Sustainable Cities

Top Ten Smart, Sustainable Cities

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted March 16, 2012

A “Smart City” in the United States may be defined as one that uses technologies in the field of information and communication to become much more intelligent in the way it handles resources to ensure in savings via cost and energy. These technologies are also utilized to improve quality of life for all residents as well as decrease climate change and negative environmental impact. Here is a list of ten cities that support being “Smart” in the area of clean technology.

1 ) Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is said to enjoy some of the most supportive policies in the United States for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Boston is second in the country in clean technology venture capital investments. With an environment that is ripe for cleantech start-ups, numerous companies are moving their business to Boston. The MIT Clean Energy Prize is a venture and innovation creation competition that encourages clean energy innovation. Its objective is to provide educational opportunities and supply incentives to ventures demonstrating the clean energy affordability. As well, the development of MIT’s cleantech incubator will provide Boston with more access to cleantech flow, increasing the demands for all future building to be constructed in accordance to LEED standards.

2 ) San Jose, California. San Jose, known as part of California’s famed Silicon Valley, has been very productive in clean technologies. The city has expanded a number of clean technology investments and because of the research and development institutions in the area, many cleantech companies are making their home in San Jose. San Jose’s, “Long-time leadership in engineering know-how, combined with semi-conductor, nanotechnology and optics R&D gives it a leg up in renewable energy development, particularly in solar energy applications.” San Jose is also home to the Environmental Business Cluster, a non-profit technology commercialization center assisting start-up cleantech companies developing goods and services to positively impact the environment, including NuEdison.

3 ) San Diego, California. San Diego is world renowned for its culture of collaboration and collegiality and is a natural setting for a cleantech “collaboratory.” Through meaningful partnerships with private and public sector champions, CleanTECH San Diego promotes sustainable best practices in the San Diego region and promotes the region’s high concentration of cleantech activities. By collaborating with the multitude of stakeholders, we leverage these assets and position ourselves effectively as a world leader in the low carbon economy. Home to CleanTECH San Diego, which is a private, non-profit member organization formed in 2007. As one of the nation’s premier cleantech cluster organizations, its mission is to position the region as a global leader in the cleantech economy. CleanTECH San Diego serves as a catalyst for a diverse group of stakeholders to advance a common agenda.

4 ) Austin, Texas. Austin has long been Texas’ hub for solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass power, as well as fuel cell technologies. Its commitment to the environment and sustainability has made it not only a national cleantech player, but a global one as well. Austin is home to some of the largest cleantech companies on a global level, including HelioVolt, Xtreme Power, and Green Mountain Energy. A large research and development hub, the University of Texas at Austin has created several research expenditures to elevate research into energy efficiency and renewable energy. This includes a project by the College of Natural Sciences to create biofuel from blue-green algae and hybrid-electric automobile programs developed by The Center for Electromechanics. There is also the Clean Energy Incubator, which provides facilities and resources to turn renewable energy ideas into working projects.

5 ) Seattle, Washington. Seattle has been leaving its mark in cleantech society by increasing the need for green standards. The Green Building Sustainable Communities Program, for example, creates city projects that meet sustainable outcomes. Tax breaks and loans are provided to businesses and residences that utilize green practices. Seattle has been a leader in using their garbage to get electricity. They have invested into electricity from garbage landfills. Seattle also houses the top Green Fleet Plan in the nation, which works toward the adoption of alternative sources of fuel, advanced technology vehicles, fuel reduction policies, and educational programs. But the biggest reason for the impact of Cleantech is the participation of the local community. The Seattle community has been instrumental in energy efficiency policies.

6 ) Portland, OR. Consistently, Portland has ranked high on the sustainable city index. The city has been committed to making itself a sustainable city since the early 1990s. Portland is consistently named the number-one city for bicyclists. Many roads have a designated bike lane and sometimes a blocked-off box for bikes to pull in front of cars at stoplights. As evident by its operations with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, there is not an area of focus that Portland is not addressing. From climate to food to energy all areas are focused on key sustainability measures.

7 ) Chicago, Illinois. Over 20 percent of total power in Chicago is coming from renewable sources. Due to the increase in the need for renewable energy and energy efficiency, Chicago has been able to create numerous job opportunities while, at the same time, increasing solar power and saving on CO2 emissions. A number of large cleantech companies call the economic capital of Illinois their home, including G-Tech Energy Inc. and SoCore Energy. Chicago is also becoming one of the major investment locations for international businesses. For example, 2010 provided Chicago with a deal with China’s Goldwind to build a branch there for wind-power solutions. Chicago also has a number of green initiatives, including the Chicago Green Office Challenge and “Smart Grid Innovation” project.

8 ) Berkeley, California. Berkeley has become a hub for biofuel technology. For example, in 2007, the creation of a $500 million research effort to create new, renewable energy sources that will decrease the overall impact on the environment. The funding created the Energy Biosciences Institute, which focuses its research on biofuel technology and turning field waste, corn, and algae into fuels that can be used for transportation. Berkeley was also the first city to launch a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program focused on residential solar.

9 ) Washington D.C. As the capital of the United States, it must be a leader and set an example when it comes to cleantech. D.C. is the center for all major U.S. cleantech associations and initiatives, including the American Wind Association, the American Council on Renewable Energy, the Renewable Energy Incentive Program, and the Renewable Energy Policy Project to name a few. American University, residing in D.C. is the first east coast U.S. University to go 100 percent green. Because D.C. needs to lead by example, they have a number of energy efficient residential programs, including tree planting, disposal of items harmful to the environment, and various programs on instructing energy saving, environmentally friendly techniques.

10 ) San Francisco, California. California is one of the top cleantech nations in the United States and it is cities like San Francisco that makes it happen. Currently, San Francisco is well on its way to becoming the first city to be completely run by renewable energy by the year 2020. With projects like Sunset Reservoir Solar Project, which is the largest municipal solar facility in the state and a new $250,000 grant to increase renewable energy capabilities to reach 2020 goal, it is easy to see how quickly it will happen. San Francisco is also home to a number of cleantech investment firms that assist in creating new cleantech businesses. For example, there is The Energy Foundation, an organization that partners donors to assist in solving the energy problem around the globe. Funding is provided to businesses that advance renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.

Article by Shawn Lesser and Ben Taube.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He is also author of The 2012 Cleantech Directory. He can be reached at

Ben Taube, president of BLT Sustainable Energy, Inc., is an experienced leader in developing cleantech companies with an extensive expertise in shaping environmental partnerships, policy and education.