The world’s most eco-friendly cities

Read Time:   |  6th November 2019

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Charlotte Willis provides you with a complete guide to ecological living in the world’s most earth-friendly cities.

world's most eco-friendly cities

Don’t talk to me about politics. No, really. If I see one more TV debate, hear one more campaign slogan or read about the latest MP to be named and ‘shamed’ for acts performed in their yesteryear, you’ll catch me boarding the next plane straight out of Brexit-bound Britain to a destination far-flung.

However, before you decide to pack your life into a suitcase and rack up some air miles, as a concerned vegan, it makes sense that you’d want to vet your chosen destination for its ethical and vegan credentials. After all, you’ll be residing there for the foreseeable future.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know pretty much every essential detail about your chosen location too: the number of Happy Cow listings, the rate of recycling within the city of choice, right down to the number of bicycles compared to cars on the roads and how much the average one bedroom apartment might cost you to rent out. That all sounds like somewhat of a headache to calculate. Well, luckily enough, I seem to have more time on my hands lately, so I’ve done all of the hard work for you – thank me later by putting me up!

Copenhagen  Denmark

world's most eco-friendly cities

Key Eco Facts: Copenhagen is surely the ultimate eco-destination for a life on the greener and sustainable side. Copenhagen aspires to be the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025, while Denmark as a whole has been voted one of the happiest countries to live in. When do I move in?

Green Space: There are 2,260 hectares of green space in Copenhagen. These vary from city parks to open areas of public access, with 92 kilometres of coastline. Based on the area and population density of the city, 96% of Copenhageners can reach at least one green area on foot within
15 minutes. The waterways in the city are also pure enough to swim in (the same cannot be said of the Thames river running through London, that’s for sure).

Forward Thinking: More than two-thirds of the city’s hotels boast an eco-certificate, meaning that even your visiting relatives have a low-carbon impact upon the city. Organic food is also considered the norm in Copenhagen, with 24% of all food sold within the city and 88% of all food served in public organisations being certified organic.

Getting Around: In Copenhagen, cycling is the number one choice of transport, with five bikes for every one car on the road in the city. There are also over 100 bike riding centres dotted around the city, a bike-sharing scheme offered by the city itself, and extensive cycling routes to just about every major metropolitan area. Another popular commute option is a collection of solar-powered GoBoats, which can be rented and sailed by anyone!

world's most eco-friendly cities

A Vegan City: With 233 Happy Cow hits, it’s no surprise that Copenhagen is a popular destination for vegans. Copenhagen also has a zero-waste supermarket for a more sustainable grocery shop, with a 3.5k strong vegan community on Facebook.

You Have To See: The stunning University Gardens in Copenhagen is a favourite spot for locals to unwind after another busy day saving the planet.

Average 1 Bed Apartment Rent: £1,000+ pcm for a city-centre location.

Average Flight Price: One-way from £25-£30 flying from London. September is the cheapest month to fly.

Portland  Oregon, USA

world's most eco-friendly cities

Key Eco Facts: Portland is undoubtedly one of the greenest cities in the USA. Portland, on the western coast of the USA, has one of the most eco-minded government policies of all of the states, and is committed to becoming a ‘20 minute city’ – where residents are within 20 minutes of their commute destination. Portland has also completely banned the use of single-use plastic bags (about time).

Green Space: Portland ranks in the top 25 cities in the USA for air quality, and has one of the best water qualities of all major cities in the country, reducing demand upon plastic and single-use water containers and filtration systems. The city also has the greatest area of urban parkland per capita of all the US States.

Forward Thinking: Portland is leading the way in northern America in terms of sustainable city growth, with their own smart growth strategy. This eco-friendly city planning framework favours the development of smaller neighbourhoods with a variety of infrastructure, designated cycle paths and pedestrianised routes. In this way, the government ensures that suburbs become individual communities that are as holistic and self-serving as possible.

world's most eco-friendly cities

Getting Around: Portland boasts 510 kilometres of cycle paths, while the city’s bus network is powered entirely by biofuels. The majority of areas around the central city areas of Portland are also free to travel via bus, rail and street car. For more than just an eco-boost, if you opt to travel to work on foot or via bicycle, you’ll be rewarded by your company, often with purpose built shower blocks for those who opt to break a sweat in the course of the commute.

A Vegan City: Portland has 259 Happy Cow hits, and is well known for its incredible foodie scene. From street food vendors to amazing restaurants and cruelty-free clothing stores, the term ‘vegan’ is commonplace, and you can bet your kale on it that every restaurant in town will be able to provide a brilliant option for you. 

You Have To See: There are so many unique and quirky spots in Portland, you’ll be spoilt for choice. One of my personal favourites is the stunning Cathedral Park, but the Portland Troll Bridge is another must-see!

Average 1 Bed Apartment Price: £1,200 is your average monthly rental amount for an apartment in Portland city.

Average Flight Price: £260 for a one-way ticket from London, the cheapest month to fly being October.

Vancouver  Canada

world's most eco-friendly cities

Key Eco Facts: Out of all major cities in northern America, Vancouver has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, which is partially due to the success of the hydroelectricity that supplies the city with 93% of its electrical requirements. This coastal city of Canada is picturesque, and full of plant-based innovation.

Green Space: If you’re a fan of al-fresco lunches and long walks on a hot weekend in the city, Vancouver is the place to be. Vancouver boasts an impressive array of beautiful parks and outdoor spaces, from a Chinese Garden to a Lighthouse Park, there’s plenty of space waiting for you to discover.

Forward Thinking: Vancouver is keen to encourage recycling and sustainable waste management within the city’s population. Individual homes have a regular composting collection, while methane gas emanating from landfill and the natural warmth accumulating from sewers is collected and used as a fuel to heat homes. Vancouver also invests heavily in the green economy, encouraging locals to buy from Vancouver-based food supplies and investing in green businesses that serve the local community.

Getting Around: People of Vancouver are keen to ditch their cars, with the local government initiating a bike-share scheme and purpose-built cycle lanes. Those that opt to use the city’s car-share programme can benefit from free, dedicated car parking spaces for the Car2Go scheme in city-centre locations.

world's most eco-friendly cities

A Vegan City: Vancouver has a thriving vegan community, which hosted a pop-up vegan community resource centre in October 2018, encouraging the local population to give veganism a try. Vancouver also has 167 Happy Cow hits, a range of vegan clothing and shoe stores, with the city playing host to a vegan festival every year.

You Have To See: Stanley Park plays host to a range of outdoor music events at the Malkin Bowl, which is a fantastic place to meet new people whilst surrounded in nature!

Average 1 Bed Apartment Price: £1,260 pcm is enough to  get you a city-centre one bedroom apartment.

Average Flight Price: From London, you can catch a one-way flight for £250, if you choose to fly in September.


world's most eco-friendly cities

Key Eco Facts: Singapore is Asia’s greenest and most environmentally sustainable city, as well as being breathtakingly beautiful and a hub of excitement. Singapore is famous for its super-efficient water recycling system, hosting an International Water Week in the city every year, which ensures that every drop of water used in the city is accounted for and recycled as much as possible!

Green Space: Singapore has got it all. Open green spaces and parks, yep. Boardwalks and beaches, by the dozen. In fact, Singapore is one of the most ambitious and innovative cities in the world when it comes to tackling the serious issues of urbanisation and the pressures placed upon the environment, being keen and aware to maintain as many green and open areas as possible.

Forward Thinking: Singapore is dedicated to becoming 80% green by 2030. A highlight of the green concept of Singapore is the Building and Construction Authority’s very own zero energy building – a completely off-grid and self-sustaining building, which serves as a model for future offices and housing blocks to be constructed in the city. Solar power is one of the most common green energy initiatives in the city, understandably given the year-round tropical climate. So much so, Singapore is trialling a floating island of solar panels to provide energy for the city.

Getting Around: Singapore has a large number of electronic car initiatives within the city, with the government currently trialling a new electric taxi service around the central business district! Cycle paths are on the up, and are expected to expand to connect all regions of the island.

A Vegan City: The whole island of Singapore boasts an impressive 1,265 Happy Cow Hits, with central Singapore’s metropolitan area having 598 of those hits. Singapore is a diverse city, with plenty of vegan options at restaurants, dedicated eateries and street food outlets too. You’ll be positively spoilt for choice. There are also plenty of nature reserves and gardens to visit, in between all the food, or while enjoying more food (entirely up to you).

You Have To See: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a hidden gem, which will make you believe you have immersed yourself into a tropical rainforest.

Average 1 Bed Apartment Price: A hefty £1,600 per month in a city centre location (start saving up now!)

world's most eco-friendly cities

Average Flight Price: Fly out in March for a one-way ticket costing just £175 from London (more to put towards your rent methinks).

Stockholm, Sweden

world's most eco-friendly cities

Key Eco Facts: Stockholm is home to one of the most well-known eco residencies there is – the development that was ambitiously built upon a former toxic wasteland, Hammarby Sjöstad. This highly sustainable development comprises a range of apartments, built from raw materials, and fuelled by entirely renewable sources. The city aims to be free of fossil fuels by 2040, and is already making use of biofuels generated by sewerage systems. 

Green Space: A third of the total 6,500 square kilometre area of Stockholm is, rather impressively, dedicated to green open space. The city has 12 large parks studded around the city to inject a hefty dose of nature, while every resident is also actively encouraged to set up their own green space – supported by this conscious city’s government. Aside from this, Stockholm focuses on bringing nature back to the urban area by introducing rooftop gardens. A beautiful example of this is the Huddinge area’s rooftop meadow fields, which are dedicated to encouraging butterfly growth and repopulation.

Forward Thinking: Always pioneering innovative design, Stockholm’s central station is equipped with a geothermal system that captures the body heat of the 250,000 strong band of daily commuters to heat water into nearby infrastructure.

world's most eco-friendly cities

Getting Around: Getting from A to B in Stockholm is pretty effortless. You can walk, cycle and even ferry your way about the city with great ease. In fact, 80% of the commuters choose to use public transport to navigate their journey from office to home. There are also dedicated bike lanes, with a city bike rental service, as well as bus lanes aimed at making public transport more appealing.

You Have To See: A rather rare find is Stockholm’s Metro Art Gallery. A section of the public transport network that features an array of artwork – it puts the London Underground to shame!

A Vegan City: Stockholm is an up and coming vegan city, with 202 Happy Cow hits. The city has a range of health food shops, as well as dedicated vegan eateries and cafés dotted around the urban area. There’s also a dedicated vegan shoe and accessories store called Green Laces, which is a must-visit.

Average 1 Bed Apartment Price: A hefty £1,200-1,400 per month for a city-centre dwelling, which falls to around £1,000 when you move slightly outside of the main urban conurbation.

Average Flight Price: Flying out in September, you can get a one-way ticket for around £18, when flying from London.

Written by

Charlotte Willis

Charlotte Willis is an Assistant Psychologist at the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and has a MS degree in Clinical Neuropsychiatry from Kings College London. Charlotte is also a marketer for ethical brands, author of Vegan: Do It! A young person’s guide to living a vegan lifestyle, and a regular contributor to sustainability and plant-based publications.

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