The U.S.’s most energy-efficient cities are also its richest, as investments in an urban area’s health appear to make a positive impact on its wealth.
Boston was the most energy-efficient U.S. city last year, according to the 2019 Clean Energy Scorecard, released by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy this month. Boston was followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington and New York. The six cities are among the country’s seven richest metropolitan areas, U.S. Census Bureau data show.
ACEEE scored the cities on five policy areas — building energy, transportation, water and utilities, local government operations, and community-wide initiatives — putting emphasis on where they deliver results and how they serve all residents.
“Cities at the top of the list have shown leadership for a long time,” David Ribeiro, senior research manager at ACEEE and lead author of the scorecard, told Karma. “Former Boston Mayor Menino started making the environment a priority last decade. The investment has accrued for 20 years, which is an advantage for the city.”
Boston was one of the first cities in the U.S. to wake up to the risk posed by climate change and in 2007, then-Mayor Tom Menino directed each city department to assess their risks from a changing climate. The result was the report “Climate Ready Boston — Municipal Vulnerability to Climate Change,” which projected how the city would be affected by climate change’s major hazards: extreme heat, stormwater flooding, and coastal and riverine flooding.
Adapting to climate change offered Boston opportunities to spur job creation and develop expertise for long-term growth, according to the final version of the city’s report.
U.S. cities are on the whole boosting renewable energy and energy efficiency, with more than 200 actions taken by 75 cities, according to the report. ACEEE said that 48 cities have set goals to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, but only 11 of those are on track to meeting their objectives.
Commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing efficiency offer a strategy for promoting economic growth, while benefiting the environment and increasing community resilience in the face of uncertain energy costs and supplies, ACEEE said.
Cities have invested more in energy efficiency programs over the past 10 years, reaching $7.9 billion annually in 2017, the report said.
ACEEE said the most innovative energy policies are those that deal with buildings, because residential and commercial buildings are responsible for almost 40% of the U.S.’s carbon emissions. New York is taking the lead in this area with regulations announced in April.
“Data show that changes to building codes increase energy efficiency and are cost effective over the lifetime of a building,” Ribeiro said. “Investments in energy efficiency pay for themselves and cut GHG emissions.”
Washington, the fifth-most energy-efficient city in the country and the center of the second-wealthiest metropolitan area, pledged in December 2017 to become carbon neutral by 2050. The city developed Clean Energy DC, a roadmap to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2032 through cutting energy use and increasing the use of renewable energy.
“There’s a lot of consistency at the top of the list,” Ribeiro said. “They are the cities that have historically made investments to cut GHG emissions and improve efficiency. All of the actions made by a city have had a positive impact on everyone that lives there.”
Los Angeles, Denver, Austin Portland round out the top 10 of the 75 cities ranked.
Karma Takeaway: The U.S. cities making the most progress toward cutting carbon emissions are also the country’s most prosperous. While promoting sustainability might not be responsible for the wealth, it’s also obvious that green policies don’t hurt.