For some eco-friendly cities, the future is now.
Celebrating Earth Day typically involves going a step further than separating recyclables for the sake of the environment. Some people—you may be one—feel motivated to go the extra yard by planting trees or cleaning up beaches. But for some, namely eco-city planners who blueprint green cities, Earth Day celebrates a leap forward and a good start on a sustainable future.
According to John Barry, author of Eco-Cities: Concept and Reality, 178 eco-city initiatives have taken hold worldwide since 2011. And Barry says that’s a good thing, because by 2040, two-thirds of the world population will reside in urban cities and absorb 80% of the world’s energy. But five cities worldwide are already gearing up for that scenario. More initiatives exist and others can certainly take a lesson from the top five eco-friendly cities. These include:
1. Portland, Oregon
The City of Roses became the first U.S. city to enact a comprehensive plan to reduce CO2 emissions in 2003. According to the Climate Action Plan in 2009, 65% of its population recycles; approximately 10,000 Portlanders commute via bicycle, eight times the national average. The city also has the largest number of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings per capita in the U.S. Portland’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas up to 80% by 2050.
2. Guangzhou, China
The Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC), an eco-city joint venture between China and Singapore, is home to the Pearl River Tower—the greenest and first “zero-energy” skyscraper in the world. Built in 2012, this 71-story tower uses photovoltaic cells and wind turbines to create energy. According to a recent Singbridge International press release, SSGKC expanded the development of LEED-certified buildings; created a headquarters for electric car clusters; and established a “Design to Improve Life” Centre in the city, a one-year joint venture with Denmark’s non-profit environmental organization, INDEX: Design to Improve Life.
3. Songdo International Business District, South Korea
Located 40 miles west of Seoul and along the Incheon waterfront, this 1,500-acre, smart, urban infrastructure is built from scratch. Forty percent of Songdo IBD is green space, including a 100-acre replica of New York’s Central Park. The city also boasts green roofs, Parisian streets, and according to the Songdo IBD website, hosts the most LEED-certified space in the world at 13-million square feet. To top it off, there’s an Ecotarium, an eco-museum dedicated to educating and promoting green living.
4. Växjö, Sweden
The small eco-city of Växjö [vek-shur] is run by a single power plant fueled by woodchips from neighboring sawmills. The power plant provides heat and hot water to 90% of the population and hopes to end dependency on oil entirely by 2020, says Jerry Yudelson, author of Green Building Trends: Europe (2nd Edition). In addition, according to Sweden’s Midroc Property Development, the community has promoted clean lakes since the 1960’s and built wood buildings to help reduce CO2 emissions.
5. Betim, Brazil
Having the most elaborate eco-city doesn’t necessarily mean checking off Earth Day and anticipating the following year. According to the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) website, the Renewable Energy Reference Center helped install 1,684 solar heaters for low-income households and replaced LEDs in stop lights, reducing 90% of energy consumption in each light. People of Betim have a grassroots approach to practicing sustainability—one step at a time.