So just how green is Toronto? We’d say we’re trying, but our efforts are still a work in progress. And how do we stack up to other cities of the world? Well, last year the inaugural Sustainable Cities Index was launched. It’s compiled by the Center for Economics and Business Research, which measures the social (people), environmental (planet), and economic (profit) of 100 of the world’s cities.

At The Plant, we’re always interested in data that helps cities move in a “greener” direction. The report captures various ‘green’ factors like energy consumption, green space, pollution, and greenhouse emissions. What are the top green cities in the world? What are the worst? How did Toronto and Canada fair?

Let’s Explore.


Europe is home to the greenest cities in the world

Europe dominates the report with their environmental initiative. Aside from Wellington, New Zealand, 9 of the top 10 greenest cities are European. The report crowns Switzerland as the “greenest country on the planet” with Zurich and Geneva ranking first and third on the Planet list. Zurich, in particular, has a lot to be proud of, becoming leaders in sustainability through heavy investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and having the long-term goal of becoming a 2000-watt society by 2050.

Stockholm, Sweden ranked second, with German cities Frankfurt and Hamburg also making the top ten because of their waste management, high areas of green space, and low levels of air pollution.



China and the Middle East have a ways to go

Fast growing, emerging cities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East generally ranked poorly. Not surprisingly, China ranked as one of the least environmentally friendly nations on the planet, with 4 cities ranked in the bottom 10. Wuhan and Beijing ranked second and fourth worst, with Chengdu and Shanghai rounding out the bottom 10. Weak environmental regulation, poor waste management and a lack of green space were a common theme across the Chinese cities.

Middle Eastern cities also fared poorly with 4 cities in the bottom 10. Doha, Dubai, Abu-Dhabi, and Cairo’s high levels of air pollution, energy consumption and reliance fossil fuel resources greatly affected their rankings.


Canada is green, but can do better

While no Canadian city breaks into the top 10, 3 rank in the top 30. Vancouver took the top spot for North America at 18th. Vancouver is frequently referred to as Canada’s greenest city, and the city is working to become even greener by 2020. This plan involves taking a “greener” approach to a majority of city services, the most recent being the implementation of a bike share program last year.

Toronto has a strong showing in this reporting, ranking as the third most environmental city in North America at 28th, right behind Montreal at 27th. This ranking can be attributed to Toronto’s reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 24% since 1990 and completely eliminating coal burning in 2014. Toronto will have to be diligent in their sustainable practices as the city continues to grow – the GTA is projected to increase by over 2.8 million (42.9 percent) by 2041. Wow.

The majority of North American cities fared best under the Profit rankings of the report, yet under the Planet category, U.S. cities fared poorly because of high emission rates, energy use, and little green space. New York ranked best for the U.S. at 33.


Overall, the report encourages cities “to put people at the heart of their sustainability plans and use the Index to help them to compare and learn from similar cities across the world.” They note that mature cities like Zurich and Stockholm achieve the best balance, but cannot rely on historic investment. Ultimately, there is no utopia when it comes to sustainability, but we can learn from each other and constantly improve to make a greener world.

The full report can be read here.