Sustainable Cities: Role Models for the Rest of the World

January 11th, 2013

Bike Parking Lot in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Living in Sweden for the past four months really opened my eyes to a different culture and way of life. During my travels, I also visited other cities working on their sustainability. Scandinavia has been recognized for their efforts in promoting a sustainable lifestyle and culture, and the Nordic countries are among the top sustainable cities. One of the things that stood out to me the most was the amount of people that ride bikes! Amsterdam in The Netherlands had massive parking lots for bikes, and in Copenhagen in Denmark, I saw many people biking all over the cities in the blizzard-like conditions! Maybe it was easier for locals in these cities to bike because of the flat landscape, but it is now apart of the culture there – often I saw more people riding bikes than cars on the road. Other notable sustainable efforts include Swedish-brand H&M’s organic clothing initiative, escalators that don’t move until stepped on by people, and the Arlanda Express – the quickest, most eco-friendly way of getting from the Arlanda airport to the Stockholm city centre.

Eco-friendly Arlanda Express in Stockholm

Perhaps one of the reasons sustainability is emphasized in everyday life for the Swedes is because Sweden, along with Norway and Denmark, are a few of the most expensive cities to live in the world. While I was there, I was very conscious about recycling and my garbage waste because of the high prices. For example, plastic bags at the grocery store were 2 kronor, which is equivalent to approximately $0.30! So whenever I did grocery shopping, I always remembered to bring my own bags, not only because it is more environmentally friendly, but also because I would save a lot of money! The same goes for returning empty cans such as pop cans. Returning a can would give you 1 kronor, or $0.15 – that’s triple the $0.05 recycling fee in Canada! These higher prices give further incentive to practice a sustainable lifestyle.

When it comes to the world’s top sustainable cities, according to Grist it was exciting to see Vancouver as number 5. It was more interesting to me that I have visited 7 of the top 8 “greenest” cities in the world!! Here’s the list of the top 15, according to them:

  1. Reykjavik, Iceland
  2. Portland, Oregon, U.S.
  3. Curitiba, Brazil
  4. Malmo, Sweden
  5. Vancouver, Canada
  6. Copenhagen, Denmark
  7. London, England
  8. San Francisco, California, U.S.
  9. Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador
  10. Sydney, Australia
  11.  Barcelona, Spain
  12. Bogota, Columbia
  13. Bangkok, Thailand
  14. Kampala, Uganda
  15. Austin, Texas, U.S.


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