Sustainability is the bedrock of modern civilization. It’s a social goal that cuts across several domains, from the environment to social equity and economic prosperity. This, in turn, determines the quality of life citizens can enjoy amid increasing global scarcity and climate change.

When it comes to shaping our future, cities take the lead. Their sheer size, economic power, and resource consumption management—eco-footprints—make it essential for them to advance this sustainability narrative and set an example for others to follow.

Thankfully, many of these urban hubs are transitioning from consumption and waste generation to a more resource-efficient model of production and recycling to keep up with their green-push vision and growth.

In this guide, we cover some of the top-ranking eco-friendly cities in the U.S. Let’s see what makes them worthy of this praise and how their actions can be replicated in other cities.

San Diego, California

San Diego takes the cake for the greenest city in the U.S., according to a study by WalletHub—and that’s mainly a result of its laser-focus devotion to sustainable waste management. As far back as 2015, the “America’s Finest City” or Daygo as some call it, adopted a zero-waste plan that targeted a landfill diversion of 90% by 2035 and eventually 100% by 2040.

As promised, the city achieved a 71% diversion rate in 2022, the highest on record, and only fell short of its 2023 goal by 4%, as revealed by CalRecycle. Regarding emission reduction, the city outpaced its expectations by reducing GHG emissions by 25% in just 8 years, starting from 2010. Its commitment to natural resource management hasn’t gone unnoticed as investments in low-flow fixtures and water recovery systems are helping it reduce facility freshwater use by 50%.

Breaking down its total score of 71.76 based on certain sustainable criteria, San Diego ranks 2nd in energy sources, 3rd in lifestyle and policy, 4th in environment, and 26th in transportation, making it an ideal destination for not just beachgoers, but also career-driven individuals looking to break into energy, tech, and related sectors.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, also known as the safest city in America, has taken great strides from being 12th in 2019 to clinching the 2nd position in this year’s greenest city ranking, earning a total score of 69.53. The city credits its success to several measures, especially in the transportation and environment sectors, where it ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively, and outperformed even its most immediate competitor—San Diego. More impressive is its farmers’ markets per capita, which outnumber those of other cities.


As per the city’s plans to improve its green energy performance, the Hawaii State Energy Office phased out the use of coal in power generation on September 1, 2022, and transitioned to a renewable portfolio. Today, Honolulu is blazing the trail in solar power, generating 1,133 watts of capacity per person.

Portland, Oregon

Portland’s reputation transcends its rich culture, art, music, food, and Pacific Coast backdrop. It has become synonymous with eco-friendliness, with many of its policies and infrastructure developments serving as a model for urban sustainability worldwide. One of its highly praised initiatives is the large-scale green stormwater infrastructure (GSI)—a system designed to maintain stormwater in a more sustainable and eco-friendly manner by incorporating natural processes and vegetation in place of storm drains and pipes to capture, filter, and absorb rainwater.

There’s a good reason Portland is dubbed “The City of Roses,” and that’s its drive toward eco-beautification, which you’ll notice in its 12,000-plus acres of greenery of pocket parks—not to mention its lush botanical gardens and urban forests. You can’t overlook the high level of biophilic urbanism, where nature and city merge to create an intriguing juxtaposition. Hence, it’s no surprise that the city earns a total score of 68.79.

Washington, DC

Crowned the capital city of America, it’s only fitting that Washington, DC, be a beacon for urban progress—and truly it lives up to the ideal as the greenest in the East. The seat of power leads the conversation and drives its sustainable vision through green building incentives and regulation, which is a good start, considering that Forbes recently revealed that 40% of emissions come from real estate, of which about 70% are produced by building operations.


Most buildings in this city are LEED-Certified—meaning they meet some of the highest standards in energy efficiency and sustainable construction, reducing stress on the environment. In fact, many schools run on net-zero energy as the city strives to maintain a healthy energy balance, which is why it scores an impressive 68.20.

San Francisco, California

Here’s a top forward-thinking city that has always been at the cutting edge of environmental sustainability and is home to more than 800,000 residents, making it the fourth most populous city in the U.S. The city’s environmental performance is nothing short of admirable, considering that in 2007, it pioneered the banning of plastic bags and, over the years, the sale of plastic bottles on city-owned properties.

Moreover, the city is making significant progress in fulfilling the objectives set by its 2021 Climate Action Plan, which is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040. It currently achieves an 80% waste diversion rate, thus scoring 66.65 in total and earning a well-deserved spot among the top greenest cities in the U.S.

How to Contribute to Making Your City More Sustainable

At this point, you may be wondering how you can help improve the sustainability of your city, especially if it isn’t among the top contenders or is just starting out with its green push. Well, here are some simple steps to keep the momentum going:

· Conserve energy.

· Reduce waste generation.

· Plant trees or participate in community beautification.

· Invest in renewable energy.

· Be a voice for the green movement.

· Vote wisely in local elections and advocate for green legislation.

· Support green startups and reward companies that care about their carbon footprints and waste generation.


Sustainability is a multi-layered concept that calls for an all-hands-on-deck approach. It’s not just about going green to meet government regulations or avoid litigation, but more about intentionally caring about our shared environment and its impact on us and our children’s future.

Although this is a collective responsibility, it starts with us as individuals, and every step taken in this direction is a step closer to creating a more eco-friendly world. So, you don’t have to wait for your county or state council or big corporations to set the pace; you can be a catalyst of change.