Sustainable Seattle: It’s not just a buzzword but a reality

A new, broad measurement of growing in an inclusive, Earth-friendly way gives Seattle and other Northwest metros high marks.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon famously said, “We don’t have a plan B because there is no planet B.” In the pre-Trumpian era, member nations unanimously adopted an ambitious set of sustainable development goals in 2015. Now we have the first snapshot from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network of how American cities are doing, and Seattle shines.

The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area ranks third overall in the U.S. Cities Sustainable Development Goals Index 2017, behind Silicon Valley (metro San Jose) and Provo-Orem, Utah. The poorest performer is Baton Rouge, La., and also lagging are such Midwestern metros as Detroit and Cleveland “due to high levels of relative poverty, acute unemployment, and high CO2 emission rates due to heavy car dependence.”

Elsewhere in the Northwest, Boise ranks No. 7 and Portland No. 10.

The 100 most populous metros are covered by the index, which looks at data from 49 indicators. These are crunched against most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by all countries. The metrics include personal income, poverty, carbon emissions, crime, environmental efforts, health and inequality. The report says all U.S. metros have a long way to go, although the leaders show promising best practices.

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Here are some rankings in specific areas:

  • Seattle was 7th in the no poverty rankings, which were led by Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.
  • Tied for first in clean and affordable energy with Spokane and Boise.
  • Third for decent work and economic growth behind Spokane and Boise (this measures equity, not raw jobs or investment).
  • No. 8 in industry innovation and infrastructure.
  • No. 5 in partnerships to attain the sustainable development goals.

Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist and director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which produced the report, made this observation:

“America is a paradox: the world’s leader in technology and dynamism and yet increasingly a laggard in wellbeing, public health, inequality, and even confidence in the future. As is famously known, the U.S. is getting richer but not happier. The paradox is resolved of course…

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