Top Eco Friendly Cities in New Zealand

It appears that the Sustainable Cities Index by Arcadis happens once every two years with the last project in 2018. That means that we are currently expecting a new report within the next seven months. With that thought, we decided that it would be a good idea to take a look at the 2018 report and look at the top eco-friendly cities in New Zealand.

The problem that we pretty quickly discovered is that there is only one city in New Zealand that made it into the top 100, and that was Wellington. Therefore, we will have a look at what they are doing in Wellington, and if we should be looking out for any other cities in the next report.

Top Eco-Friendly Cities in New Zealand

Whenever you think of New Zealand, you probably have the image of luscious green mountains and beautiful blue waters with sandy beaches. You are not wrong, either. However, the cities there are not as eco friendly as you would like to think.

Strangely enough, there are a lot of ecotourism trips that you can go on while in New Zealand, and they are all as beautiful as you would expect.

Furthermore, in comparison, a massive 80% of all electricity on the islands is renewable energy when you compare that to only 33% in the UK.

That would instantly make you think that there should be more cities in the top 100 than just one. Perhaps there will be in this year’s Sustainable Cities Index; we wait to find out.

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First of all, we will look at why Wellington made it into the top 100 eco-friendly cities, and see what they are doing. Arcadis ranked Wellington at 49th overall in the sustainable cities index, which, although it doesn’t seem very high, there are over 50,000 cities worldwide, so listing anywhere in the top 100 is pretty good going.

But, how did New Zealand’s capital city manage to rank so high when no other cities did?

Wellington, New Zeeland
Wellington, New Zeeland

First of all, we need to know what Arcadis actually rank the cities on, in order to understand how Wellington has done so well. The considered factors are:

  • Environmental risks
  • Energy
  • Green Space
  • Air pollution
  • Greenhouse gas emissions

As you saw earlier in the article, a massive proportion of the electricity produced in New Zealand is through renewable energy. Furthermore, the country’s population density is relatively low, with only 18.3 people per square kilometer. That means that there is a lot of green space, and energy production is on point.

Those two points lend themselves perfectly to keeping the greenhouse gas emissions low, too. In 2018, the gross emissions of New Zealand were 78.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Again, in comparison, the UK estimated its figure at 451.5 million tonnes.

That means that New Zealand as a country is doing very well at the majority of the factors included in the Sustainable Cities Index. And with Wellington as their capital, they are doing the most to improve the situations.

So, what is the issue, why is there only one city in the top 100?

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New Zealand Issues

There appear to be nine primary issues for New Zealand that are preventing more of the cities from fighting their way into the top 100 sustainable cities. They are:

  • The native plants, animals, and ecosystems are under threat.
  • Vegetation changes are degrading the soil and water.
  • Urban expansion is reducing biodiversity and versatile land.
  • Polluted waterways in farming areas.
  • Environmental pollution in urban areas.
  • Freshwater ecosystems are being affected.
  • Fishing methods are decreasing the oceanic environment.
  • High greenhouse gas emissions per person.
  • Climate change is affecting Aotearoa, New Zealand.

All of those points lead to a pretty low scoring country for sustainability. However, one of the points sticks out to me personally. That is the emissions per person. The first thing that we need to think is that greenhouse gas emissions in the UK are 5.6x higher than in NZ.

In 2018 however, the population of NZ was 4.886 million, whereas the UK population at the same time was 66.27 million. That means the UK has 13.5x more people, but NZ only has 5x fewer emissions.

Other Areas Of New Zealand

The strange thing is that there is a considerable percentage of protected areas in NZ – ~32% of the total land area, which is close to 35% of the UK. Within that 32%, there are around 60 types of protection.

There are 13 national parks in NZ, all of which are amazing places. That is what makes it so challenging to think that they are not doing as well as you would think on the Sustainable Cities Index.

So, why do the cities do so poorly? Well, the obvious answer is that almost none of the national parks are in the cities themselves. If you look at a map of NZ, you will see that the majority of the cities are on the East coast. However, almost all of the national parks are on the East coast.

Of course, there are some exceptions; Smiths City is surrounded by Richmond Hill Forest Park, Nelson Lakes National Park, and Kahurangi National Park. However, that does not change the overall score of the city.

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What Is New Zealand Doing?

One of the significant environmental and conservation organizations in New Zealand, ECO, has set out a climate change and energy plan to change the impact caused in NZ.

Within their plan, they have requested a bill to pass that requires future governments to follow the efforts, and continue to improve the climate in New Zeland in a variety of ways. They are:

  • Set up a climate change commission. – That will be an independent body that helps the Government to reach the targets.
  • Require the Government to set zero-emissions stepping stones. – Those stepping stones are mini-goals towards the ultimate goal of zero greenhouse gasses by 2050.
  • Set a zero-emissions target. – That target is set for all gasses except agricultural methane by 2050.
  • Raise awareness and requirements for risks. – Of course, the higher amount of knowledge, the more comfortable they will be able to change their environment.

There is a lot of substeps to the bill, but the primary goal is to make New Zealand a more eco-friendly country, to accompany the scenic beauty. If you would like to know more about what they are doing, please check the complete proposal here.


So, the most eco-friendly city in New Zealand was, in 2018, the capital, Wellington. However, with the proposals and efforts of the Government, we are looking forward to seeing more of the cities gain a spot in the top 100 in the coming surveys.

One thing that we feel is that it is a shame that such a beautiful country has not been fairing very well in the eco-friendly city surveys, and we hope that it changes in the future.

Written by M Eduard

M. Eduard was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. Eduard spent his MBA summer internship at Sungevity, a residential solar energy retail company in Oakland, CA. He started this website to share his knowledge about renewable energy.