The Greenest Cities in the U.S. for Renters
It’s not just college kids and aging hippies who care about the environment anymore. Everyone is looking for more eco-friendly living, whether it is to save the planet or save some money. Homeowners can adapt or retrofit their homes with scores of green projects but what about renters? Often, those who lease are limited in ways to make their apartments greener. If you can’t remodel your apartment, what is the solution?
For renters looking to live a greener life, it often comes down to choosing an apartment, building or complex that offers existing green amenities. But where is best? What are the greenest cities in the US for renters? We scoured apartment and property listings across the nation. Among these, we looked at which listed green amenities from solar panels and smart thermostats to LEED-certified buildings and available electric vehicle charging stations.
Below are the top 10 (well, 11) green cities in America where renters will find the most apartments with environment-friendly amenities.
- Percentage of green communities: 20.00%
Nearly 15 percent of Charleston is water. Inlets, bays, streams, sounds and the Cooper and Ashley Rivers open to the Atlantic. Much of Charleston’s past history and the present economy rely on water. The climate crisis is forefront in the form of rising tides and ever-stronger hurricanes. That’s what brings the port city to our list with one in five rental properties listing green amenities.
The future of Charleston relies on continuing tourism. What makes the city grand attracts from around the world as well as its permanent population. Charleston is also a top 10 arts destination, the nation’s most polite and hospitable city and the friendliest city in the entire world.
It’s no wonder Travel + Leisure named it “Best City in the World.” Seriously. And that’s a place worth protecting, starting at home with green living.
- Percentage of green communities: 20.00%
When your city is two-thirds reclaimed marshland, then you take the environment seriously. With 20 percent of rental properties offering green amenities, it’s easy for apartment seekers in Boston to help take care of the environment at home. Fortunately, the city as a whole is following in green footsteps.
The Boston government offers a number of citywide eco-friendly initiatives. The city has developed a number of green districts with affordable green housing, such as the one in Allston. That plan includes three new LEED buildings and updates to a number of others — paired with the Renew Boston Whole Building Incentive which helps reduce costs in energy-efficient housing. Also, by law, Boston’s climate plan updates every three years and requires the largest buildings to disclose their energy usage.
It’s one of the reasons why Boston ranks as the second-greenest US city by Condé Nast Traveler. The city is also awash in large green spaces like Boston Common and the Kennedy Greenway, a result of the Big Dig. And if you’re reducing your auto travel, Boston is perfect. Walk Score ranked the city the third most walkable city in America.
- Percentage of green communities: 20.51%
There are special and unique needs for coastal communities — Wilmington is just such a community. The North Carolina town has seven miles of coast along the Intracoastal Waterway, access to Wrightsville Beach across the River to the Sea Bikeway and a two-mile Riverwalk on Cape Fear River.
In a fragile coastal ecosystem, climate change means water level rise and an urgent need for green initiatives. And conservation starts at home. That’s why with over 20 percent of rental properties listing green amenities, Wilmington is the best coastal city in the US for renters.
Protecting the waterway and riverside are key to the economic health of Wilmington. In fact, its waterfront region has a reputation for the “Best American Riverfront.”
Plus, it’s not just tourism that attracts people to Wilmington —it’s a key entertainment location. The city has been the production home of a slew of movies and television shows including “Dawson’s Creek,” “Iron Man 3,” “One Tree Hill,” “We’re The Millers,” “Eastbound and Down,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and multiple Stephen King films.
- Percentage of green communities: 21.58%
As a big city in the South, you wouldn’t immediately think of Atlanta as a bastion of environmentalism. But Atlanta’s green living goes hand in hand with its green space.
Atlanta is known as a city in a forest for the abundance of trees and the extent of the city’s tree canopy cover. In fact, nearly half of the city features a canopy of trees. In the city, parks such as Piedmont, Centennial Olympic, Woodruff and the developing Westside Park dominate massive spaces.
As as you exit Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead, thickly wooded forests stretch out to the city limits and beyond. To create and maintain this tree haven, Atlanta has been a leader in outdoor environmental solutions for decades.
But eco-friendly Atlanta is more than just greenery. The city also offers the third most farmers’ markets in the nation. It funds programs to ensure the construction of LEED buildings and to educate city employees about energy savings. To top it all, Atlanta plans to power all municipal buildings including Hartsfield Airport solely with clean energy in the next five years and every building in the city by 2035.
- Percentage of green communities: 21.74%
In the heart of the Great Plains, many view Omaha as a far-flung place known for quality steak, college baseball, 311 and Warren Buffett. But the diverse Nebraska city of half a million residents is a heartland oasis filled with culture, education, upscale shopping and trendy dining. And with nearly 22 percent of properties reporting green amenities, it’s the greenest city in the Midwest for renters.
Omaha is home to Creighton University, the largest community theater in the nation and the annual College World Series. But it also sports a government promoting green living in the city that loves its outdoor culture.
ECOmaha is a municipal initiative that not just promotes a green plan but environmental equality as well. Keys to the effort include an owned and rental property healthy homes program, brownfield management and community solar programs.
Recently, Omaha held a national design competition entitled Green in the City. The goal was to create a unique urban green space downtown to integrate with projects both existing and under development. As well, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy is one of the largest producers of wind energy in the nation.
- Percentage of green communities: 23.33%
One theme to maintaining a green city is the presence of a large university. A population that includes a swath of educated, motivated young people – many bringing ideas from across the country – leads to higher environmental awareness. And Tempe is no exception. This city of 200,000 contains 50,000 students at Arizona State University.
But its location in the desert southwest also gives Tempe a long history among Native American peoples. Long before Al Gore and Ralph Nader, the nation’s indigenous population worked to keep the environment healthy and thriving. Today, Tempe’s population is three percent Native American, along with 21% Hispanic.
Sitting in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Tempe has always had to have an eye out for green living and environmental care. Along with its Phoenix neighbor, the city has learned to conserve water to fight desert droughts, limited rainfall and scorching temperatures. Green living initiatives include a proliferation of solar panels, water catchers, natural and shade cooling and urban agriculture.
In such a harsh climate getting harsher, both owned properties and rental units are well equipped with sustainable and conservative measures.
- Percentage of green communities: 23.53%
With over 23 percent of rental properties and communities offering green amenities, the Puget Sound city of Tacoma is the West Coast’s cheapest city for renters. Being located in the Pacific Northwest, green initiatives and conservation are of particular importance to the water/land balance and wooded ecosystem. And green living both at home and outdoors is impactful.
Tacoma, on the South Sound south of Seattle, is an oasis of parks and green spaces. A member of the Green Cities Network, Tacoma offers a variety of both urban and forested parks. Away from parkland, the city funds efforts for green infrastructure, sustainable urban agriculture, sustainable purchasing and more.
Each October, the Green Tacoma Partnership celebrates Green Tacoma Days. The annual event promotes community involvement in park and green space maintenance, cleanup and restoration.
- Percentage of green communities: 23.75%
Even among the numerous Texas cities in our top 10 greenest cities in the US, it’s no surprise to see Austin on this list. The Texas capital offers the second most green community listing of any city in the entire nation, behind only giant Houston. Indeed it’s Architectural Digest’s “Greenest City in America.” And the city’s “Keep Austin Weird” mentality is more than just a slogan, it’s a way of life for the plethora of millennials who live here and demand climate-friendly housing and neighborhoods.
Austin, in fact, houses the sixth most millennial renters in the entire nation, bringing environmental consciousness to the progressive city. The city is the urban campus for the University of Texas, one of the 10 biggest colleges in the nation. It’s also home to both South By Southwest and Austin City Limits, two of the most popular music and arts festivals anywhere.
The “Greenest City” has proven Austin a livable place to set up shop. Employment is strong as a top city for future job growth and for job seekers. It’s one of the best cities for millennial housing, even during the pandemic. The city offers over 22 city park acres for every 1,000 residents. And its lifestyle attracts those young professionals with arts, culture, dining, breweries, live music, education, walkability, outdoor recreation, shopping and college sports. Just a few of the things that make Austin the best place to live in America and plain more fun.
- Percentage of green communities: 25.71%
Just 20 miles north of downtown Dallas (and 50 from Fort Worth for what it’s… worth), Plano is America’s greenest suburb for renters. One of America’s largest suburbs, Plano on its own is the nation’s 70th most populous city. And over one-quarter of all rental properties in town offer green amenities. But green community leadership is nothing new for Plano.
The US Green Building Council’s LEED Cities program certified Plano as a 4-STAR Certified Community. It called out the city’s national leadership in sustainability among other factors. In fact, Plano scored the highest marks in the nation for STAR participation. Additionally, Plano offers residents and property owners assistance through the Smart Energy Loan Program to increase energy efficiency and decrease the city’s carbon footprint.
Need more proof of Plano’s green bona fides? The city has also been awarded the Excellence in Sustainability Award, the Keep Texas Beautiful Community Achievement Award and first place Outstanding Environmental Education among many others.
- Percentage of green communities: 27.08%
Sitting just north of the narrow of the James River, Richmond is the greenest city for renters on the East Coast. Dating back to its colonial founding, the river has always been a key to the city’s infrastructure. Richmond actually sits at the river’s highest navigable point. It has a deep history of significant floods, with climate-related water level rise an important environmental issue.
Over 27 percent of rental properties offer green community listings, the second-most in the nation. But that’s just the start for Richmond. Just last year, a major green project for a district just north of the city became reality. GreenCity is now a planned development anchored by a new sports arena.
The project also includes 2 million square feet of office space, 280,000 retail, 2,400 housing units and a pair of hotels to accompany the 17,000 seat arena. The $2.3 billion “eco-district” would have environmental sustainability at the forefront in construction plus parks, trails and green spaces.
- Percentage of green communities: 27.97%
If you didn’t know, you would be surprised to find out that San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States. But that’s a little misleading. Step over the city limits and you’re in just the nation’s 24th biggest metro area. Over a million and a half people call the city proper home, but only another million live in its ‘burbs.
DeepintheheartofTexas, nearly half the population of San Antonio rents. And good news for the environmentally conscious: Alamo City is the greenest city in the US for renters. While a high population city, its low density allows for rental properties and complexes to spread out, utilize the space and environment and help go green. With the Build San Antonio Green project, the city offers 26 million square feet of green buildings and homes.
Much of the city’s image focuses on its tourism economy. With this, climate change and green infrastructure are key to San Antonio. The River Walk is actually a flood control channel of the San Antonio River and sits below street level. That makes water health and water level variance an important component of the region’s climate crisis initiatives.
Top 50 greenest cities for renters
The top ten is an interesting look at the greenest cities in the U.S. for renters. But when you zoom out to see the 50 best green cities for tenants, it’s obvious that cities in all regions and sizes are great for the environmentally conscious.
The top contenders range from expected metropolises like San Francisco and Denver to growing young tech hubs like Durham and Birmingham and also megasuburbs like Silver Spring and Irving. Here are the rest of the top 50.
To find the greenest cities for renters, we looked at the number of communities that advertise green amenities (things like LEED certification, solar panels, EV charging stations, smart thermostats, etc.) and then divided that number by the total count of properties in any given city.
We excluded cities with fewer than 25 available properties at the time of this study.
The information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute availability guarantees for any apartment.