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Cities around the world are growing at a rapid pace. Since 2007, more than half of the world's population lives in cities and 70 out of every 100 people are expected to live in urban centers in the near future. Metropolitan areas have the potential to mark a new era of development, but the challenge for these cities of the future is to do so in a sustainable way, promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all, maintaining environmental quality, and preserving social balance in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

What is a sustainable city?

Sustainable cities are cities that reduce the environmental footprint of their activities and promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, in line with their geographic, social, economic, and cultural characteristics.

Among their goals is the care for the environment and the well-being of their inhabitants by promoting sustainable mobility, creating green spaces, reducing greenhouse gases, using renewable energy, and driving the circular economy

Climate change is a global phenomenon that is closely related to the model of cities we'll build for the future. The concentration of people and economic activities has enormous advantages, but if sustainability and resilience criteria are not applied, it can lead to environments where the quality of life of citizens is affected. In this regard, the UN notes that cities, despite occupying only 3% of the Earth’s surface, account on average for 70% of global energy consumption and are responsible for emitting 75% of carbon emissions. 

The most sustainable cities in the world: Ten examples to follow

Among them are the 10 most important sustainable cities in the world for their ability to combine sustainability and growth. 

Throughout the planet, we can find examples of sustainable cities. Smart cities that are committed to efficient technologies that allow them to become eco-cities that respect the environment and people. In 2018, Arcadis, one of the world’s leading natural and built heritage design and consulting firms, conducted a study to assess which cities are the most sustainable in the world. 

There are several metrics it was based on, but all of them converge in three basic pillars closely aligned with the UN SDGs: social, environmental, and economic. From there, a total of one hundred cities emerged, each in its own way marking the way forward for green cities. 

Stockholm sustainable city


Sweden’s capital and most populous city is one of the world’s benchmarks in urban sustainability in all aspects, which led it to be recognized in 2010 as the Green Capital of Europe and to receive the smart city award in 2019 for its strategy to offer a better quality of life to its residents through innovation and connectivity. 

Frankfurt and sustainability


The German city has combined economic development with environmental management, investment in sustainable infrastructure, low emissions, and good air quality. The metropolis has made an effort over the past ten years to improve its CO2 emissions and raise public awareness of global warming, in terms of efficient energy use and sustainable mobility. 

Zurich, capital of sustainable development


Zurich tops the list of sustainable cities today. Switzerland’s economic and financial powerhouse signed The Great Compromise in 1990, which were several mobility commitments that limited the number of cars and earmarked major investment for cycling infrastructure and improved public transportation. 

Vienna and sustainability


The Danube metropolis is notable for its green spaces and the quality of life of its inhabitants. The key lies in its cleanliness, safety, and the high efficiency of its transportation system. In fact, the Austrian capital boasts one of the best and most modern public transportation networks in the world.

Copenhagen, green city


The Danish city aims to become the first world capital with a zero carbon footprint by 2025. The ambitious plan proposes a series of specific targets and initiatives within four well-defined areas: energy consumption, energy production, green mobility, and city management. 

Oslo and sustainable development


The Norwegian capital has been working for years on restructuring its urban fabric, always with the aim of creating a city that is environmentally friendly, sustainable, innovative, and culturally active. Transportation is one of Oslo’s main tools for reducing CO2 emissions. The city is considered the world capital of electric vehicles, and its public transportation runs on biogas generated from the city’s own organic waste. 

Hamburg, ecological city


Located in the middle of the Elbe River estuary, Hamburg, a metropolis of nearly two million inhabitants, has become a model of sustainability thanks to its ambitious HafenCity program. This urban planning scheme transformed old industrial areas into modern neighborhoods crisscrossed by canals. When the program is completed by around 2030, the city will have reclaimed an area equivalent to 40% of the city’s downtown.

Berlin, one of the most sustainable cities


With a young population and a historic preference for public transportation over cars, sustainability is part of Berlin's DNA. Since 1990, the German capital has reduced its CO2 emissions by one-third and aims to be climate neutral by 2050. Its commitment to sustainable development is seen in the more than 2,500 green spaces, hundreds of bike paths, and incentives to boost the circular economy. 

Munich is committed to sustainable development


Sustainability in this city has evolved hand in hand with renewable energy. In 2014, Munich’s green energy covered around 3% of its total demand, but the wind projects they launched have enabled 80% of the energy consumed to come from renewable sources in 2015. Moreover, the capital of the state of Bavaria plans to be a city supplied 100% by renewable energy by 2050. 

The Montreal biosphere


Montreal has presented an ambitious climate plan for 2020-2030. This program comprises 46 actions, 16 of which are key proposals, grouped into five areas of intervention targeting public awareness, urban planning and development, buildings, exemplarity of the city, and governance. Among the climate challenges are a 55% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 and carbon neutrality for its operations by 2040.