The Most Environmentally Friendly Cities in the U.S.

Across the country, citizens are making more concentrated efforts to make their lifestyles more environmentally friendly.

In fact, many of us take part in environmentally friendly activities every day, whether we know it or not: getting rid of junk mail, washing clothes in cold water, and choosing reusable water bottles or straws all play a role in helping the environment. 

At HWH Environmental, we do our part by helping companies nationwide dispose of their hazardous waste properly, simultaneously protecting the earth and the people living on it.

In doing so, we began to wonder: Which cities are the most environmentally friendly? We analyzed things like walkability, parkland, commute, and waste generated per capita in the 50 largest cities in the country to find out.

The greenest cities in America

Landing in the coveted number-one spot thanks to its high rankings across the board is Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Minneapolis is often lauded for being cyclist-friendly, but it’s just as friendly to walkers with a Walk Score of 70.5 (#11). There’s plenty of green space to wander, too: the city is home to 12 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents (#28), and 98% live within walking distance of a park (#6).

But walkability doesn’t negate the need for a car, which we took into consideration as well. More than 4 in 5 households have at least one car (#13), but the residents make up for this, with 1 in 5 choosing to carpool or take public transportation to work (#12). 

As experts in waste, we had to consider the amount of new landfill waste per capita per year. In Minneapolis, that number is just over 0.5 tons. This may seem like an alarming number, but it is actually the lowest in the country.

Thanks to its consistently high rankings, Boston took the number two spot. 

Boston’s rankings were exceptionally high when it came to being outside: Walkability and residents within walking distance of a park.

Boston is the third most walkable city in the country, with a Walk Score of 82. Not only has Cambridge been named one of the best cities for walking to work, but the city also boasts the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail. Stretching from Boston Common to Charlestown, the walk is a must-see for residents and tourists alike.

An overwhelming majority of Boston residents live within walking distance (one-half mile) of a park. When you visit, be sure to check out the 44-acre Boston Common, the oldest public park in the country.

Boston led the way in public transportation, building the first subway in 1897. Over a century later, one-third of residents continue to rely on public transit for their work commute. In fact, just 3 in 5 households have one or more cars – one of the lowest rates in the nation.

Unfortunately, its low parkland acreage (7.4 acres per 1,000 residents) and its high commute time (31 minutes) impacted its ranking.

Coming in as the third most environmentally friendly city in America is New York

Unsurprisingly, it ranked first in walkability, with a Walk Score of 88.3. In fact, it is one of just two cities designated as a Platinum-level Walk Friendly Community thanks to initiatives such as city-wide Pedestrian Safety Action Plans, the NYC Plaza Program, and Safe Routes to School

It doesn’t hurt that the city’s 12,750 miles of sidewalks wind their way through landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge, High Line, and Central Park, either.

In addition, the city ranked first for the number of people who commute by carpool or public transit. That’s no surprise, given that the New York City subway system is the stuff of legend: With over 470 operating stations, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) the largest single rapid transit system in the world. 

Unfortunately, the MTA doesn’t help to shorten residents’ commutes. At 42 minutes one way, New York’s commute time is the longest in the country. 

Despite excellent ratings in walkability, carpooling, and low car ownership rates, the city’s high commute time and low amount of parkland per 1,000 residents brought its overall rank down.

The least environmentally friendly cities in America

While many cities are lending themselves to green efforts, others are not. 

The least environmentally friendly city in America is Indianapolis, Indiana. In four of the seven categories we considered, Indianapolis was in the bottom five, including walkability (#46) and waste per capita per year (#49). Sorely missing in the city is access to parkland: Indianapolis ranks last in both parkland per 1,000 residents and number of residents within walking distance of a park.

Following closely behind are Arlington, Fort Worth, Mesa, and Charlotte.

The 25 least environmentally friendly cities in America:

  1. Indianapolis
  2. Arlington
  3. Fort Worth
  4. Mesa
  5. Charlotte
  6. Raleigh
  7. Colorado Springs
  8. Virginia Beach
  9. Louisville/Jefferson County
  10. Nashville-Davidson 
  11. Columbus
  12. Jacksonville
  13. Oklahoma City
  14. Memphis
  15. San Jose
  16. Long Beach
  17. Austin
  18. San Antonio
  19. Phoenix
  20. Houston 
  21. Sacramento
  22. Atlanta
  23. Las Vegas
  24. El Paso
  25. Denver

Methodology

Tons of new landfill waste per capita per year: Data collected from BigRentz Equipment Rental’s 2019 “American Wasteland: Which States Produce the Most Trash?” study. The data is collected on a state level, so each city in a state received the same number.

Households with at least one car, commute time, and means of transportation to work: Data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, the most recent data available.  

Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents and percentage of residents within walking distance of a park: Data collected from The Trust for Public Land’s 2020 City Park Facts, the most recent data available.

Walk Score: Data collected from Walk Score.

To rank all 50 cities from most to least environmentally friendly, we found each city’s average ranking across all seven metrics. 

Fair use: Feel free to use this data and research with proper attribution linking to this study. When you do, please give credit and link to https://www.hwhenvironmental.com/. For any questions, please contact kylie@theloopcommunications.net.

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