UK cities dominate global sustainability index

London ranks as the world's second most sustainable city, with Manchester and Birmingham also cracking the top 20 of the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index Report.

According to the report, released on Monday, Frankfurt is the only city in the world with greener credentials than the UK capital. Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam round out the top five, with not a single US city in the top 10.

The research examines 50 cities from 31 countries ranking them across three broad subcategories – People, Planet and Profit – to estimate the sustainability of each city.

Manchester and Birmingham rank 14th and 18th respectively – higher than established international cities such as New York (20th), Tokyo (23rd) and Shanghai (35th).


Today’s planet is dominated by cities; which are home to 54% of the population, account for 70-80% of economic output and produce 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. The Index highlights the fact that the more sustainable an urban area is, the higher the quality of life, greater prosperity and lower per capita greenhouse gas production it possesses.

Keith Brooks, UK Cities Director at Arcadis, said: “It is pleasing and perhaps surprising to see UK cities placing so highly in the Index. As we can see from the findings, there’s no such thing as a utopian city. It’s more a difficult balancing act between the three pillars – people, planet and profit – that reflect true sustainability.

“London, Manchester and Birmingham are all mature cities, which goes some way to explaining their rankings, but they can’t rely on historic investment to maintain their competitive advantage.”

As two of the world’s largest financial centres, London and Frankfurt are the most successful in achieving economic sustainability, while the German city tops the Planet sub-index too. London scores highly on both the People and Profit measures, in part due to good health outcomes and excellent higher education facilities, alongside being one of the best-connected global cities, but scores poorly on property prices.

Birmingham and Manchester respectively perform well on the Planet and People indices – Birmingham scores positively on environmental metrics including: air pollution; water sanitation; and the lack of threat of natural catastrophe, ranking it 10th in the world for environmental sustainability.

Civic duty

The Index found that, in general, global cities are failing to meet their duty to citizens as human settlements.

Across the world cities perform stronger on both Planet and Profit factors than they do on People ones, and environmental and economic achievements come at a cost to cities’ social performance. Asian cities took up five of the last six places on the Index. 

“The challenge for rapidly developing cities – particularly those in Asia, the Middle East, and South America – that have focused their efforts on economic sustainability, is to ensure that they become true centres for people, and that poor environmental performance doesn’t hold them back,” added Brooks.

Video: Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2015

Brad Allen

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