Originally posted at Smart Cities Council.
By Charlene Parks.

Walk through the streets of San Francisco and you’ll see an inordinate number of recycling bins. San Francisco has earned the highest recycling rate in the U.S., reusing nearly 80 percent of its waste.

“Innovative policies, financial incentives, as well as outreach and education are all effective tools in our toolbox that have helped San Francisco reach 80 percent diversion,” San Francisco Department of Environment Director Melanie Nutter said in a press release.

San Francisco’s recycling initiative is just one example of cities coming together for the sake of the environment. From Portland’s extensive bike paths to Austin’s carbon neutral goal, ambitious sustainability initiatives are helping cities across the U.S. go green.

San Francisco: Its title as top recycling city is one of the sustainable feathers in San Francisco’s cap. SFEnvironment.org, a website run by the city, provides information on green initiatives, tips to help residents go green, and transportation routes in case drivers are looking to go car-free. San Francisco has one of the highest median costs of living in the country, but new contractors are still dedicated to building to the sustainable regulations set out by the city. San Francisco has a proven track record of preventing waste, conserving energy and promoting the environment. Expect to see more innovation from this prominent city.

Photo by Joe Parks via Flickr

Portland, Oregon: The Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for green innovation, and some would call Portland the eco-friendly capital. The Mother Nature Network declared Portland the number one green city in the United States, citing its 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes. Along with gas-saving transportation, Portland is known for its sustainable practices in the kitchen. Most restaurants offer organic delicacies, and many residents grow fruit and vegetables in private gardens. Portland chefs also hold sustainable cooking classes to help residents reduce their carbon footprints. Sustainability is in vogue in Portland.

Photo by Stuart Seeger via Flickr

Austin, Texas: Few associate Texas with sustainability, but Austin is a national leader in energy conservation. Austin is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2020 — a tall task for a city of its size. Austin is also known for its Green Choice program, which helps residents to meet their electricity needs with renewable energy for an extra one cent per kilowatt. Austin’s government has an office of sustainability to organize eco-friendly projects around the city. Austin is also literally one of the most green cities with more than 19,000 acres of park land.

Photo by Ed Schipul via Wikimedia Commons

Salt Lake City, Utah: Most sustainable cities launched programs to establish eco-friendly practices years ago. Salt Lake City is on that path with its Sustainable Salt Lake plan for 2015. By that year, Salt Lake hopes to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 6.5 percent, enact an anti-idling ordinance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This growing city is on its way to long-term sustainability, and the rest of the country is following its lead.

Photo by CountyLemonade via Flickr

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Guest author Charlene Parks is an environmental lawyer, runner, and book lover.