View of Berkeley University clock tower with trees in foreground and city in background.

The 15 Most Sustainable Cities In The US in 2023

Lauren Nowacki10-Minute Read
UPDATED: April 26, 2023

Given the devastating effects of climate change, we wanted to recognize the greenest cities in America and take a minute to appreciate the initiatives they’ve implemented to reduce their carbon footprint.

Rocket HomesSM partnered with to analyze the 66 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, which are home to a population of at least 1 million. These 66 metro areas contain over half the entire U.S. population. Metropolitan areas are particularly useful for our rankings because they include not only each area's major cities but also the surrounding counties.

Finding The Most Sustainable Cities In The US

We first conducted this study in 2019. With solar energy and electric vehicles growing in popularity since then, we took another look at our list, adding in new metrics that touched more on these sources of power. While the majority of the U.S. cities from the previous list made the cut, there were still a few surprising results. Some of the largest cities – New York City, Phoenix and St. Paul – were bumped off the list, while seemingly unexpected ones, including Berkley, San Jose and Salt Lake City, took over. One city even made its debut in the number one spot.

To determine the rankings for the most sustainable cities in the U.S. in 2022, the researchers at used the following metrics:

  • Square feet of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings per capita
  • Percent of commuters who use energy-efficient transportation
  • Square feet of green space per capita
  • Watts of solar energy produced per capita
  • Walk score for dependence on a car for errands and amenities
  • Percent of homes heated by solar energy
  • Electric vehicles (EV) per 100,000 residents
  • EV plugs per 100,000 residents
  • Residential solar install per 100,000 residents
  • Percent of state power from renewable sources
  • State composting laws

1. Berkeley, California

Aerial view towards Berkeley, California and the San Francisco bay area shoreline on a sunny day; University of California Berkeley campus buildings in the foreground.
  • Metro population: 2,809,969
  • Square feet of green space per person: 477.9
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 27.2%

In 2021, Berkeley joined the C40 Race to Zero campaign to commit to reaching net-zero emissions by 2045. Along with this commitment, the city has its own Climate Action Plan, which includes shifting to wind and solar energy sources, sending zero waste to landfills, consuming more locally produced foods and making public transit, walking and cycling the primary form of transportation. So far, the city ranks in the top 8% of the country for its high percentage of green commuters and is home to UC Berkeley, recently awarded the highest rating for its sustainability achievements from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

2. San Diego, California

View of San Diego skyline from park.


  • Metro population: 3,286,069
  • Square feet of green space per person: 483.3
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 15.9%

San Diego has found a way to help combat California’s increasingly frequent droughts. Through the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, the area has been able to transform ocean water into viable drinking water through reverse osmosis. The plant processes 100 million gallons of salt water each day, providing San Diego residents with 50 million gallons of potable water. While this new technology does increase greenhouse gas emissions, the city has still managed to decrease emissions by 25% in just under a decade.

3. Portland, Oregon

View of Portland Oregon at sunset.
  • Metro population: 2,511,612
  • Square feet of green space per person: 472.5
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 21.5%

Portland is a city revered for its eco-consciousness, so it’s no surprise it ranks high on this list. It is in the top 2% of the country for the power it generates from renewable sources. One of their largest energy efficiency projects to date has been converting 45,000 streetlights to use LED technology. Now, the city’s streetlights and traffic signals use half the energy than before, and Portland saves $1.5 million annually. Through its recycling and composting efforts – ranked in the top 1% of the country – Portland recovers 81% of all waste produced by city operations and is on track to recover up to 90% by the year 2030.

4. Washington, D.C.

View of bridge over water in foreground with city in background.
  • Metro population: 5,007,830
  • Square feet of green space per person: 383.2
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 27.1%

Washington, D.C., is in the top 2% of the country for LEED-certified buildings. In the last decade, the city’s public schools have led the way in energy-efficient construction. As the U.S. capital continues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the city is now working toward creating net-zero energy schools that produce as much energy as they consume. Washington, D.C., also invested in wind and solar power to generate energy for municipal and residential buildings, helping push the city into the top 5% of the country for renewable energy.

5. Denver, Colorado

Greenspace with Denver skyline in background.
  • Metro population: 2,972,566
  • Square feet of green space per person: 432.7
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 18.4%

In 2019, Denver earned the LEED for Cities Platinum Certification, a program honoring communities that strive to enhance sustainability through urban planning, development and operations. This year, the city jumped three spots – the most on our list – to make it into the top five most sustainable cities. That may be in part to the city seriously working to achieve its goal of 100% renewable electricity by the year 2030. As part of the effort, they are currently building solar gardens above municipal parking lots and rooftops. The power generated from the project will be made available to municipal buildings and low-income housing.

6. San Jose, California

View of San Jose California featuring city park with trees and tall buildings.
  • Metro population: 1,952,185
  • Square feet of green space per person: 222.8
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 17.4%

One of San Jose’s Bold Goals is to be the electric car capital of the world. By 2030, it wants 60% of its passenger vehicles to be electric. In order to do so, it’s implemented several initiatives, including a streamlined a permitting process for residents to install home charging stations. So far, the city ranks in the top 12% of the country for EV registrations and the top 1% for available EV plugs.

7. Boston, Massachusetts

View of Boston harbor featuring sailboats and a view of city skyline from water.
  • Metro population: 2,028,753
  • Square feet of green space per person: 350.9
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 34.6%

Boston is in the top 5% of the country for residents who commute using energy-efficient modes of transportation and is more walkable than all but two other large metropolitans in the country. It’s also been recognized for its sustainability initiatives. In 2007, the U.S. Department named Boston a “Solar America City” and, years later, earned our ranking as one of the best cities to add solar. In 2020, the city also met its carbon reduction goal – a whole 5 years early. And thanks to the city’s efforts, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Boston as the most energy-efficient city in the country from 2013 – 2019.

8. San Francisco, California

View of San Francisco tree lined steep streets on a foggy day.
  • Metro population: 1,553,089
  • Square feet of green space per person: 202.4
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 44%

For over a decade, San Francisco has strictly enforced a recycling and composting mandate that requires residents to separate their waste into three bins for recyclables, compostables and landfill-bound items. As a result, San Fran has a diversion rate of 80%. Plus, the city’s wealth of public transit options and bike- and rideshare programs enable residents to travel without the need for a vehicle, helping it rank in the top 2% of the country for the number of green commuters. All of the city’s efforts have paid off. In 2021, San Francisco earned the top spot on the ACEEE City Clean Energy Scorecard for the first time.

9. Sacramento, California

View of shoreline in Sacramento featuring train tracks curving along waters edge and blue waters and blue skies.
  • Metro population: 2,411,428
  • Square feet of green space per person: 333.7
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 15.1%

Sacramento is focused on promoting the use of zero-emission vehicles with a plan to have 75,000 on their roads within the next few years. Electrify America has committed to providing the city with $44 million to increase the use of communal, electric modes of transportation. Thanks to the investment, Sacramento is gaining charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and electric car-sharing, along with electric bus and shuttle programs. It now ranks in the top 7% of the country for available EV plugs per 100,000 residents.

10. Seattle, Washington

View of Seattle from water with blue sky with small white clouds reflecting in foreground.
  • Metro population: 3,085,845
  • Square feet of green space per person: 325.1
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 27.4%

Seattle may be known as the Emerald City because of its year-round greenery, but the nickname is even more appropriate given the city’s extensive green efforts. Seattle is home to the nation’s first carbon-neutral utility company, Seattle City Light. Because of the company’s hydroelectric dams, the city ranks in the top 1% of the country for renewable energy. Meanwhile, Seattle’s top employers are also doing their part. While Amazon plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, Microsoft has set its sights on becoming carbon negative by 2030.

11. Los Angeles, California

View of Los Angeles California. Skyline is in background and trees in foreground. Sky is blue with small fluffy white clouds.
  • Metro population: 9,829,544
  • Square feet of green space per person: 229.3
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 17%

Los Angeles takes recycling very seriously. The city has committed to achieving its “Zero Waste-to-Landfill” goal by 2025. In 2012, LA had already increased its landfill diversion rate to 76.4%. Thanks to the city’s extensive programs and over 30 years of effort, it boasts one of the highest recycling rates in the country. LA’s waste management efforts will continue to ramp up as the city limits the use of Styrofoam, plastic straws, disposable utensils and single-use takeaway containers over the next few years.

12. Honolulu, Hawaii

View of oceanside trees and buildings stretching into a vast ocean view at horizon.
  • Metro population: 1,000,890
  • Square feet of green space per person: 321.8
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 18.9%

Honolulu has been working to increase its carbon-free transportation options and has a bikeshare program that’s among the most used in the country. The city also excels in harnessing the power of the sun. While the state of Hawaii ranks in the top 1% of the country for residential solar installs, the city of Honolulu also ranks in the top 1% of the country for the percent of homes using solar for heating and for the number of solar watts produced per capita.

13. Silver Spring, Maryland

Row of colorful townhomes with freshly planted trees and landscaping.
  • Metro population: 1,334,662
  • Square feet of green space per person: 688.9
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 24.7% 

Silver Spring has been helping to lead the way in eco-friendly city planning. The area has more energy-efficient developments than over 10% of the country. Silver Spring has received many LEED Silver and Gold certifications for buildings ranging in use from libraries to residential towers. The city also ranks in the top 15% of the country for amount of green space per person, which helps lower its carbon emissions and improve air quality for its residents.

14. Salt Lake City, Utah

View of skyline of Salt Lake City in front of mountain range with lush trees in foreground.
  • Metro population: 1,263,061
  • Square feet of green space per person: 1,166.8
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 15.2%

Salt Lake City ranks in the top 2% of the country for the magnitude of greenspace available to residents. Having green spaces helps reduce urban temperatures and improves air quality, but there’s more the city is doing to help curb air pollution. Salt Lake City is providing free public transportation to school children and free charging at public charging ports during the parking time limit. And on certain air quality days, city employees are emailed and encouraged to work from home or take public transportation.

15. San Bernadino, California

View of San Bernadino city street flanked by small spanish style buildings and palm trees with mountain in horizon at sunset.
  • Metro population: 4,653,105
  • Square feet of green space per person: 401.5
  • Percent of energy-efficient commuters: 9.1%
San Bernardino may rank in the top 20% of the country for the percentage of power they use from renewable sources, but the city is still working to improve and further contribute to conserving the nation’s natural resources. Just 5 miles west, the Rialto Bioenergy Facility serves as one of the largest organics processing facilities in the country. Earning the 2022 Distinction Award for Wastewater Project of the Year, the facility converts up to 1,000 tons of wastewater biosolids and organic waste into renewable natural gas and agricultural fertilizer.

The Bottom Line

Thanks to an increasing interest in sustainable living among young buyers, cities across the country are ramping up their green initiatives, and these 15 locales are leading the way.

For more information on sustainability, check out these sustainable living tips.

Methodology: Finding The Greenest Cities In The US

In this study, we find the most sustainable cities the United States. Residents of these cities are making choices to protect the future of their home and are working to make a positive impact on the world.

The research team at collected and analyzed the most recent data on 11 key areas from a variety of sources that give insight into the local importance given to a green and sustainable lifestyle. These include the impact of local building design and construction, the amount of refreshing green space, the choice to use renewable energy and commuting options which have the least impact on the environment. In some cases, we used state-level data either because data is not recorded at the local level or policies are made by the state and affect the state as a whole. Such was the case for the data used to examine the percent of power use from renewable resources.

Each data category is normalized and transformed to a common range of 0 – 100 points for scoring and comparison. Weights are applied to each metric which reflects its importance in the study. The weighted scores for each metric are summed to create the overall Sustainability Score for each place. The final scores are sorted to produce the final rankings.





LEED buildings – square feet per capita



U.S. Green Building Council

Green commute



American Community Survey – U.S. Census Bureau

Green space – square feet per capita




Watts of solar energy produced per capita



Frontier Group, Shining Cities 2022

Walk score



Percent of homes with solar heating



US Census Bureau

Electric vehicles registrations per 100,000 population



National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

EV plugs per 100,000 population



Alternative Fuels Data Center

Residential solar installs per 100,000 population



Solar Energy Industries Association

Percent of state power use from renewable sources



US Energy Information Administration

Composting regulations



U.S. Composting Council

Lauren Nowacki

Lauren is a Content Editor specializing in personal finance and the mortgage industry. Her writing focuses on reporting the best places to live in the U.S. based on certain interests and lifestyles. She has a B.A. in Communications from Alma College and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.