Innovations in technology and environmental friendliness are not mutually exclusive — in fact, these days, the smarter a city is, the more eco-friendly it can (and should) be. Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22, and since we're always talking about the most well-connected smart cities, we thought we'd share a list of cities that are doing great things for the planet too.
These aren't in any particular order, as they make various rankings every year on different lists by many organizations. There are some usual suspects, but hopefully, some cities that surprise you as well. All 10 are notable for their recycling and composting programs, bike friendliness, sustainable construction, cleantech advancements, and energy conservation.
Several Scandinavian cities consistently rank as the greenest in the world, and one of them is Oslo, the most populous city in Norway. For many years, sustainable environmental practices have been part of this city's plan. The government has a committee focused specifically on strategies for sustainable development, and aggressively protects wild, natural areas from development, which reduces its carbon footprint.
Stockholm is one of the cleanest cities in the world and has a lot of environmental planning initiatives. The city has a goal to be free of fossil fuels by 2050. According to research from HouseTrip, 93% of residents walk, bike, or take public transportation to work.
Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, with a great infrastructure built for bike routes. Amsterdam is also one of the cities that conserves the most water, according to HouseTrip research. The city also has an array of eco-friendly hotels. In 2014, Cisco signed an agreement with Amsterdam to make it a green and hyper-connected place, the "Internet of Everything" city and one of Cisco's showcase metropolises.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver is known as one of the greenest cities in North America, and is definitely the most eco-friendly in Canada. The government enacted a Greenest City 2020 Action Plan several years ago, and though many people drive, it has plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 33% by 2020, and is a world leader in its use of hydropower.
On the South American Siemens Index of green cities, this is the only South American city that ranks above average in eco-friendly rankings. Curitiba has long had a rapid-transit bus system and great recycling program, and plans to build a better bus system and more bike routes. Compared to other cities in the region, it's faring pretty well for its carbon footprint.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, Africa's second largest city, is making some great progress environmentally. About five years ago, the country built its first wind farm, and has a goal of generating 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It's also very bike-friendly and has a lot of environmental initiatives in the communities.
Copenhagen consistently ranks as Europe's greenest city, with most residents living near and using public transportation, and half of them riding a bicycle for their commutes. Though it's large in size, this makes the city's carbon footprint relatively small. Citizens also compost and recycle, and work hard to conserve energy. Copenhagen has a plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.
San Francisco, California
Of course, San Francisco is one of the greenest cities in North America, with a 77% recycling rate and wide city regulations on recycling and composting. The city is extremely bike-friendly and is constantly ranked as one of the best cities for organic, sustainable food. The Bay Area is also the headquarters of many environmental and cleantech startups, an area of technology which is growing rapidly.
Minneapolis has been on several green city lists throughout the past few years. The city has a program called Minnesota GreenStep Cities, which enacts sustainable practices and programs across the state. And with 92 miles of on-street bikeways and 85 miles of off-street paths, good air quality, and a nice park system, Minneapolis is both clean and eco-friendly and becoming more known for its energy conservation every year.
The city of Freiburg, Germany, which is on the edge of Black Forest close to Switzerland and France, has been on lists for green cities since 2008. Germany is a world leader in renewable energy, especially solar. Freiburg takes great measures to reduce energy consumption, particularly with residential homes. Apparently, home builders plan to use almost no energy and less than 40 gallons of oil to heat homes.
Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.