Greenest Cities to Visit in 2017

For many people, big cities are synonymous with concrete, traffic, and congestion. For the eco-conscious traveler, big cities aren’t first to come to mind when picking a green destination. However, many of America’s metropoles are making big strides towards becoming more eco-friendly.

It’s increasingly important to consider how green our choices are. Luckily, some cities make it easy to be green since they offer sustainable options to their visitors. Ecotourism is growing in popularity and that’s why RewardExpert set out to uncover the greenest major cities in the United States.

We compared 53 of the largest cities in the U.S. and evaluated them based on twenty key metrics across five categories: Ecotourism, Transportation, Lifestyle & Policy, Environment, and Energy. Using this data we determined a full ranking of the the greenest cities in the country.

TOP 5 Greenest Cities to Visit in 2017

93.2San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, California comes in at number one on our list. San Fran ranked first for both ecotourism and transportation, and second for lifestyle & policy. Of all the cities we examined, San Francisco has the most hotels certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) per capita and 10.6% of its residents walk to work. Additionally, San Francisco has more farmers markets and community gardens per capita than any other city in the country. For travelers seeking to understand more about visiting an eco-conscious city, look no further than San Francisco.

90.4Boston, MA

Boston, MA is the greenest city on the east coast and number two on our ranking. There’s no real need for a car in Boston, since it’s easy to bike, walk, or hop on the public transit system. About 14.8% of commuters walk to work, which is more than any other city we ranked. Last, but certainly not least, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) named Boston the most energy-efficient city in the United States.

90.1Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. is the frontline for change as the capital of the United States. D.C. ranks first for both the number of available green jobs and the country’s best bike share program. Additionally, the ACEEE ranked Washington the third most energy-efficient city in the United States.

87.6Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon is full of eco-conscious people and comes in at number four on our list. Portland commuters drive to work less than any other city and 6.1% of residents bike to work, which is more than any other city. Portland has over 20 hotels certified green by the USGBC and 494 farmers markets, all of which make it an ideal destination for those looking to go green on their next vacation.

87.4Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis is the most bike-friendly city in the U.S and comes in fifth on our list of green cities. About 14.0% of residents use public transportation to commute, which ranks third of all the cities we analyzed. Finally, it has the second best drinking water of all the cities we analyzed.

Best Cities for…

…Green Hotels

San Francisco comes in at number one for the city with the most green hotels per capita. According to RewardExpert data, San Francisco has 69 hotels certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council, which is more than any other city per capita.

1San FranciscoCA
4Las VegasNV
5 AtlantaGA
Bottom 5
53Corpus ChristiTX
51El PasoTX

…Farmers’ Markets

San Francisco tops the list with the most farmers markets per capita. According to RewardExpert data, San Francisco has 129 farmers markets per 10,000 residents. Also, three of San Fran’s farmers markets were listed on The Daily Meal’s annual list of the United States 101 Best Farmers Markets.

1San FranciscoCA
Bottom 5
53El PasoTX
51Corpus ChristiTX
49Colorado SpringsCO


No surprise here! Anchorage has significantly more greenspace than any other city in the United States. “Greenspace” means the acres of parkland compared to the acres of city area. Parkland includes city, county, metro, state, and federal parkland within city limits. Anchorage is comprised of 84.2% parkland, which is much more than Honolulu’s 33.0%, the city coming in at second-place.

3New OrleansLA
5San DiegoCA
Bottom 5

…Public Transportation

Unsurprisingly, New York City comes in at number one on our list of cities with the best public transportation. Travelers can explore the whole city without ever needing to drive, as demonstrated by the 55.0% of New Yorkers who use public transportation to commute to work - far more than the 4.0% average nation-wide. Additionally, New York is also the most walkable city of all the cities we analyzed, making it easy for visitors to get around without relying on cars.

1New YorkNY
2San FranciscoCA
Bottom 5
51El PasoTX

…Bike Share Programs

City-sponsored bike share programs have popped up all over the country. This effectively gives residents and visitors a greener alternative to driving and public transit. While bike sharing programs are growing in cities each month, Washington, D.C. currently has the most robust program. There are 463 bikes per 10,000 residents in their fleet, which gives anyone looking for a bike the opportunity to ride. Additionally, Washington, D.C. ranked seventh and second for bikeability and percentage of commuters who bike to work, respectively. Our nation’s capital is going green by being one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country.

Bottom 5
53Corpus ChristiTX
52El PasoTX

Overall Ranking

# City & State Score

By default cities are sorted by a general score. You could sort by other parameter.

Ecotourism Lifestyle & Policy Transportation Environment Energy
1 San Francisco, CA


1 2 1 18 3
2 Boston, MA


2 3 5 5 4
3 Washington, D.C.


6 1 9 19 5
4 Portland, OR


7 11 4 6 12
5 Minneapolis, MN


17 7 2 3 17
6 Seattle, WA


16 4 7 13 6
7 Austin, TX


14 28 15 10 7
8 Atlanta, GA


5 6 35 24 19
9 Denver, CO


15 10 10 28 11
10 Chicago, IL


27 20 11 26 2
11 San Diego, CA


9 24 14 31 20
12 St. Louis, MO


11 15 8 21 36
13 Sacramento, CA


20 13 13 32 22
14 New York, NY


36 30 6 39 1
15 Tampa, FL


3 8 39 20 38
16 Miami, FL


12 5 19 46 35
17 Pittsburgh, PA


21 19 17 33 24
18 San Jose, CA


38 9 18 40 14
19 Philadelphia, PA


31 32 3 43 10
20 Kansas City, MO


24 22 50 7 27
21 Dallas, TX


25 29 28 34 19
22 Las Vegas, NV


4 31 27 52 26
23 Milwaukee, WI


41 14 25 23 23
24 Houston, TX


33 37 20 42 9
25 Los Angeles, CA


34 23 26 51 8
26 Baltimore, MD


45 12 12 49 15
27 Columbus, OH


50 27 24 9 21
28 Albuquerque, NM


22 50 23 2 41
29 Tucson, AZ


13 41 16 25 44
30 Honolulu, HI


18 21 32 22 50
31 Anchorage, AK


26 49 21 1 53
32 Cleveland, OH


35 16 31 38 28
33 Charlotte, NC


28 34 49 12 25
34 Nashville, TN


32 25 40 17 31
35 Raleigh, NC


23 18 53 8 42
36 New Orleans, LA


10 33 33 37 43
37 Phoenix, AZ


37 36 29 48 16
38 Virginia Beach, VA


8 43 43 29 39
39 Indianapolis, IN


19 26 52 44 32
40 San Antonio, TX


40 46 38 36 13
41 Colorado Springs, CO


29 39 34 11 47
42 Omaha, NE


30 44 41 14 46
43 Detroit,MI


49 17 42 35 37
44 El Paso, TX


51 53 48 4 29
45 Oklahoma City, OK


43 38 47 16 40
46 Lexington, KY


44 45 30 15 52
47 Louisville, KY


42 35 46 45 34
48 Jacksonville, FL


46 47 51 27 30
49 Memphis, TN


48 48 36 47 33
50 Wichita, KS


39 51 44 30 49
51 Fresno, CA


47 42 22 53 45
52 Tulsa, OK


52 40 45 41 48
53 Corpus Christi, TX


53 52 37 50 51

Expert Insights

RewardExpert spoke to Rhiannon Jacobsen from the U.S. Green Building Council for her expert insights on trends and practices in ecotourism and green travel.

Rhiannon Jacobsen

Vice President

Strategic Relationships

U.S. Green Building Council

What trends have you noticed in green travel? Have you seen an increase in the number of hotels trying to obtain a certification from USGBC?

Hotels are occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and consume natural resources at an extraordinarily high rate. A Dodge Research and Analytics SmartMarket report shows that the hospitality industry's annual environmental footprint includes $4 billion in energy use, 1.2 trillion gallons of water and millions of tons of waste.

Over the last few years, sustainable practices have started to gain momentum in the hospitality industry. Green hotels are catching on: hotels across the world are incorporating LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other green building practices into their spaces, changing the way hotels are designed, built and operated. Similar to the way LEED has undeniably changed the built environment, the hospitality industry is poised to transform the market yet again by creating healthy, smart, efficient, responsive, resilient, and above all else, sustainable buildings.

Currently, there are nearly 600 LEED-certified hotels globally, comprising 163 million square feet. And the number of LEED hotels is expected to increase significantly over the coming years: there are currently more than 2,000 registered hotels totaling 851 million square feet in the pipeline, more than three times the total number of LEED certified hotels.

USGBC partnered with TripAdvisor to create the Greenleaders Program. What must a hotel do to obtain Greenleaders status and what is the difference between the bronze, silver, gold, and platinum levels?

Any verified hotel or B&B in nearly 70 countries around the world is eligible for the TripAdvisor GreenLeaders program. There are two levels of participation: the GreenLeader for those businesses that have achieved the required score for the program, and GreenPartner for those businesses who have implemented sustainable practices, but have not yet received the minimum score necessary.

Only businesses in designated countries are eligible to achieve the GreenLeader recognition, and they also must already have a basic set a green practices in place that pertain to energy efficient lighting, utility tracking, recycling and so on. A list of eligible countries and the basic requirements can be found on the TripAdvisor GreenLeaders website at website.

If a business meets those initial requirements, it must take the online Green Practices survey, which assesses the property based on practices that lead to better environmental outcomes in the hospitality industry. The survey consists of seven sections: a "required practices" section which all properties must meet in order to qualify for the program, and six sections related to energy, water, waste, purchasing, site, and innovation and education.

Just like with LEED rating system, the business’s score will determine the rating it can receive: Bronze (30-39 percent); Silver (40-49 percent); Gold (50-59) percent; and Platinum (60 percent or higher).

Are more consumers looking for green travel accommodations? Do hotels benefit by obtaining the Greenleaders certification?

According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, nearly two-thirds of travelers reported plans to make more environmentally minded choices over the next year. And while on vacation, 88 percent of travelers reported turning off lights when not in their hotel room, 78 percent participated in hotel's linen and towel re-use program, and 58 percent used recycling in the hotel. Guests appreciate it, too. An average GreenLeader hotel has a 20 percent higher TripAdvisor rating.

As this trend continues, consistent metrics and standards to support the quality of product the hospitality industry delivers will become even more important for a variety of stakeholders, including owners, investors and operators. Integrating green building strategies into the design, construction and daily operations of hotels makes business sense and can be an important part of a company's commitment to sustainability.

Given this demand for greener travel by consumers, achieving GreenLeader certification allows a hotel to promote itself as a green accommodation and attract clientele looking for that specific experience on their next stay, which includes 390 million people that visit TripAdvisor to search for hotels. Brand value goes a long way on TripAdvisor’s online rating system, which allows visitors to comment on the sustainable aspects of a hotel, and ensures the integrity of the program by offering a third-party check of sustainable practices. Plus, it’s completely free to participate! All it takes is 30-60 minutes to fill out the survey.

Read more


To help travelers discover which U.S. cities are the greenest to visit in 2017, RewardExpert analysts compared U.S. cities with more than 300,000 residents across five key dimensions: Ecotourism, Transportation, Lifestyle & Policy, Environment, and Energy.

We first identified 20 relevant metrics, which are listed below in their respective dimensions and with their corresponding weights. Each metric was given a value between 0 and 100, wherein 100 represents the most favorable conditions for travel and 0 the least.

Finally, we calculated the overall score for each city using the weighted average across all metrics and ranked the cities accordingly.


Ecotourism — 20 Points

  • Number of "green" hotels per capita: Full Weight (10.0 Points)

Transportation — 20 Points

  • Walkability: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • Transit Score: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • Bikeability: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • Average Commute Time: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • % of residents who drive: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • % of residents who carpool: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • % of residents who use public transit: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • % of residents who bike: Full Weight (2.2 Points)
  • % of residents who walk: Full Weight (2.2 Points)

Environment — 20 Points

  • Air-Quality Index: Full Weight (5.0 Points)
  • Drinking Water Quality: Full Weight (5.0 Points)
  • Green Space: Full Weight (5.0 Points)
  • Water Quality: Full Weight (5.0 Points)

Energy Sources — 20 Points

  • ACEEE Energy Ranking: Full Weight & a Half (15.0 Points)
  • Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Installations per Capita: Half Weight (5.0 Points)

Lifestyle & Policy — 20 Points

  • Number of Farmers Markets per Capita: Full Weight (5.0 Points)
  • Community Garden Plots per Capita: Full Weight (5.0 Points)
  • “Green” Job Opportunities: Full Weight (5.0 Points)
  • Number of Bicycles per capita provided by City Bike Share Program: Full Weight (5.0 Points)

Sources: Data used to create these rankings were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Environment America, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, The Trust for Public Land, Walk Score, Alliance for Biking & Walking, Numbeo, Indeed, TripAdvisor, and Yelp.