Conservation Cities: The Greenest Locales Aren’t Just on the West Coast

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Robert Galbraith / Reuters

It’s a popular bragging point these days: Which city really is the most environmentally sustainable? And as cities court the title, you can fuel the debate with another study, as Siemens Corp. sponsored an Economist Intelligence Unit project that named San Francisco the greenest of them all.

The judging used nine categories to monitor 27 of the most populated U.S. and Canadian cities. Those categories include: CO2 reduction targets, energy use, land use, building efficiency, transportation, water use, waste, air quality and environmental governance.

With the scoring system in place, San Francisco narrowly edged Vancouver, British Columbia for the top prize. But don’t think being green is only for the West Coast. Not far behind the two leaders were some of the usual suspects (except, oddly, Portland, Ore., was left out of the study due to the population requirements, as were some other notable U.S. cities), including New York, Seattle and Denver rounding out the top five. Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Toronto and Minneapolis (yup, that’s a Midwest city hitting the sustainable world) filled out the top ten.

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And, of course, when you have a winner, you must also get some losers. Of the 27, the worst city on the list was—with little surprise—Detroit, with St. Louis, Cleveland, Phoenix and Pittsburgh following close behind.

Siemens’ Alison Taylor, chief sustainability officer, says with city budgets tight, mayors serve as the leaders in the sustainable movement by creating comprehensive sustainability plans. From banning plastic bags, planting millions of in-city trees, using federal funds to retrofit homes for energy efficiency, building bicycle-only lanes and a bevy of other initiatives, individual cities have taken the sustainability race seriously.

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San Francisco only took first in one category (waste). New York scored the most top marks (land use, transportation and a tie in environmental governance) and Vancouver (CO2 and air quality) and Denver (energy and a tie in environmental governance) were the only other multiple-category winners.

Other top cities included Seattle (buildings); Calgary (water); and Washington, D.C. (a tie in environmental governance).

So, while you can score a point for San Francisco, don’t think this debate is anywhere close to being over. Already, cities across the U.S. and Canada work to plan their next sustainable move.

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Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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