With the summer season drawing to a close, suitcases still not unpacked from family vacations and the smell of the sea lingering in the air, jetting off on a European city break is likely to be at the bottom of anyone’s to do list right now.
But once the school runs jumpstart again next week, traffic jams clog the city’s concrete arteries once more, and work, gym and social schedules pick up their usual frenzied pace, we bet it won’t be long before you’re scrolling through long weekend options during your coffee break.
While once upon a time the only considerations for holiday destinations were cost and value for that money, increasingly travellers are considering the environmental impact of their choices. Carbon-offsetting plane journeys via tree planting platforms while very worthwhile, are no longer enough for a sustainable getaway. Travellers also want to know the eco credentials of their airlines, hotels, and local tourism providers.
But now new data, compiled by luggage storage provider Bounce, allows those with a European destination in their line of sight to take their eco research one step further, revealing which cities have done the best job of protecting their natural environments. Scoring 28 cities across the continent on a range of factors including levels of light and air pollution, access to public transport, abundance of eco-friendly hotels and implementation of green schemes, these are the five cities – in reverse order – that made the grade and came out on top.
5. Paris – Sustainable City Score: 6.4
One of the world’s most popular European tourist destinations, Paris is working hard to preserve the environment and make the city a green tourism hub. Nearly five per cent of the city’s total energy consumption now comes from renewable sources with the aim to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Thanks to an efficient and inexpensive public transport system 73 per cent of inhabitants and tourists choose to use the metro, buses, bikes or walk around the city.
Paris also has an extensive recycling program, which aims to recycle at least half the city’s household waste, cut food waste in half by 2025, and is implementing initiatives including requiring food markets to develop partnerships with nonprofits to redistribute unsold food. As a destination well renowned for haute cuisine, it should also come as no surprise that over eight per cent of the city’s restaurants have been awarded the Green Michelin Star – a recognition for a commitment to sustainable gastronomy.
4. Munich – Sustainable City Score: 6.51
Two cities that feature in this top five list are located in Germany. Munich, in at number four, is a city with enviable green spaces. Home to the country’s largest city park, the Englischer Garten, the capital of Bavaria has also allocated 50 per cent of its total landmass to parks, woodlands, fields and private gardens.
This European city aims to cut its’ CO2 emissions in half by 2030 based on 1990’s numbers and currently three per cent of the city is powered by renewable energy. While its air pollution is relatively high at 58 per cent, initiatives such as solar buses are being implemented to reduce this. Older vehicles that don’t meet environmental standards are now banned from Munich’s city centre and the municipality prioritises pedestrians and bicycles with 70 per cent of people opting to get around without the use of cars.
3. Zürich – Sustainable City Score: 6.56
Zürich is one of the most expensive European cities but that has allowed it to invest heavily in an eco infrastructure. The largest Swiss city, which regularly features in top sustainable city indexes, has the lowest light pollution of all 28 places featured in the study and also has a low carbon footprint with plans to become carbon neutral by 2040. Visitors to Zürich benefit from an efficient public transport system that sees buses and tram stops every 300m within the city. It also operates a cap-and-trade scheme on car parking, meaning for every new car park space that is constructed, one must be removed. In their words, that’s swiss-tainable!
2. Stockholm – Sustainable City Score: 6.93
Ranking in second place is the Swedish city of Stockholm, no stranger to the accolade of the most sustainable city in the world. Awarded the continent’s first European Green Capital as early back as 2010, this Scandinavian city runs a Grow Smarter project which hopes to see the city fossil-fuel-free by 2040. Its carbon emissions and air pollution scores are low, and it has one of the cleanest tap waters in the world.
Stockholm also has a wealth of protected green spaces. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of the city’s population live within 5 minutes walk of a park or other green area. Stockholm also scores high on the list for offering a high percentage of green commuting possibilities with 80 per cent of people eschewing cars in favour of walking, cycling, or using public transport.
1. Berlin – Sustainable City Score: 6.98
Topping the list is another German city, Berlin. Well known for its progressive nature, both culturally and now environmentally, Germany’s capital does have a high carbon footprint but scores well on a range of other green criteria. Over 30 per cent of this European city is green space and woodland, with 2,500 parks and gardens and nearly half a million trees.
Operating greener commuting options means 84 per cent of residents and tourists choose to use public transport, walk, or cycle to get around. Berlin also leads the way in its green energy performance. Since 1990, it has cut its CO2 emissions by one-third and it aims to be climate neutral by 2050. Currently almost three per cent of the city is powered by nuclear and renewable energy. Tourists to this European destination can choose from a diverse range of eco-friendly hotels with nine per cent of the city’s offerings holding green credentials.
If you want to see how green other European cities are, check out the study table of all 28 cities with a key to their ranking criteria: