Urban Transformation

These are the world’s most sustainable cities

Gunnar Jauch blows big soap bubbles during sunny autumn weather at a square in front of the opera house in Zurich October 29, 2014.  REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Joe Myers
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Cities and Urbanization

What does it mean to be a 'sustainable city', and which cities around the world are best at it? A new index sets out to find the most successful from a list of 100 cities.

The ranking from Arcadis, a design and consultancy firm, and the Centre for Economic and Business Research, assesses the sustainability of cities based on three dimensions. The ranking also highlights the pressure cities are under – from population growth to natural disasters.

“Balancing the immediate needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow is at the heart of being a sustainable city,” the authors write.



How do you measure sustainability?

The index uses ‘three pillars of sustainability’ to rank 100 global cities. You can see the full ranking here.

 The three pillars of sustainability
Image: Sustainable Cities Index

People (social): The people pillar looks at quality of life, assessing areas such as health, education and work-life balance.

Planet (environmental): This pillar examines areas including energy consumption, renewable energy share, and green spaces.

Profit (economic): The economic pillar looks at environment and economic health of the city. Sub-pillars include ease of doing business, GDP per capita and connectivity.

The most sustainable cities

 These are the world's most sustainable cities

The Swiss city of Zurich tops the ranking. It tops the environmental dimension, and is 5th in the economic pillar, but scores less well in the social dimension. The report highlights affordability and work-life balance as the main reasons for this.

Singapore, the city-state, takes second place, while Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, completes the top three.

The top 10 is dominated by European nations, with Singapore and Seoul the only cities to break the monopoly. German cities feature highly, with Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich all making the top 10.

The report highlights this geographical bias and the authors suggest that “comparing cities with their geographical peers or with similar sustainability challenges” offers a better comparison.

However, the ranking offers cities the opportunity to learn from those higher up.

It’s difficult to balance all three pillars

The report emphasises that no city effectively balances all three pillars.

Many do well in two, but very few do well in all three, say the authors. This indicates “the challenge that cities have in balancing all three needs effectively to ensure long-term sustainability.”

Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum’s ‘Inspiring Future Cities & Urban Services’ report highlights the challenge posed by urbanization around the world. The report suggests that current patterns are currently unsustainable.

However, the report offers solutions, arguing that urbanization, when properly managed, can be a powerful transformative process.

 Sustainable Development Goal 11
Image: Global Goals

With the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 also focusing on sustainable cities and communities, sustainability is a hot topic for cities across the globe.

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Related topics:
Urban TransformationSustainable DevelopmentStakeholder Capitalism
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