Cities generate 80% of gross domestic product, they are the engines of economic growth and have lifted millions out of poverty. As rural to urban migration is accelerating, sustainable cities are emerging to achieve idyllic urban settings. Here are the top five most sustainable cities in the world right now. 

Technology is growing at a rapid pace every day. As each new technology brings with it an immense pool of possibilities, governments around the world are continuously investing in smart city technologies and incorporating them into their policy-making decisions and the developments of the cities they govern. 

By leveraging connected technology, most sustainable cities are able to improve their operations and people’s lives in many different ways such as by enabling data-driven decision-making powered by “big data”, increasing civic engagement through enhanced transparency, reducing environmental footprint as a result of the development of energy-efficient buildings and investment in renewable energies, and improving the transport network. 

UK-based company Uswitch recently came up with a list of the most sustainable cities in the world, ranking them with a score based on energy, transport infrastructure, affordability, pollution, air quality, CO2 emissions, and percentage of green space. The scores are out of 600 (600 being the best). To fully understand how technology can be beneficial, we can examine how the top smart cities in the world are making use of the latest technologies in the most practical ways to support their sustainability goals. 

1. Wellington, New Zealand

Pollution from our everyday lifestyle is one of the most common contributors to climate change. In Wellington, however, that does not seem to be the case. The city scores a pollution index of 13.66, meaning for every 100 air particles, only 13.66 are polluted. Wellington’s air is clean for several reasons. For starters, the population of just 213,000 living there are relatively sparse compared to other regions. Unlike countries filled with large factories, Wellington’s main industries are horticulture, agriculture, fishing, and tourism. 

It is home to organisations advancing in circular economic agendas such as Kaibosh, Powershop, Flick, and Whare Hauora, with the city regularly funding startups to assist finding new solutions to address social issues.

Wellington has adopted circular economy principles in its design of smart city infrastructure, allowing countless components to be reused, remanufactured, and replaced in ways that support continued improvement. These infrastructures are also complementing projects that help conserve the environment, such as Predator Free Wellington, which is a strategy eradicating pests from the city in order for bird life to thrive. The number of birds is counted by sensors with TensorFlow capabilities. 

2. Zurich, Switzerland

Although Zurich is known for its financial powers, it is also one of the leading smart cities when it comes to sustainability. The city’s smart initiatives mainly focus on education, efficient public transport, waste-reduction goals, and the use of renewable energies. 

In a place where sustainable mobility and public transport are all heavily promoted, Zurich is also known as “a biker’s haven”. Similar to Copenhagen, there are bikes offered all over the city free of charge. Zurich has been building dedicated cycling tracks and car-free roads, some of which already cover almost 20,000 km of Swiss soil and are perfectly coordinated with public transportation to ensure seamless transport. 

The construction of new housing and public buildings needs to comply with strict sustainable-building principles, with businesses and industries being held accountable for their energy consumption and waste-reduction goals. As of today, 70% of hotels in the city are sustainable certified. 

Zurich is able to produce 80% of its electricity with renewable energy sources. Over 40% of its waste gets recycled. 94% of old glass and 81% of polyethylene terephthalate containers arrive at special collection points instead of ending up in household bins. 

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most sustainable cities, copenhillSkiing in Copenhill. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

3. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen has multiple sustainability initiatives in place to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025. Buses are making the transition from diesel to electric, while more roads are devoted to cycling. People are getting more accustomed to cycling than driving to get around, with only 29% of households owning a car

Over two-thirds of the city’s hotels are eco-certified and provide bicycles for rentals. Each hotel has an environmental manager to ensure industry-leading sustainability standards. 

A quarter of the city’s total food sale is made up of organic produce. Even fast food options such pizzas, hot dogs, burgers, and craft beers are produced with organic ingredients here. 

One of Copenhagen’s significant landmarks, Copenhill, is an incredibly efficient energy plant that turns waste into energy that helps power houses and buildings. The facility is also covered by a year-round artificial snow slope – one of the longest in the world – for skiing and snowboarding, 

4. Madrid, Spain

Madrid’s well-publicised move to ban polluting vehicles in the urban centre is considered one of the most significant actions taken by a European city to improve air quality.

In addressing the impending threats of climate change, the city’s municipal government introduced the “Strategic Plan of Green Areas, Trees and Biodiversity of the City of Madrid”. It believes that green infrastructure investments bring benefits by expanding and restoring gardens and parks, improving diversity, and minimising air pollution through improved traffic management. Madrid is currently building a green wall around the city, as well as a 75-kilometre forest with nearly half a million new trees. 

To meet the city’s nitrogen reduction goals this year, diesel cars have been completely banned from the city centre. This would also make the city significantly more pedestrian-friendly. While some plans to turn car lanes into pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes are in motion, the city is also introducing more green transport options and installing more docking stations for bicycles, all so that people are encouraged to leave their cars at home. If residents do not fancy riding a bike, they can still hop on Madrid’s 78 electric-powered buses.

5. Canberra, Australia

Whether it is about renewable energies, pollution levels, traffic management, affordability of property, percentage of green space, or CO2 emissions, Canberra takes the top spot among the most sustainable cities around the world.  According to Uswitch, Canberra is the most sustainable city in the world due to its reliance on renewable energy and large amounts of green space. What’s more,  87% of Canberra’s transport infrastructure is greenThe country’s capital relies heavily on the use of solar power and nearby wind farms, while having ensured that 94% of its residents have access to the internet to make it a connected city. 

Through the 2020-21 budget, the government offered a number of initiatives to support Canberra residents through the transitions. For example, zero-interest loans will be available for eligible households to finance a range of products that would reduce household emissions such as installing solar panels on rooftops, household battery storage, and efficient electric appliances. To further encourage green transport, zero-emission vehicles acquired between 24 May 2021 and 30 June 2024 will receive two years of free registration.

Canberra is the first city outside of Europe to be powered by 100% renewable energy. The territory government also aims to have a net-zero carbon emission by 2045.  

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