G+ YouTube Pinterest Instagram
The Gap Year Blog

Top 5 Most Sustainable Cities

13 Nov 2017 11:05 AM

Cities have always been respected for their attractive skylines, abundant history and significant economic contribution. It is only recently that sustainability has joined this list, proving that cities can drop their high-carbon status and adopt green initiatives. The Arcadis Sustainability Cities Index describes sustainability as “balancing the immediate needs of today without compromising the demands of tomorrow.” This is essentially something all cities should consider. Here are the top five that have already achieved this.

Zurich, Switzerland

Described by Lonely Planet as a country that ‘Pops open champagne and recycles the bottle’; Zurich really is the top-dog for sustainability! It leads in many dimensions such as energy efficiency and renewable transport systems. Due to Switzerland’s large snow cover and annual rainfall, it is a perfect contender for hydropower energy. In fact 50% of Switzerland’s electricity is powered through this source. The high quality transport system is at a lower cost than any other city, with small infrastructure and subsequent preservation of urban space. The implemented light electronic railway system is favoured for its ability to transform a gas guzzling city to a green city. Forget the underground and buses, London definitely needs this!

Flickr | Jaeschol


When it comes to urban sustainability, Singapore has without a doubt got the fundamentals right. The city models a green city in 3 key ways:  Water management, Eco-friendly transportation and green architecture. Although a tiny country, Singapore is a model city for water management due to their own rainwater catchment systems and desalination of seawater for reuse. The city has merely reached the goal of becoming self-sufficient. In statistical terms, 70% of water is from recycling of rainwater and 30% from desalinisation of seawater. Like Zurich, Singapore has implemented a renewable transport system. If you have ever seen a photo of Singapore, you would have noticed the amount of trees and vegetation dotted around the city. In fact 30% of the city is covered by vegetation, including many parks such as the Botanic Gardens and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. No wonder it is nicknamed “a city in a garden”.

Flickr | Alex DROP


In 2010, Stockholm was the European green capital, overtaken by Zurich in 2014. Sustainability efforts focus on the reduction of fossil fuels. Stockholm-Arlanda Airport is now the world’s leading sustainable airport and successfully climate-neutral. This is great news for climate change mitigation. A lot of public transportation is eco-friendly; 50% of taxis are running on biofuel and have been fossil-free since 2010. There is now effort to make all transportation completely fossil-free by 2040. By the sounds of it, they are already nearly there!

Flickr | Yanfuano

Vienna, Austria

Vienna definitely stands out for its comprehensive efforts on climate mitigation and environmental preservation.  Although we have already seen from the other three cities that efficient public transport is the key agent for sustainable transformation, it has been the most successful in Vienna. The city has changed land-use policies, making car ownership more expensive and less convenient, giving people no option but to use public transport, cycle or work. The coexistence of nature and a built environment really is unique here. Green spaces take up 50% of Vienna, the highest percentage of any city in the world; this includes Vienna Woods, Europe’s largest deciduous forest.

Flickr | Nigel Nudds Photography

London, United Kingdom

With the amount of congestion from taxis, Ubers and buses in central London, who would have thought it was the fifth most sustainable city! Fortunately the 3,000 parks and green spaces counteract the severe pollution levels. London is potentially undergoing an energy transition. Commercial buildings are becoming energy efficient, essentially transforming to zero carbon infrastructures. They utilise solar power, low energy lighting and green roofs.  London has the capability of reaching cities such as Zurich and Singapore if they adjust their public transport system to be renewable energy based. Having said that, London won’t be the same without red busses and underground!

Flickr | Rene

These five cities are only really a taster of what’s to come in terms of sustainability around the world. It really is amazing how efficient and green many cities have become, helping mitigate issues such as climate change. There is so much contrast to let’s say… 50 years ago, so can you imagine what cities will look like 50 years from now?

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

By Sophia-Harri Nicholaou - Online Journalism Intern