How Cities Can Leverage Their Communities to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Nathan Ju, City Solutions Intern @ Colu

Today, more than ever, cities are facing unprecedented levels of social, economic, and environmental changes. In a study performed by the OECD, cities around the world now constitute over 66% of energy consumption, and more than 70% of all CO2 emissions. Cities also face various other challenges, such as road congestion, containment of natural resources, and air pollution amongst a long list of other environmental issues. By putting a larger focus on sustainability, we can make strides towards decreasing our carbon footprint.

The Digi International blog defines a sustainable city as “an urban center engineered to improve its environmental impact through urban planning and management.” Essentially, a sustainable city is a city that aims to minimize its carbon footprint and environmental impact by creating various alternatives to traditional transportation, infrastructure, energy, living practices, and anything else that goes into the foundation of a city. 

Of course, without their residents, cities can’t accomplish much. It’s imperative to make sure our communities feel ownership over the environment and their contribution to cutting emissions. Below are three actions that cities can take to move towards becoming engaging, clean, and sustainable ecosystems:

1. Encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation.

Automobiles are responsible for 75% of all CO2 emissions in the United States and comprise 27% of air pollution in urban areas. By reducing the need to commute via automobiles, and encouraging citizens to use public transportation, walk, bike, or carpool, we can significantly reduce the amount of emissions in cities. In doing so, cities will also experience lower congestion on roads, less emissions and air pollution, and overall improved health within citizens.

Many cities have already begun utilizing public transportation and encouraging citizens to bike or walk instead of driving. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority claims to save over 17 million tons of greenhouse gasses. Today, the MTA services over 3.3 million citizens in New York City every day, and over 56% of citizens use public transportation. Additionally, New York City has installed Citi Bikes throughout the city. These pay-by-the-minute bikes have enabled residents, employees and tourists to travel around New York City emission-free, and the growing number of stations and bicycles allows for biking to become more efficient than waiting in traffic and searching for a crowded parking spot in the busy streets of New York. 

2. Incentivize Electric Vehicle drivers.

Not all cities can create alternative transportation modes overnight, but they can still make a large environmental impact by incentivizing electric vehicle (EV) usage. Internal combustion engine vehicles generate 4.6 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, but this number is halved by the use of hybrid vehicles, and cut even more by fully electric vehicles. By providing EV owners with tangible incentives and benefits, cities can encourage citizens to become EV drivers. Not only will this change lead to a massive reduction of carbon emissions and significant improvement in air quality, it could also lower transportation costs and a reduced strain on traffic. 

San Francisco, one of the most populated cities in the United States, is spearheading the growth of EVs within cities. San Francisco has mandated that garages and parking lots install EV-compatible charging spaces in at least 10% of their parking spots, and the City aims to achieve 100% emission-free ground transportation within 20 years

3. Reward Green Waste Management

Today, it is sadly not uncommon to see beaches covered in litter, jeopardizing the lives of sea creatures and ocean environment. It was reported that plastic accounts for over 90% of the pollution in the ocean, and it has negatively affected all species from seabirds, to whales, and fish. 

Through strategic urban planning, cities can significantly improve their water conservation and waste management – protecting coastal ecosystems and creating solutions for the water crisis. This can be done by incentivizing citizens to recycle in order to limit the waste that reaches our streets and the ocean. Cities can do this by rewarding their citizens for recycling, promoting secondhand marketplaces to reduce the amount of items that are thrown out, creating creative ways to promote their “pay-as-you-throw” plans on plastic bottles, and finding ways to repurpose materials that would have otherwise been in the landfill. 

In Conclusion

Cities are faced with a plethora of challenges and have to make difficult decisions about how to prioritize their time, funding and resources. Thanks to emerging technologies that are becoming more economically viable, such as EVs, and by increased awareness about the benefits of sustainable behaviors such as recycling and walking, residents now have an enormous opportunity to make an unprecedented impact on their carbon footprint. Let’s do it! 

To learn more about how your City can incentivize its residents to take ownership over the City’s sustainability efforts, email our City Solutions team at!

June 9th, 2022