Arcadis: London 2nd most sustainable city in world

16 February 2015 4 min. read
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London comes in at number 2 in the index of the world’s most sustainable cities, according to a recently released index of the top 50 cities by Arcadis and the Center for Economics and Business Research. While scoring highly in the people and profitability indexes, the capital still has some-way to go toward environmental sustainability.

Cities are powerhouses of the world economy, producing 70%-80% of the world’s economic output, consuming 80% of the energy produced, emitting 80% of greenhouse gasses, while housing 54% of its people. Given their incredible impact on both the people that live in them as well as the vast tracts of land and resources that they demand each day to function, developing an index that maps their sustainability*, has potential to give decision makers examples of good practice as well as understanding in the impetus to create a more sustainable future.

Arcadis and Center for Economics and Business Research

This year’s top 50 index, released by Arcadis and the Center for Economics and Business Research, looks at three broad categories formed out of three demands, the social (People), the environmental (Planet), and the economic (Profit). Each of these indexes has up to 9 sub-indexes whose indicators determining the overall score**.  The analysis finds no city is Utopian, with the final score a complex amalgamation of historical and geographical factors creating the unique conditions in which each centre finds itself.

In terms of the top ten best performers and the bottom ten, Frankfurt comes in at #1 with a total combined score of 70%, followed closely by London and Copenhagen. The Netherlands has two cities in the top five, with Amsterdam at #4 and Rotterdam at #5. The bottom cities, especially in the “people” category are Nairobi and New Delhi at #50 and #49 respectively. Manchester and Birmingham also make the top 50, coming in at #14 and #18 respectively.

World top and lowest sustainable cities

People matter
One feature of the report is that the total score is made up of widely varying conditions. Rotterdam for instance tops the People sub-index, since it has a high literacy rate, and provides a good work-life balance, followed by Seoul, which scores high on transport infrastructure and health. London comes third in this category, with a considerably compressed work life balance but high levels of education and green spaces. Especially housing is shown to be a problem in London, with the report noting that 49,000 new dwellings need to be built, per year, to meet demand.

The authors note that many of the metropolises are becoming less affordable to live in, resulting in property prices in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong penalising their rankings. 

People Matter

Environment is key
In terms of environment concerns, London is far behind its European neighbours, coming in at #12. The UK’s major centre lags behind cities like Copenhagen and Madrid in terms of energy use from renewables, as well as having a poor score in the category of solid waste management relative to Frankfurt and Berlin.

Sustainability index

“City leaders need to find ways to balance the demands of generating strong financial returns, being an attractive place for people to live and work in, whilst also limiting their damage to the environment,” comments John Batten, Global Cities Director at Arcadis. “To truly understand how sustainable a city is, we must understand how it ranks in People, Planet and Profit. Only then can city leaders act to assess their priorities and the pathway to urban sustainability – for the good of all.”

London - a top ranking city
London has been among the top ranked cities for several other rankings, including in the “best working cities” list of BCG, in which London is ranked #1, and the “most global cities” list of AT Kearney, in which London is ranked #2.

* Sustainability in terms of the demand (resources) and the lives of their denizens and areas that services them.

** To create the order, the highest-ranked city in each indicator is given a score of 100%, while the lowest-ranked city receives 0%, so that each city’s performance within each category is measured relative to each of the other 49 cities. By averaging the indicators, a score for every city in each of the three sub-indices is derived and combined to deliver an overall score.