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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 2022, Arcadis, one of the world’s leading ecodesign and 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. 

The cities included in this report are those that reinvest the profits obtained from social services and policies into environmental actions to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants and that are taking a long path towards sustainability, such is the case of Stockholm, Tokyo and Amsterdam, which make a repeat appearance after the 2018 ranking.

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. 

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 with smart grids throughout the city. 

Tokyo, a smart city


In Tokyo, a city with considerable technological influence worldwide, the concept of smart city has taken a hard turn toward the social dimension in recent years. It recently launched a new national initiative known as Society 5.0, whose objective is a next-generation society based on data, centered around humans, and which uses new technologies such as artificial intelligence and IoT. This vision will ensure that all inhabitants, regardless of their location, and including elderly populations in rural areas, receive the benefits of innovation and technological progress, thus bridging the digital divide in the city.

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. 

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. 

Londres apuesta por el desarrollo sostenible


London's strong point is in the quality of its transportation infrastructure and in the above average percentage of electric vehicles compared to other countries. It also stands out for its use of renewable energy sources in its energy mix. However, since its transportation infrastructure isn't very sustainable, it will need to invest in its energy transition to improve its ranking in these aspects. But what does help it lead this ranking is not only the economic aspect, a very important detail which has a direct impact on sustainability, but also the possibility to offer quality employment, facility in conducting business, and its research and development. The capital and most populated city in the United Kingdom makes up the largest urban area of the country. It is home to more startups and programmers than almost any other city in the world, but struggles to perform in the dimension of social cohesion.

Seattle and sustainability


It became the first US city to achieve carbon emission neutrality in its entire electricity industry. Nearly 84% of its energy comes from hydropower plants in the Skagit and Pend Oreille rivers, 12 times more than the country average. Additionally, since 2021, new commercial and residental construction in the city is required to use all-electric heating, on top of implementing other actions for saving energy, such as in insulation and city lighting. Seattle not only stands out for its sustainability efforts but also for its work in entrepreneurship and innovation, as home to some of the most well-known startups and unicorn companies, like Amazon and Starbucks.

París y la sostenibilidad


The City of Lights is working on its Paris Smart City 2050 architecture project in which is plans to construct bioclimatic and energy-plus buildings that are capable of generating renewable energy in order to stand as a symbol for the fight against climate change. Paris is, along with London, one of the most important economic nuclei in Europe.

San Francisco, committed to sustainable development

San Francisco

San Francisco is remarkable for its strength in promoting sustainable transportation, for having a strong shared bike infrastructure, and for a larger shared ride fleet than other neighboring cities. Also, San Francisco is above average when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions and energy use, but like other US cities, investing in the energy transition would help it improve its share of renewable energy and thus meet its sustainability goals.

Amsterdam, committed to sustainable development


A multifaceted city whose sustainability is known worldwide. Its strong points are in the excellent quality of its transportation infrastructure, which is rather sustainable. While it has an outstanding bicycle infrastructure, its CO2 emissions are average and energy consumption per capita above average, given its scarce percentage of renewable energy, which forms part of its vision in terms of sustainability. It was named the first European smart city in 2009 for its urban design around major natural resources.