[Bollix! I goobered up the html on this. Fixing it now…]
SustainLane released their second ‘sustainable cities’ rating this week, with plenty of media and some show and tell as the US Conference of Mayors conference in Las Vegas (which for some reason ranks #27 on the list).
The top 10: Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Oakland (yay!), New York, Boston, Denver and Minneapolis.
Big difference: Last year they selected the 25 best cities; this year they ranked the 25 largest, so it’s difficult to compare progres year to year.
Big downside: by focusing on the biggest cities, plenty of leaders and innovators were left out — including long-time Natural Logic client Berkeley CA (rated #3 last overall year).
So it’s important to be clear exactly what’s being companred, and what’s not.
Treehuger had some questions in that regard:
Once we got past the top three, we began to do a little head-scratching. Top 10 cities Philadelphia and New York made another top 10 list this year: the top 10 most polluted cities as ranked by the American Lung Association. In the next tier, we found that Albuquerque, Tuscon, Phoenix and Los Angeles all made the top 25, and Las Vegas was close behind at #27. Given all of these cities’ reputations for massive amounts of sprawl and water consumption, their placement seemed… well… interesting. Looking at SustainLane’s very thorough overview of its methodology gave us a better sense of how and why some cities fared as well as they did.

And they had some useful critique of the SustainLane methodology:

[O]ne of the survey’s primary methodological criterion was ‘Data or information sets that would be of relatively equal importance to cities across the United States. For example, water conservation programs were not included because they would be much more important for a desert city in the Southwest than for a city with a plentiful water supply.’ While this makes for a much cleaner comparison between urban centers, it also ignores one of the fundamental tenets of sustainable development: adapting to the natural environment as it is.

OTOH, I think the folks at Treehugger missed an important point with this observation:

Perhaps it’s not even necessary to rank cities, but to simply recognize those taking genuinely sustainable steps forward.

Of course it’s not necessary, but it sure can be useful. Rankings like this fuel the competitive spirit of mayors and other elected officials, who then start asking their staffs ‘Why aren’t we doing better?’ and potentially kick more into action. That’s been our experience (with cities like Berkeley, Albuquerque — a recent client, ranked #17 this year — and others). And that’s why we’ve formed a strategic alliance with SustainLane: they’ll focus on ranking cities, and we’ll work with cities to help improve and deepen their sustainability initiatives, reduce their footprints, and raise their rankings. Give me a holler if you’d like more details.
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