Forum for the Future’s annual Sustainable Cities Index tracks progress on sustainability in Britain’s 20 largest cities - highlighting their environmental performance, quality of life and their readiness for the challenges of the future. The index ran from 2007-2010.

The index was intended to highlight and reward cities’ achievements, encourage healthy competition, and give citizens the tools to hold their leaders to account. It attracted considerable media attention, raising awareness of what it means to be a sustainable city.

In 2010, Newcastle was the leader for the second year running and Bristol and Brighton topped the table in 2008 and 2007. The index succeeded in showcasing what they have achieved to their citizens and to other cities.

“Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Cities Index has driven real change by inspiring cities to adopt more ambitious sustainability strategies and by providing a framework against which they can benchmark their efforts.” Margaret Eaton, Chairman, Local Government Association

We measured 13 indicators in three broad baskets:

  • Environmental impact – the city’s impact in terms of resource use and pollution;
  • Quality of life – what the city is like for people to live in;
  • Future-proofing – how well the city is preparing for a sustainable future.

The indicators were designed to give a snapshot of sustainability in each city and chosen to reflect areas in which local authorities have the power to enhance the sustainability of their city.

The index also went international. Darwin topped the first Australian index, which was compiled by the Australian Conservation Foundation adapting Forum's methodology.

Media coverage:

The Ecologist- Top 10 . . . greenest UK cities
BBC News - Newcastle named UK's top green city
The Guardian - Bees help keep Newcastle at top of green city table
The Scotsman - Newcastle is Britain's most sustainable city

2007 Index

How do UK cities really measure up?

The race to be a truly ‘sustainable city’ is increasingly competitive, with Manchester determined to become ‘the Greenest City in Britain by 2010’, Bristol wanting to become a ‘Green Capital’ and London aiming for nothing less than the status of ‘most sustainable city in the world’.

Aiming to cut through the rhetoric, this report brings rigour to the debate by using current data to determine who’s sustainable and who’s not. In it, each of the UK’s 20 largest cities are analysed according to three criteria – their ‘environmental impact', ‘quality of life’ and ‘future proofing’ – and given an overall ranking which summarises the results.

The data reveals that Brighton and Hove is the most sustainable city followed by Edinburgh in second place and Bristol in third. Liverpool comes bottom of the list, after Hull in 18th place and Birmingham in 19th.

In the UK, around nine in ten people live in towns and cities. Globally, we are now a majority urban world. We have no choice but to learn to live together in sustainable ways in cities. This will mean providing a high quality of life for all residents. It will also mean reducing the wider environmental impact of cities.

We chose three baskets of indicators against which to rank the cities.

  • The Environmental Impact of the city – the impact of the city on the wider environment in terms of resource use and pollution
  • The Quality of Life for residents – what the city is like to live in for all its citizens.
  • Future Proofing – how well the city is preparing itself for a sustainable future.

We selected these index categories to reflect the sustainability of each city in a fair and balanced way. We used a total of 13 indicators, spread across the three baskets. The indicators use existing data on aspects of performance on which cities are already expected to make improvements. We intend to measure these indicators year-on-year.

Download the report

Media coverage

And the winner of the award for the greenest city in Britain is ... Bradford, The Guardian, 20th October 2007

See The Guardian's interactive guide, Guardian Unlimited, 20th October 2007

Watch a short film about Bradford, Guardian Unlimited, 20th October 2007

Brighton's best? Well maybe ... , Guardian Unlimited blog, 20th October 2007

Bradford tops green cities league, BBC, 20th October 2007

Bradford named UK's greenest
InTheNews.co.uk, 20th October 2007

City named second most sustainable, Edinburgh Evening News, 20th October 2007

Mill Town Turnaround, Environmental Graffiti, 20th October 2007

City tops green list
Bradford Telegraph Argus, 20th October 2007

City attacks report critics after failing 'green' test, Liverpool Daily Post, 22nd October 2007

City ranked low on sustainability table, ic Coventry, 23rd October 2007

Green feather in our cap, Sunderland Echo, 23rd October 2007

Sunderland 'has lowest eco-footprint in the North East'
24dash, 23rd October 2007

War on waste is a drop in the ocean, The Argus, 25th October 2007

2008 Index

Forum for the Future's second annual Sustainable Cities Index tracks progress on sustainability in Britain’s 20 largest cities, ranking them on environmental performance, quality of life and future-proofing – how well they are addressing issues such as climate change, recycling and biodiversity.

Bristol has beaten Brighton to claim the top spot in this year's index, thanks in part to its impressive increase in recycling and composting rates - on which it moved up the rankings by 10 places - and its consistently high scores on water quality, waste collection and green spaces.

Brighton and Hove, last year’s winner, is rated highest for quality of life and future-proofing but came in second because of its comparative poor performance on the environment. It is commended for its transport services, education provision, green spaces, climate change strategy and recycling rates.

Plymouth, in third place, has the best environmental performance. Its top ranking in this table reflects water and air quality and the limited impact of its services, housing, transport and consumables on the environment, relative to other cities. It also scored well on employment, life-expectancy and recycling rates.

Newcastle jumped from eight to four, the only northern city in the top five. Its future-proofing activities improved its ranking, with green businesses and recycling rates.

But the report reveals that a clear North-South divide still exists. Southern cities tend to perform better in the quality of life indicators and all feature in the top 10, while the industrial heritage of the Midlands and North is reflected in lower life expectancy.

Edinburgh and Leeds, which both featured in the top five last year, have slipped further down the scale, dropping four and eight places respectively. Liverpool, Birmingham and Hull remain in the bottom four.

Not even the UK’s best-performing cities can match international leaders in sustainability like Stockholm, Portland in the US and Curitiba in Brazil, the report finds.

Overall city rankings

2008 rank (2007 rank)
1 (3) Bristol
2 (1) Brighton & Hove
3 (4) Plymouth
4 (8) Newcastle
5 (6) Cardiff
6 (2) Edinburgh
7 (7) Sheffield
8 (14) Leicester
9 (10) London
10= (9) Bradford
10= (11) Nottingham
12 (13) Sunderland
13 (5) Leeds
14 (17) Coventry
15 (12) Manchester
16 (16) Wolverhampton
17 (20) Liverpool
18 (15) Glasgow
19 (19) Birmingham
20 (18) Hull

Media coverage

Bristol Evening Post, 9 November 2008
Bristol is Britain's greenest city

The Daily Telegraph, 10 November 2008
Bristol named as Britain’s most environmental sustainable city

The Guardian, 10 November 2008
Ship-shape, green and Bristol fashion

Evening Chronicle, 10 November 2008
Toon in the top five green cities

2009 Index

Newcastle pushed previous winners Bristol and Brighton into second and third place in 2009 – the first time a northern industrial city has broken into the top three. It tops the environmental table, and comes fourth for both quality of life and future-proofing.

The 2009 results

Newcastle pushed previous winners Bristol and Brighton into second and third place in 2009 – the first time a northern industrial city has broken into the top three. It tops the environmental table, and comes fourth for both quality of life and future-proofing.

Its achievement shows that it is possible for cities with an industrial heritage to overcome the legacy of the past and perform well on many measures of sustainability.

Newcastle has risen from fourth last year and eighth in 2007, and its result rewards the ambitions set out in its Sustainable Community Strategy for 2008-2011: “Our economic growth will not have been achieved at the expense of the environment – Newcastle in 2021 will be a sustainable city with excellent air quality, low waste levels, low carbon emissions and high recycling rates.”

Bristol tops the quality of life table and ranks third on future-proofing. It has the highest scores for recycling and household waste collections, and comes second on employment and transport. But it is let down by some poorer performances on the environmental table.

Brighton, which came top in 2007, is second for future-proofing and third for quality of life, but is also let down by its environmental performance. It has the strongest economy but the worst ecological footprint – the amount of land required to provide each person with food, transport, housing, goods and services.

Leicester takes fourth place – a strong rise from eighth last year and 14th in 2007 – and tops the future-proofing table, reflecting the ambitious strategies noted in last year’s index.

London moves up four to fifth place and takes second place for quality of life, with strong scores on employment, transport and health. Its economy is second only to Brighton.

View full report

Overall city rankings

2009 rank (2008) [2007] - click on city for detailed factsheet

1 (4) [8] Newcastle

2 (1) [3] Bristol

3 (2) [1] Brighton and Hove

4 (8) [14] Leicester

5 (9) [10] London

6 (13) [5] Leeds

7 (6) [2] Edinburgh

8 (10=) [11] Nottingham

9 (7) [7] Sheffield

10 (5) [6] Cardiff

11 (14) [17] Coventry

12 (3) [4] Plymouth

13 (12) [13] Sunderland

14 (15) [12] Manchester

15 (17) [20] Liverpool

16 (10=) [9] Bradford

17 (19) [19] Birmingham

18 (16) [16] Wolverhampton

19 (18) [15] Glasgow

20 (20) [18] Hull

Media coverage

The Guardian, 19 November 2009
Newcastle-upon-Tyne takes top spot as Britain's greenest city

Reuters, 19 November 2009
Newcastle named Britain's "greenest" city

BBC, 19 November 2009
Newcastle 'greenest' British city

2010 Index

Download the Sustainable Cities Index 2010

Cities with strong visions of a successful future lead the 2010 Sustainable Cities Index which is sponsored by GE.

Newcastle, top for the second year running, and Leicester, in second place, are outpacing rivals Brighton, Bristol and London. But all five have set themselves ambitious targets and are guided by long-term visions of how to improve life for their citizens by reducing their impact on the environment and seizing new opportunities in the green economy.

Newcastle, which was eighth in 2007, has extended its lead over a tight cluster of four rivals. “Sustainability is right at the top of our agenda, and we intend to keep it there,” said Barry Rowland, Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council.

It has placed itself at the centre of an increasingly vibrant clean tech cluster in the North East and aims to become a world class centre of science and innovation, benefiting economically and socially from the green economy. It aspires to become the UK’s “electric car capital” and has started installing 580 charging points in the region.

Leicester, in 14th place four years ago, is second and leads on environmental performance. It has the lowest ecological footprint, produces the least household waste and is best at managing its biodiversity. It has a strong climate change plan, a high recycling rate and an emerging new business sector pursuing opportunities in sustainability and environmental management.

Brighton, third, scores well for quality of life and future-proofing, with a healthy, highly skilled population and a vibrant economy, but high-consumption lifestyles give it the worst ecological footprint of any city.

Bristol falls to fourth place but retains the top spot in the quality of life basket, with a low unemployment rate, highly skilled and qualified residents, and improving school standards.

London is fifth and comes top on future-proofing with strong new plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change and the highest level of business start-ups. It has the longest life expectancy, but by far the worst air quality and one of the largest ecological footprints.

Overall city rankings

Click on city for detailed factsheet.

2010 rank (2009) [2008] {2007}

  1. Newcastle -----(1)-------[4]------{8}
  2. Leicester-------(4)-------[8]-----{14}
  3. Brighton--------(3)-------[2]------{1}
  4. Bristol-----------(2)-------[1]------{3}
  5. London---------(5)-------[9]-----{10}
  6. Leeds-----------(6)------[13]------{5}
  7. Coventry------(11)-----[14]-----{17}
  8. Plymouth------(12)------[3]------{4}
  9. Edinburgh------(7)-------[6]------{2}
  10. Sheffield--------(9)-------[7]------{7}
  11. Cardiff---------(10)-------[5]------{6}
  12. Nottingham----(8)------[10=]---{11}
  13. Manchester---(14)-----[15]-----{12}
  14. Liverpool------(15)-----[17]------{20}
  15. Birmingham--(17)----[19]------{19}
  16. Sunderland---(13)-----[12]------{13}
  17. Derby – First year in index
  18. Bradford------(16)-----[10=]-----{9}
  19. Glasgow------(19)-----[18]------{15}
  20. Hull------------(20)-----[20]------{18}

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