Posted by: Peter Black | September 22, 2008

Sustainable Cities: where are they?

Much has been made recently regarding ranking sustainable cities in the US and the world. I decided that this would make an interesting layer for the Climateatlas, so I created a database (though still incomplete) that you can perouse via a map.

What’s going on where you live?



  1. Peter, that’s interesting, but what data did you rely on to flag a city as “sustainable”?

    It seems like that wouldn’t be a straightforward question!

  2. Kira, All of the cities on the map are members of the ICLEI:

    Local governments for sustainability: these places have made a commitment to sustainability via performance based (in terms of cutting GHG gases) programs. Cities have the flexibility to implement programs that make sense for their locales, but the end result must produce the same net result.

  3. This is fascinating information on a whole sustainable community being built in Baja Sur, Mexico.

    The Villages of Loreto Bay

    Loreto Bay is a growing seaside development, situated on 8,000 acres (32 km²) on the shores of the Sea of Cortés, in the desert region of Baja California Sur, Mexico, 8 km south of the town of Loreto, next to an oceanic nature preserve. When completed, The Villages of Loreto Bay will consist of approximately 6,000 homes in nine village settings each with shops, grocery stores and services within an easy walk of the homes. Existing and planned amenities will include two 18-hole championship golf courses, a luxurious Beach Club, spas, a tennis center, a marina and sport fishing center, along with restaurants, boutiques, galleries and a produce market. Presently the first neighborhood, Founders’ Village, is 75% built with an anticipated completion date of late 2008.

    The principles of New Urbanism inspired the planning and design of The Villages of Loreto Bay. New Urbanism is an international movement to reform the design of cities and neighborhoods to create better places to live. It strives to be the revival of our lost art of place-making, a move away from automobile dependence and urban sprawl and a return to the way communities have been built for centuries around the world. New Urbanism produces a town like those great villages in Europe and old Mexico.

    Loreto Bay is specifically designed to address sustainability in all three key areas: economic, social and environmental. Sustainability priorities were determined for areas such as energy conservation, water consumption, habitat protection and enhancement, reduction of solid waste materials and air pollution. Economic opportunities and development are addressed through housing, planning and training as well as the creation of new jobs and local business enterprises. Social sustainability occurs by funding the local medical facility and supporting education, recreation, culture, health and wellness and business enterprise capacity building in Loreto through the non-profit Loreto Bay Foundation. The Master Plan of this emerging community includes environmental preservation, creating jobs, devoting a portion of home sales to the community and setting aside 5,000 acres (20 km²) as a natural preserve. The New Urbanism movement is driven by the quest for improved livability and quality of life – for people and for the environment – through the design of homes, neighborhoods, towns and cities that enrich and enhance both. This involves:

    * Providing independence of movement for everyone (especially the elderly and the young) by bringing most of the activities of daily living within walking distance.
    * Minimizing congestion, the expenses of road construction and air pollution by reducing the number and length of automobile trips required in a community.
    * Bringing neighbors together by providing streets and squares of comfortable scale where people can gather.
    * Forming authentic communities and integrating age and economic classes by providing a full range of housing types and work places.
    * Facilitating democracy and a balanced society by providing suitable civic and public buildings and spaces.

    [edit] Loreto Bay Initiatives

    Being a sustainable community involves a number of values-based principles. In Loreto Bay the initiatives to support these principles are:

    [edit] Energy

    * Renewable Energy sources will be the primary source of all energy needs in Loreto Bay. A 20 Megawatt wind electrical facility will be operational in 2008, and will offset over 30,000 tons of CO2 per year (otherwise generated by diesel in BCS). 30,000 tons is equivalent to the emissions of 4500 cars per year. Solar Hot Water for the homes, commercial buildings and swimming pools reduces the energy requirement by 50% to 80%. Solar Photo Voltaic will be used for powering pool and fountain pumps in public areas

    * Transportation Energy Conservation principles mean that automobiles will be restricted or prohibited, although the village centers have roadway connections. Shuttle vehicles will connect village to each other as well as to the Town Center and the Historic center of Loreto. The intention is that to live or stay at Loreto Bay you will not need a car, although some residences are built with garages. Small electric vehicles, Segways and bicycles are encouraged.

    * Passive Solar Design includes the use of Perform Wall and Earth block walls to create thermal mass, absorb heat and transmit temperature changes very slowly, so that the building stays cooler in summer and warmer in winter, with less air conditioning and heating required. The design of the homes, with inner courtyards, fountains, and dome vented kitchen cupolas, contributes to natural cooling. Warm air passes over the exterior walls, is cooled by the courtyard fountain and plant life, and then is drawn through the house and out the cupola in a continuous flow.

    * Energy Saving Appliances will save up to 25% in energy use.

    [edit] Construction

    * Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Mexico Green Building Council (GBC) The Loreto Bay Company is a founding member and sponsor of the Mexico GBC. Loreto Bay provides complete access to its process and development to provide the GBC with a test for Green Building practices in Mexico. The Beach Club and Spa will be built to LEED Platinum standards, with the highest possible energy efficient ratings, based on USGBC standards. Also planned is a LEED ND (Neighborhood) pilot project.

    * Perform Wall panels, which are made from concrete and recycle Styrofoam, are used in conjunction with Earth Block to build homes. This light-weight building material reduces the amount of concrete blocks required, and has a very high insulation factor, thereby serving to conserve energy needed for heating and cooling.

    * Local Earth Block Production greatly reduces the need to transport materials from afar, thereby reducing harmful vehicle emissions. The embodied energy in compressed earth blocks is at the lowest practical level for any locally suitable building material.

    * Low VOC Paints and Finishes means that volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) emitted from paints and other finishes enter the air and oxidize to become CO2. By using low or no VOC finishes, CO2 created by the building process is reduced.

    * Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Wood means that the wood has been harvested in an environmentally sound manner, ensuring a continuously renewed forest (no clear-cutting). Forests are important sequesterers of carbon. The criteria also include products made from rapidly renewable crops, such as wheatboard or strawboard panels.

    * To attract sufficient workers, the development company has paid wages higher than local or national averages, according to the developer’s press releases. This has been confirmed by construction and trade workers involved in the project, who have been drawn from other Mexican states.

    [edit] Water

    Loreto Bay is planned to be a water independent development, not relying or drawing upon Loreto’s water source from the San Juan Basin.

    * “Harvesting” or dams – This involves restoring the two existing watersheds on Loreto Bay designated land by building small check dams to slow down flow in strategic channels where rainwater gathers. This allows more of the rainfall that occurs during late summer and autumn to be captured and absorbed into the ground, recharging aquifers rather than be lost as run-off to the sea. The environmental impact of this is unknown.

    * Production – Desalination will be used to produce up to 1.5 million gallons per day of potable water. The system of choice, recommended by the Pacific Institute, the California Coastal Commission and the Monterrey Bay Marine Sanctuary, is a reverse osmosis technology which uses deep intake wells for source water and injection wells for brine discharge. Discharge to wells is also planned. Because the shoreline is a nature preserve, the incoming water will have to be piped from farther up the coast. It is unclear where the excess salt can go, as the local ocean area is a protected region.

    * Conservation – Fresh water irrigation will be minimized through the use of saline tolerant plants on the golf course (ie. paspalum grass) and in the landscaping. The storm water plan will direct rainwater drainage for maximum irrigation potential and estuary flushing. Reclaimed waste water will be used for irrigation and toilet flushing. Water smart appliances and fixtures will be installed in the homes and commercial buildings.

    [edit] Other Sustainable Initiatives

    * Composting of organic waste greatly reduces the production of methane from rotting garbage in local landfills.

    * Non-nitrogenous Fertilizers are used in the agriculture program because they do not create the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide but they do run off into the seawater thus contaminating it. Only extremely low dosages of urea are used for landscaping. Compost provides the primary nutrient enhancement for plantings.

    * Locally Grown Food diminishes the need for transporting food from afar. A permaculture-based agricultural center specializes in growing crops that tolerate brackish, saline water.


  5. Here’s a wonderful report from our friends at the Apollo Alliance describing what you can do in your community with regards to green collar jobs…including defining what a green collar job is in the first place:

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