

    Portland is taking a number of great steps to make itself more energy efficient. The city plans to retrofit all homes built before this year in order to improve their energy usage by at least 25%, and city officials are currently gearing up to launch a Clean Energy Works program, which will provide loans to hundreds of homes across the city so that residents can begin making energy upgrades themselves. Photo Credit: ~MVI~ (gaga over Mondo Marcos)
    San Francisco
  • San Francisco

    Most cities on this list pursue solar or wind power in the hopes of improving their energy usage, but San Francisco is taking a slightly different approach. This city is currently exploring the option of “ocean power,” which uses the power of waves and currents to generate energy. Photo Credit: worldsurfer
  • Seattle

    In Seattle, 5% of their energy comes from natural sources like wind power. If that’s not enough to put it on this list, several programs in this city are partnering to provide the manpower and funding to upgrade buildings across the city to improve their energy usage. In the process, these programs are expected to hire an extra 2,000 workers to get the job done. So not only is Portland cutting energy costs and greenhouse gases, but it's also helping the employment situation in the city. Who said going green has to be hard? Photo Credit: dhrerra_96
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