American Cities: Paving the Way to Sustainable Development

By Intel Free Press [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

(By Anne Staley) In almost every walk of life, there are those who lead and those who follow. The case is no different when it comes to ‘environmental sustainability’. While it is the endeavor of every town and city in the US to live by the principles of sustainability (or at least that’s the assumption), clear leaders have emerged over the last few years.

Be it their recycling rate, innovative environmental initiatives, community involvement, or sheer awareness levels – some American cities are at the forefront of sustainability, setting an example for others around the country (and the world, too).

Here’s looking at a few American cities that are leading the pack:

1. San Francisco: With a recycling rate of 80 percent (the highest in the US), San Francisco is the reigning queen of sustainability. But that’s not the only thing that sets this city apart. The fact that this was the first city to ban the use of disposable plastic bags, or that it has made recycling and composting mandatory for its residents, or that it has not shied away from introducing unpopular measures like fines for tossing compostable waste into regular trash, also places the city heads and shoulders above the rest. In addition to this, there are numerous innovative environmental awareness drives in the city (like the one jointly organized by the city’s Department of Environment and the Dopper Foundation, in which a huge 14-foot wave was created from 6,000 single-use plastic water bottles, supplied by global metal recycler Sims Metal Management, to raise awareness about the negative impact of bottled water).

By Intel Free Press [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Los Angeles: The city of angels, as it is known, is a close second with a recycling or landfill diversion rate of 76.4 percent. The city has a comprehensive four-bin collection system comprising of blue bins (meant for recyclables), green bins (for tree and yard trimmings), black bins (for residual waste), and brown bins (for horse manure). LA also has one of the most thriving green economies in the country.

According to statistics, LA has more green jobs than any other region in the country; it is the largest market for solar and electric vehicles; and is the first major American city to take more than 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

3. San Jose: San Jose’s recycling rate, though not as impressive as that of San Francisco, is a respectable 71 percent. The residents of the city have time and again been lauded for their support to its environmental initiatives – from curbside recycling to water conservation and wastewater reuse to protecting San Jose’s foothills and urban growth boundary aimed at discouraging urban sprawl. But that’s not all. The city has adopted a ‘Green Vision’ with a goal to leverage its status as the capital of the Silicon Valley to create 25,000 clean tech jobs by 2022. San Jose’s Green Vision also includes the following goals:

  • Reducing the per capita energy usage by 50 percent
  • Receiving 100 percent of its electrical power from clean renewable resources
  • Building or retrofit 50 million square feet of green buildings
  • Diverting 100 percent of waste from landfills

4. Sacramento: In its 2013 Economic Development Strategy, the City of Sacramento identified approximately 200 clean technology and energy establishments supporting over 3,000 jobs and $846 million in annual sales. The development of this cluster has been largely possible due to the presence of strong regional initiatives. On the recycling and solid waste collection front, the city has in place some remarkable measures like a $500 – $1,000 cash reward for reporting illegal dumping, door-to-door collection of household batteries and florescent lamps, street sweeping service, etc.

5. Redwood City: Recycling in Redwood City – the county seat of San Mateo County – consists of some of the most innovative programs seen in the country. For example, residents of the city can recycle their cooking oil and grease, which is turned into biodiesel. Another example is the Recycle Works program that offers free courses on resource conservation to residents, employees, and business owners. The city is also taking giant strides towards sustainability by producing renewable energy, constructing green buildings, making easy-to-recycle products, offering rebates for energy-efficient choices, allowing sustainable agriculture to flourish for providing fresh food to locals, and preserving open spaces and habitat for wildlife.

Sustainability goes beyond recycling. It goes beyond driving electric vehicles or using solar panels to heat water. It goes beyond ‘zero waste’. Sustainability is the incorporation of all these things in our lives and achieving progress in a way that does not compromise with the needs of our future generations. These five cities have taken the lead in paving the way for exactly that kind of development.

Image: Recycling stations at Moscone Center help the convention facility achieve 75 percent waste diversion as mandated by the city of San Francisco. By Intel Free Press [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

About Contributing

Once upon a time, environmentalists lived in the forests, while the many of the rest of us moved the suburbs to be near the forests. Today we’re on our way back. Living near nature is an attractive notion, but many who tried it found nature soon vanished and they were left isolated. For both environmental and social reasons, living in the suburbs or the forest is not sustainable. Today we know cities are good for people and for forests. We know that the less land each of us occupies, the more space there will be for nature. In a city, we have a smaller footprint. Living in a city isn’t only good for the planet, it’s good for all of us. When home, work, shopping end entertainment are close, it encourages walking and promotes the active lifestyle that keeps us healthy. The New Colonist is about moving in from the suburbs, moving into and reclaiming towns and cities that have been depopulated, and building more housing in healthy cities. It’s about building smarter and closer-in new developments; building transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in new communities, and bringing more transportation options to communities where a car is presently the only option. Sustainable city living–chronicling the return from the suburban diaspora–is the focus of …Move In. City Life is good for you. It’s good for the your health. It’s good for the planet. Eric Miller Richard Risemberg