• Press Release
  • September 12, 2016

Zurich Revealed As Most Sustainable Global City

European cities lead the way on urban sustainability, taking 16 of the top 20 places. Singapore features second overall and is the leading Asian city. Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index reveals extremes in the performance of individual cities. Cities encouraged to put people at the center of urban sustainable development.

Zurich leads the world for sustainability – alongside other European cities such as Stockholm, Vienna and London – according to the Sustainable Cities Index from Arcadis, the leading global Design & Consultancy for natural and built assets.

The index was compiled for Arcadis by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) and explores the three pillars of sustainability – social (people), environmental (planet) and economic (profit) to develop an indicative ranking of 100 of the world’s leading cities. The overall index is informed through an analysis of 32 different indicators and is broken down into an overall index and three sub-indices across each pillar.

Well-established European cities dominate the top of the overall ranking making up 16 of the top 20 positions. They are joined by the advanced Asian cities of Singapore (in second place), Seoul (7th) and Hong Kong (16th) as well as Australia’s capital, Canberra (18th).  Zurich took top place thanks to its particularly high rating for environmental and economic sustainability.

Overall the top ten and bottom ten cities in the 2016 Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index are:

Top ten Bottom ten

1. Zurich 91. Bengaluru

2. Singapore 92. Mumbai

3. Stockholm 93. Chengdu

4. Vienna 94. Wuhan

5. London 95. Cape Town

6. Frankfurt 96. Manila

7. Seoul 97. New Delhi

8. Hamburg 98. Nairobi

9. Prague 99. Cairo

10. Munich 100. Kolkata

The full findings can be found here: www.arcadis.com/sci2016

John Batten, Global Cities Director at Arcadis said: “Cities have unique identities that are heavily influenced by their cityscape, economy and culture.  Some cities, particularly established European cities such as Zurich which tops our index, are positioned within a moderate climate and have an economically balanced population which gives them a clear advantage when it comes to their sustainability.  Others have to deal with issues including extreme climates, rapid urbanization and lack of financial resources which can hold them back.  However, as our index shows, all have their urban challenges and none of the cities can claim to have earned the title of being a completely sustainable city.  For city authorities grappling with their own issues, the opportunity to compare their sustainability with similar cities which are often outside their own countries is an appealing one.”

At the extremes: Sustainability of global cities polarized

The report also demonstrates that cities around the world are living at extremes and exhibit polarized performance across the three pillars of sustainability.  For example, Zurich, despite leading both the overall ranking and the planet sub-index and doing well for economic sustainability, appears in 27th place on the people sub-index.  London also does well for planet (9th) and profit (3rd) but is in only 37th place for people.

This is mirrored in some Asian cities.  Singapore and Hong Kong excel in the profit arena but have further room for improvement to advance the sustainable conditions of people in their cities. They sit in first and second place, respectively, on the profit sub-index, compared to 48th and 81st for people.

Stockholm and Vienna achieve the best balance, appearing in the top 15 across each of the people, planet and profit rankings.  Emerging cities in Asia, along with a number in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, are held back in the overall ranking by particularly low profit ratings. 

John Batten continues: 

“Many cities around the world are not effectively balancing these three pillars of sustainability in their communities. This split story is dragging down the sustainability of individual cities across the world.  As our report shows, the challenge of putting people at the heart of a city’s sustainability goals is one that many have yet to rise up to meet.” 

Europe: Economic problems holding back some cities

Central and Northern European cities dominate top positions throughout the index. Rotterdam and Hamburg come in second and third, respectively, on the people sub-index, with the former scoring especially well for work-life balance. Amsterdam also features strongly for people in seventh place. Switzerland performs well in the planet sub-index with Zurich and Geneva taking the first and third spots, respectively, and they are joined in the top five by Stockholm, Vienna and Frankfurt. 

Of the three sub-indices, Europe is most challenged in profit, which could be a consequence of slow growth following the economic crisis. Notably Lyon, Brussels and Lisbon all score in the top half for both people and planet, but when it comes to profit they rank substantially lower in 71st place, 66th and 61st overall respectively.

London’s place as a leading global city is reflected in its fifth place overall.  It does particularly well in the profit standings, and is in the top ten for planet too, but as with many other leading financial centers, the cost of living and lack of affordable housing drag it down. 

North America: New York joins Canadian cities on top

North American cities experience challenges compared to other advanced economies on two pillars of sustainability – environmental and social – as they are hampered by low ratings on several contributing factors, including risks to climate change, health, and per-capita carbon emissions. 

Canadian cities place notably higher than their U.S. counterparts, with Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal taking three of the region’s top four places. New York is the highest ranked U.S. city, coming in second in the region and 26th globally, followed by Boston in 34th. West Coast cities are not far behind with San Francisco and Seattle coming in as the third and fourth highest ranked U.S. cities.  

The two Texan cities of Dallas and Houston are separated by only three places in the overall ranking, but Houston places above its state counterpart on the people sub-index while Dallas is ahead for environmental and economic sustainability.

In general, U.S. cities are challenged on social sustainability factors, with relatively low work-life balance, crime, health, and affordability ratings. Performance on the planet sub-index is also an area for improvement, with high per-capita emissions, high energy use and a lack of urban green space. 

However in the profit sub-index, the U.S. performs well with five cities in the top quarter globally: New York, San Francisco, Washington, Boston and Denver. 

Asia: Rapid urbanization putting pressure on people and planet  

Across Asia there are extremes between both the countries and within the sub-index rankings, suggesting many of these cities are living at their limits. 

Singapore and Hong Kong take the top two spots on the profit sub-index; but long working hours and commutes and high cost of living hamper their social sustainability performance. Meanwhile, South Korea’s capital, Seoul, leads on the people sub-index, performing well on social sustainability factors. 

Latin America: Brazil demonstrates green credentials 

In Latin America, all six cities in the index sit within 13 places of each other in the overall ranking. Santiago takes the region’s top position at 71st place and Mexico City rounds out the region in 84th.  

The Brazilian cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro sit out in front of their continental counterparts in the planet sub-index, ranking significantly higher in 30th and 38th place, respectively, compared with the next highest city, Santiago, in 57th. In contrast, the two cities perform the poorest for the region on economic sustainability at 84th and 86th place globally.

Middle East: Some highlights of profit and people sustainability 

The Middle Eastern cities demonstrate large differences within the region, which are most apparent in the profit sub-index where cities are placed between fourth (Dubai) and 97th (Amman) globally. These extremes are also notable at an individual city level with clear differences across the three sustainability pillars.  

Despite its high profit showing, Dubai encounters particular challenges on the planet sub-index coming in 96th in the world. In contrast, Amman leads the region on environmental sustainability but achieves a far lower placing on the people sub-index, coming 71st. Muscat tells another story of contrasts, placing in the top ten globally on the people sub-index but ranked 85th in the world for economic sustainability.  

Australasia: Strong performance on environmental sustainability

In Australasia all five cities fall relatively closely together in the overall global ranking from 18th to 32nd (Melbourne). Canberra takes the region’s top spot on the overall index and on the people and profit sub-indices. 

Wellington takes the lead on environmental sustainability with Sydney, both falling in the top ten cities globally. Wellington is another a prime example of a city living at extremes, taking the region’s top spot on the planet sub-index, but falling 50th or below on both social and economic sustainability globally. 


All four African cities in the index fall into the bottom ten of the overall ranking, hindered by sustainability challenges across all three pillars. Johannesburg comes in at 90th and Cairo at 99th position.


Contact Details:

For further information please contact Andy Rowlands, Head of Corporate Communications at Arcadis 

+44 (0)7952 594 784 / andy.rowlands@arcadis.com   

Notes to Editor:

The research examines 100 cities ranking them across 32 indicators to estimate the sustainability of each city. The cities included within this report were selected to provide an overview of the planet’s cities, providing not only wide-ranging geographical coverage, but also a variety of levels of economic development, expectations of future growth and an assortment of sustainability challenges. 

A detailed, evidence-based metric is derived to quantify each city’s performance. The headline ranking can then be divided into three broad subcategories: people, planet and profit. These correspond to three dimensions of sustainability - social, environmental and economic and can be described as the triple bottom line.

Building on last year’s index, Arcadis has sought to create a more indicative global picture of urban sustainability through including an additional 50 cities to the ranking and incorporating seven new indicators of sustainability to the index. As a result of this, it would be inaccurate to compare the rankings to last year’s. 

About Arcadis 

Arcadis is the leading global Design & Consultancy firm for natural and built assets. Applying our deep market sector insights and collective design, consultancy, engineering, project and management services we work in partnership with our clients to deliver exceptional and sustainable outcomes throughout the lifecycle of their natural and built assets. We are 27,000 people active in over 70 countries that generate €3.4 billion in revenues. We support UN-Habitat with knowledge and expertise to improve the quality of life in rapidly growing cities around the world.  www.arcadis.com. Arcadis. Improving quality of life.

Overall ranking

Overall 2016 Sustainable Cities Index ranking below, for full findings please visit : www.arcadis.com/sci2016  

1. Zurich 35. Dublin 69. Detroit

2. Singapore 36. Glasgow 70. Kuwait City

3. Stockholm 37. Warsaw 71. Santiago

4. Vienna 38. Leeds 72. Doha

5. London 39. San Francisco 73. Beijing

6. Frankfurt 40. Brussels 74. Shanghai

7. Seoul 41. Macau 75. Muscat

8. Hamburg 42. Milan 76. Riyadh

9. Prague 43. Seattle 77. Istanbul

10. Munich 44. Washington 78. Guangzhou

11. Amsterdam 45. Tokyo 79. São Paulo

12. Geneva 46. Lisbon 80. Buenos Aires

13. Edinburgh 47. Lyon 81. Jeddah

14. Copenhagen 48. Taipei 82. Rio de Janeiro

15. Paris 49. Denver 83. Lima

16. Hong Kong 50. Los Angeles 84. Mexico City

17. Berlin 51. Philadelphia 85. Tianjin

18. Canberra 52. Dubai 86. Amman

19. Rotterdam 53. Baltimore 87. Hanoi

20. Madrid  54. Miami 88. Jakarta

21. Sydney 55. Kuala Lumpur 89. Chennai

22. Rome 56. Dallas 90. Johannesburg

23. Vancouver 57. Moscow 91. Bengaluru

24. Barcelona 58. Abu Dhabi 92. Mumbai

25. Manchester 59. Houston 93. Chengdu

26. New York 60. Chicago 94. Wuhan

27. Wellington 61. New Orleans 95. Cape Town

28. Montreal 62. Pittsburgh 96. Manila

29. Antwerp 63. Atlanta 97. New Delhi

30. Brisbane 64. Shenzhen 98. Nairobi

31. Birmingham 65. Indianapolis 99. Cairo

32. Melbourne 66. Athens 100. Kolkata

33. Toronto  67. Bangkok

34. Boston  68. Tampa

Sub-index rankings

People sub-index

1. Seoul 

2. Rotterdam

3. Hamburg

4. Vienna

5. Berlin

6. Prague

7. Amsterdam

8. Munich 

9. Muscat

10. Montreal

The People sub-index rates health (life expectancy and obesity), education (literacy and universities), income inequality, work-life balance, the dependency ratio, crime, green space within cities and housing and living costs. These indicators can be broadly thought of as capturing “quality of life”. 

Planet sub-index

1. Zurich

2. Stockholm

3. Geneva

4. Vienna

5. Frankfurt

6. Wellington

7. Rome

8. Sydney

9.  London 

10. Hamburg

The Planet sub-index ranks cities on energy consumption and renewable energy share, recycling and composting rates, greenhouse gas emissions, natural catastrophe risk, drinking water, sanitation and air pollution. These indicators can broadly be thought of as capturing “green factors”.

Profit sub-index

1. Singapore

2. Hong Kong

3. London

4. Dubai

5. Zurich

6. Edinburgh

7. Prague

8. New York

9. Paris

10. Stockholm

The Profit sub-index examines performance from a business perspective, combining measures of transport infrastructure (rail, air and traffic congestion), ease of doing business, tourism, GDP per capita, the city’s importance in global economic networks, connectivity in terms of mobile and broadband access and employment rates.  These indicators can broadly be thought of as capturing “economic health”.