15 Ways To Make A City More Sustainable

In the guide below, we discuss sustainable cities.

Specifically, we outline why sustainable cities might be important, and we also list the potential ways that cities might become more sustainable across different sustainability indicators.


Firstly, Why Might Sustainable Cities Be Important?

There’s a number of reasons why it might be important for cities to be more sustainable, but a few of the main reasons might be that:

– Cities are currently responsible for significant impact on several key sustainability indicators

– Cities generate a large % of GDP in some countries

– In the future – by around the year 2050, majority of the world’s population (some reports say up to 70%) might live in cities


Onto the ways to potentially make cities more sustainable …


1. Land Use, & City/Urban Planning

Land use in cities might refer specifically to how land is used in urban areas i.e. for what purposes.

We previously put together a guide where we outline some of the common land uses in society.

In cities specifically, land is used for different types of buildings, roads, other types of infrastructure, parks and ovals, and so on.

With this being the case, ancillary factors like building design can impact how efficiently land is used.

The more efficiently land is used, the more sustainable land use might be.

City/urban planning plays a large role in this with determining layouts, zoning, permits, and so on.

Urban sprawl is a term that is used when cities are built outwards (i.e. they begin to spread out/sprawl out), instead of being built upwards. 


2. Building Design, & ‘Green’ Buildings

Buildings in cities include commercial buildings, domestic/municipal homes, and other types of buildings.

As mentioned in the point above, building design impacts external factors, such as how land use is used. 

But, building design and building systems also impacts the sustainability footprint within buildings themselves, especially for energy efficiency, water use and water efficiency, waste management, and also other factors.

Sustainable construction features relating to heating, cooling, insulation, building materials, and other features might all contribute to green buildings


3. Energy Use

Energy might include the predominant type/s of energy that a city uses (for electricity, heating, etc.), and how much energy they use.

Cities might be more sustainable if they use cleaner or renewable types of energy, and also if their energy supply is adequate to meet demand at all times of the day and year.

Apart from industrial scale energy plants and energy sites, buildings might features solar panels, and homes might also feature solar setups that can collect energy off grid (or separate to grid supplied energy)

Some cities have even trialled ‘foot traffic electricity’, which harnesses kinetic energy from pedestrians via the surface they walk on, and connect it to electricity


4. Water Use

Water use might include the quantity of water supplies a city has available to use, and the quality of those water supplies.

The public water supply for a city might be more sustainable if there’s a diversified or climate independent range of water sources that a city gets it’s water from, there’s enough water to meet the city’s demand (Cape Town and also Perth are both case studies of what happens when cities face water scarcity issues), and the quality of the water is suitable for it’s end use (i.e. potable and also non potable water uses)

We’ve previously put together a guide of some of the cities that might have some of the best freshwater supplies and resources in the world

Rainwater is also an example of a water source that can be collected/harvested privately, separate to the public water supply.


5. Transport

Transport has the ability to impact various aspects of sustainability, such as the use of fossil fuels, air pollution, carbon emissions, and more.

Factors that might play a part in the sustainability footprint of transport might include, but aren’t limited to:

– The number of vehicles on the road


– The total distance travelled by all vehicles per year


– The types of vehicles used and the predominant fuel source they use

There’s a push by some groups to have more electric cars and electric charging stations on the road and around cities and on highways in the future

Hydrogen cars and hydrogen refuelling is another type of transport technology being promoted by some


– How efficiently roads are planned out in the city


– Whether public transport is available, and how accessible it is to most of the city’s population

Buses, trains, trams and ferries are examples of public transport


– The walkability and cyclability of the city

For example, a greater frequency of safe walking paths, bike lanes, bicycle bridges, bike storage areas, and so on


The cleaner and more efficient (in terms of total distance travelled, and per passenger efficiency) the forms of transport used, the more sustainable transport might be in a given city.


6. Waste Management

Waste management involves the generation of waste, and the disposal/management of that waste.

The total amount of waste a city generates, the rate at which products and materials become waste, and how adequately they manage that waste, might play a role in the sustainability here.

More sustainable cities might:

– Produce waste at a lower rate


–  Find ways to have more circular economies that make better use of used products and materials


– Reduce littering rates


– Have the right bins and waste disposal points located in adequate locations around the city


– Make sure all waste is managed adequately, and is sent to the ideal waste management stream

Such as general waste, recycling, organic waste, hazardous waste, and so on

San Francisco is a city that has invested a lot in their waste management systems, and has goals to divert a certain % of waste from landfills in particular


– Consider whether composting facilities are practical and beneficial for the city 


7. Pollution 

There’s various different types of pollution – water pollution, air pollution, general waste pollution, and so on.

The more pollution a city generates, and the more pollution there is in the city itself (such as air pollution in the air for example), the less sustainable the city might be.

We’ve previously put together guides on cities with the most water pollution, and also cities with the most air pollution.

We also put together a guide on the cities with the most general pollution.

Pollution can be reduced by addressing the source/s of the pollution comes from, or by doing things to actively clean up the pollution.

To use one example of cities addressing pollution, there’s been cities that have already done things to address/reduce air pollution in their city.

In this instance, there is a proven record of the city being able to address this aspect of sustainability.


8. Emissions Footprint

Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon emissions often get put into their own category.

Emissions come from a range of sources within a city, such as from energy generation, transport, and so on.

In instances where cities are ‘consumer cities’, they are also responsible for emissions produced outside the physical boundaries of the city.

We listed some of the cities with the largest carbon footprints in the world in a separate guide.

Cities with smaller carbon footprints (coming both from within the city, and also from production/consumption cities are responsible for outside of the physical location of the city) might be considered more sustainable.

There’s a number of things cities might do to reduce their carbon footprint or reduce emissions.


9 . Plant Life & ‘Green’ Spaces

The more plant life and green spaces a city has, the better it might be for things like oxygen production, and also the sequestering of air pollutants and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (amongst other potential environmental and social benefits).

Plant life and green spaces can include trees, plants and vegetation, parks, ovals and fields, and so on.

Some cities have even explored the concept of ‘miniature urban forests’ or ‘tiny forests’


10. Consumption Rate, & Lifestyle Of People Living In The City

The types of lifestyles people within the city live, and their consumption rate, can both impact sustainability.

The higher the rate of consumption, and the more resource intensive consumption is (some products and services require more resources to produce than others), the less sustainable the city might be overall.


11. Production Footprint

We previously mentioned that some cities are mostly consumer cities vs being producer cities.

But, even consumer cities might produce a certain amount of what they consume locally.

With this being the case, the behavior/practices of the local commercial and industrial sectors might impact the sustainability of the city.

There might be a range of things different industries/sectors can do to improve their sustainability.

One such example is being more efficient and sustainable with their water use and management.


12. The Availability Of More Sustainable Products & Services

Beyond the production footprint in general, actually having sustainable products and services available to use might make a city more sustainable.

One example of this is having more sustainable types or forms of accomodation to use within the city for people travelling to and from the city.

Another example might be having sustainable everyday products or sustainable food available to purchase.

Urban farming/urban agriculture via vertical farming solutions, and growing food at home, are concepts or trends that have been taken up in some cities and in some homes.


13. Different Forms Of Sustainability Reporting

Sustainability reporting can take many forms.

There can be general sustainability reports, that include goals, and also tracking of impact and progress.

There can also be aspects of sustainability incorporated into the reporting and data made available for different city services.

For example, the sustainability status or impact of the water supply, energy supply and waste management services offered within the city might be included in the general reports and data made available to the public for these individual services.


14. Miscellaneous Sustainable City Technologies & Features

Including but not limited to:

– Biomimicry technology


– Smart street lights


– Porous concrete

Which is concrete that lets water through


15. Economic & Social Indicators

Many of the points listed above relate to sustainable resource management/use, and also the environment.

But, separate to those pillars of sustainability are economic and also social pillars.

So, more sustainable cities might do things to prioritise economic success and social wellbeing and opportunity.

Economic success could include the availability of jobs and market conditions that are also favorable for businesses.

Social wellbeing could include access to public resources, and public services like health services.


Most Sustainable & Greenest Cities In The World

We’ve put together a separate guide where we list potentially the most sustainable and greenest cities in the world, and explain the criteria behind the rankings. 


Difference Between Sustainability vs Liveability 

There’s a difference between sustainability and liveability of a city.

Compared to sustainability, liveability might take into account and prioritise some different city features such as overall quality of life, safety, and so on.


Sustainable Cities vs Sustainable Communities & Neighborhoods

We’ve explained what might be the main difference between sustainable cities, and sustainable communities and neighborhoods in this guide.




1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides


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