London emerged tops in abillion’s annual Cities of The Future ranking.
The top 10 cities by order are: London, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Melbourne, Singapore, Johannesburg, Toronto, New York City, Berlin and Cape Town.
This ranking rates cities on how ready they are to embrace a sustainable future.
Cities are ranked based on how much they have embraced plant-based living, their steadfast commitment to green policies, as well as greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation.
Here at abillion, the future is green
Imagine a world where everybody is vegan, where no animals are hunted, fished or farmed. Imagine a world where plastic is history, where energy is renewable and green spaces become the lungs of every metropolis. Imagine a world where even the most reticent of cities wheezing in pollution has embraced sustainable policies.
Welcome to abillion’s vision for the future — a path forward where the only home we have is planet Earth.
While we’re some way from reaching that green utopia, leading cities around the world have been making strides to being kinder on the planet and its residents — human and animal alike. Starting 2021, we will be publishing an annual Cities of the Future report — a ranking of metropolises marching towards greater sustainability. It is part of abillion’s mission: to catalyze millions of people and businesses to do what’s right for their body, the animals and the planet. This is done by galvanizing a 300,000 strong and growing number of users into writing reviews of plant-based food and products for the community on our app.
This report is compiled by abillion’s team of data scientists and researchers who crunch our own platform’s proprietary data, scour public domains for policy commitments towards the environmental United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), and pick out every last shred of information on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and waste generation.
Cities are then placed on a scoring system from 1.0, for the best rating, to 4.0, for the worst, in each category before being averaged out (see methodology below for more details).
This year, London emerged tops for scoring particularly high in two areas: its embrace of a plant-based lifestyle and having strong political commitments to green policies which are implemented and recorded with transparency.
Other global cities fared well. North America forms the largest block with three entries: Los Angeles (#2), Toronto (#7) and New York (#8). Europe follows closely with Barcelona (#3) and Berlin (#9) while South Africa is the only country outside of the United States with two entries, Johannesburg (#6) and Cape Town (#10). Asia lags behind with just one spot, Singapore (#5), while Australia flies its flag through Melbourne (#4).
Here’s how each city ranks.
Final score: 1.7
It seems the sun hasn’t set on the British empire — at least not on London, which emerged as the world’s most future-ready city on our list. The capital of the United Kingdom reigns in all the categories that we examined, landing highest with a solid score of 1.7. London’s abillion users registered a whopping 14,000 product reviews and 5,400 reviews of vegan restaurant dishes. There are also close to 900 restaurants with vegan options, which means you’re bound to find vegan options pretty easily anywhere in London Town. In other measures, it may come as a surprise to many that there are over 3,000 parks in London of varying sizes. Together, these spaces make up almost 18 percent of the city, which is more than the area covered by railways and roads combined. Where the city ranks poorly though, is on its GHG emissions and waste. The United Kingdom was estimated to produce 370 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019 based on Our World in Data, with the capital likely accounting for a significant share of emissions. On this front, London was given a score of 3.0.
While it lags behind in these two areas, it makes up for in policy commitment. Here, London scores a high of 1.0 for its unwavering support for the environmental targets of UNSDGs. Immense progress has been made on emissions, transport, green spaces, air quality and clean energy. The city also has an emphasis on transparency and data accessibility for necessary stakeholders, and periodic updates specified for its sustainable strategies.
The most visible of these is how City Hall has already funded the planting of 250,000 new trees and 250 green space improvements over the past three years. The quality and quantity of green cover in the capital in the form of fresh ideas like green roofs and green walls looks set to bolster London’s fight against climate change.
Perhaps it helps that gardening is a very British pastime. In the words of British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll, “The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”
Final score: 1.9
Think Los Angeles and one would envision palm tree-lined boulevards, the glamor of Hollywood and the sprawling homes of the rich and famous. As it turns out, it’s also extremely future-ready by abillion’s standards.
The City of Angels doesn’t fall too far behind London, with a total final score of 1.9. Like the UK's capital, LA scores highly on policy commitment ranking with a similar score of 1.0. This is by way of Mayor Eric Garcetti who has served since 2013 and who has put climate change high on the agenda. These initiatives include the launch of LA’s Sustainable City Plan in 2015 — a roadmap towards a cleaner environment and a commitment to enact UNSDGs at the local level. All of this is bound tight by implementation bodies like the Climate Emergency Commission and an Office of the Climate Emergency Mobilization Director.
Top-down approaches aside, Los Angeles weighs in at a score of 2.0 for its adoption of plant-based living from our data. In fact, it has close to 6,000 reviews of dishes and products alone and fine dining occupies a special place. As compared to other cities, fine dining had the highest representation in Los Angeles, making up 7.6 percent of reviewed vegan dishes. By contrast, dishes at fine dining establishments only made up 3.9 percent and 2.2 percent of reviewed plant-based options in New York and London respectively. Perhaps it truly is the glamour of Hollywood at work.
Final score: 2.0
Barcelona moves to its own beat. Unlike the previous two entries on our ranking, Spain’s largest city landed at a score of 1.0 for GHG emissions — the highest on our top 10 list — and 2.0 for waste. In fact, the city aims to be carbon neutral by 2050, backing up this commitment with sound strategies and funding. Just last year, the city unveiled a behemoth €563 million plan to halve GHG emissions within 10 years with 103 different actions from expanding green spaces to creating low-emissions zones.
It’s against this climate backdrop that some of the world’s most innovative plant-based companies have taken root, backed by a supportive community that has contributed over 8,000 product reviews on our app. Plant-based chicken company Heura is one such, as well as Grin Grin, well-loved by our members for its vegan cheese.
That explains why the top dishes in the city that our members love involve cheese. Think Queso Fundido heaving with plant-based meat, chopped tomatoes and stretchy vegan cheese. Now there’s one more reason to head to the Spanish city and revel in some tapas bar-hopping.
Final score: 2.1
Mention Australia and images of vineyards and farmers’ markets come to mind. Indeed, produce is one of Australia’s major exports and it’s only appropriate that some of it ends up on the dinner table as delicious vegan meals.
According to Euromonitor, Australia as a whole is the third fastest growing vegan market in the world at 9.6 percent — so it’s only fitting that Melbourne, its cultural epicenter, lands at #4 on our annual list.
While the Victorian city’s abillion users have reviewed an impressive 700 restaurants, frozen or chilled vegan meals are the order of the day. Australian users were the third most likely to purchase these ready-to-eat products owing to its fast, fuss free and healthy nature. It helps too that many are produced by large supermarket chains like Coles and Woolworths so they are easily accessible.
These climate friendly overtures by companies and communities are handsomely matched by the government’s committed attitude towards the environment. Plan Melbourne is a detailed blueprint to 2050 with clear targets towards environmental resilience and sustainability while planning for population growth.
The aim is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero, increase public transport and grow a cleaner economy. In the words of the plan itself: “With Melbourne’s population forecast to reach 8 million by 2050, we have 8 million reasons to get Plan Melbourne right.”
Final score: 2.2
Singapore sits on the crossroads of the continent; it’s home to a multitude of cultures and a sizable international community.
For such a tiny city, it punches above its weight when it comes to adopting a plant-based lifestyle. It scores highly for the available range of vegan products and dishes, which is perhaps fitting for a nation that has embraced greenery as part of its urban landscape.
Buoyed by its need for food security, its sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings has become major backers of alternative protein companies like Impossible Foods and Next Gen foods. The city is also where dairy alternative juggernaut Oatly is setting up a US$23 million plant while Eat Just — known for its plant-based mung bean eggs — is building a US$120 million Just Egg facility.
Even so, these strides are early days and while vegan food products are easily available, it hasn’t infiltrated the restaurants — at least according to abillion users. Singapore’s users feel that the city’s eateries, while offering some vegan options, are not doing enough. These findings paint the same picture as a report we published in August which demonstrated that F&B businesses only stand to gain by incorporating more plant-based options into their menus. For this, the city rated 4.0, a figure we feel is bound to move once more restaurants embrace plant-based dishes.
Final score: 2.3
“The Vegan Scene Is Blossoming In Johannesburg,” declared monthly publication Vegan Life in a headline from 2019. That still rings true today as South Africa’s largest city has only grown from strength to strength from the number of restaurants to a strong grassroots vegan community. For that, we’ve given the city a healthy total score of 2.3.
The city’s abillion members have reviewed some 490 restaurants and the city’s culinary diversity is well represented in the vegan scene. Dig in to dishes from traditional African fare like the West African Peanut Curry at Manna Food Co or go Southeast Asian at Saigon Suzy in Parkwood. Its policy commitment isn’t too far off the mark, scoring 2.0. There is an extensive list of clear and detailed targets along with time frames — all of which are transparent and updated annually. Where the city emerges tops, though, is in the waste it generates. For a city with over 5.6 million people, it produced just 1.7 million tonnes of municipal waste in 2017, according to the World Bank, leading to a score of 1.0.
Final score: 2.3
Here’s a fun fact: Vegandale, one of North America’s biggest vegan festivals, was conceived in a section of Toronto’s eponymous all-vegan neighborhood. It’s little wonder that the Canadian city appears on this list at #7 with a total score of 2.3. The city also has a penchant for farm-to-table experiences, with the highest share of reviewed restaurants labeled as such by diners. These experiences, often set in pastoral scenes, are not just charming — they avail the freshest produce that doesn’t need to travel for thousands of miles to reach your fork. That’s a win on multiple fronts in our books.
These welcome initiatives are still at the grassroots level, though our team of researchers note that the city’s real strength is in its policy commitments. In fact, while the city does not seem to utilize the UNSDGs as its main barometers, its efforts are just as commendable. A 2019 annual report, for instance, disclosed generous spending towards environmental efforts — most notably a $200 million Green Bond meant to fund projects mitigating the effects of climate change.
We can’t wait to see where the synergy of grassroots movement and political strength will take this city.
Final score: 2.4
The Big Apple lands at #8 on our list with a score of 2.4 — an important position. It is after all, America’s cultural powerhouse and wields an outsized global influence. Case in point: award-winning fine dining restaurant Eleven Madison Park sent shockwaves across the world when it announced that it was going plant-based. That welcome news is but a blip on the vegan scene as the city buzzes with nearly 800 other restaurants serving up a plethora of plant-based options. There are vegan sushi joints, pizzerias doling out unctuous slices and, of course, the all-American essential, burgers. The city also scores well on policy commitment. The environmental UNSDGs are well-considered, providing extensive progress reports since 2018. It is, for instance, well on route to the complete ban on foam as well as plastic and paper bags.
That may seem like a tiny move but it heralds a near-certain future for much of the world. In the words of David Dinkins, its mayor from 1990 to 1993: “Some of us claim that New York City is the capital of the country, indeed the capital of the world. Now that may be a bit much for those who don’t come from New York, but clearly we are an important city for reasons of our cultural advances.”
Final score: 2.4
Berlin is hardly a large city by most standards — home to just 3.6 million residents. Yet for its small population, it is immensely vegan-friendly. In fact, a 2016 study showed that 80,000 of its residents identify as vegan. While that figure has not been updated, we’d wager that the number is growing as the German city has made even more strides towards veganism. On that, we scored the city 2.3 for plant-based living. On the abillion app alone, over 350 restaurants are listed as having vegan options — and yes that includes its iconic currywurst where a vegan sausage is served with a side of french fries and slathered with curry ketchup and curry powder.
The city’s march towards veganism is unrelenting, reflecting on changing consumer behavior, especially amongst the young. In August 2021, 34 outlets catering to university students have pledged to serve menus that are 68 percent vegan — not an insignificant move as nearly six million of these meals are doled out every year.
Final score: 2.5
It seems Cape Town and its northeastern sibling Johannesburg are two peas in a pod. As the other South African city on our list, it is something to be feted for sure especially since it scores a very healthy 2.0 for its adoption of plant-based living. That puts it on par with Los Angeles.
abillion’s Cape Town reviewers gave its vegan dish and product offerings top marks of 1.0 even if the proportion of vegan restaurants is not quite as high. The proportion of restaurants also point to the city being the crossroads of a diverse population. There are more than 1,300 reviews on restaurants with South African dishes in Cape Town, but 3,800 reviews at American eateries and 1,800 at Asian-Fusion restaurants.
These are still decent numbers that make going plant-based easy. Perhaps the city’s embrace of plant-based living is a reaction to the very real threat of climate change that has yet to be addressed satisfactorily at the policy level. The city ranks at 4.0 in this arena, as there is little to no quantifiable progress made despite its geographical vulnerabilities.
The larger city region is a sprawling 2,500 square kilometer area and home to some of the most important biodiversity in the country. Perhaps it can take a leaf out of its sister city’s book and inch up this list next year.
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Methodology: How we rank the cities
The abillion Cities of The Future ranking is based on 850,000 authentic user reviews from 32,000 members spread in 150 countries and 6,000 cities (as at August 2021). We combined our proprietary dataset with external data sources to compute a final score from four categories: plant-based living (50 percent), the city’s policy commitment (30 percent), greenhouse gas emissions (10 percent) and waste generated (10 percent). All scores are relative; quartiles are assigned across the distribution and allocated a grade from 1 to 4, with 1 being the best. London for instance, was in the top quartile for plant-based living, but came in the last quartile for greenhouse gas emissions and waste. This prevents outliers from skewing the final score, and allows us to pit cities against one another.
The plant-based living component is derived from two sub-categories: The number of reviewed plant-based dishes and consumer packaged products, as well as the average vegan-friendly rating of F&B establishments from September 2017 - August 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions and waste are derived from publicly available official sources (e.g., The World Bank, Our World in Data, Eurostat, US Environmental Protection Agency). Lastly, policy commitment is evaluated in-house from policy papers, environmental progress reports, and city agency/council websites.
Out of the 6,000 cities considered, only 54 cities made the initial cut. The rest did not meet our criteria for the number of users and reviews. For instance, only cities with more than 150 active users were considered while cities with a population smaller than 100,000 were excluded.
A key limitation of this methodology is that we prorated country-level greenhouse gas emissions and waste using city-country population ratios. This assumes a linear relationship between population and emissions or waste.
Australian Department of Environment and Energy. National Waste Report (2018). Retrieved from https://www.awe.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf
BBC News. Berlin University Canteens Cut Meat from Menus to Curb Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58393847
Blanchar, C. Barcelona Announces €563 Million Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from https://english.elpais.com/elpais/2020/01/16/inenglish/1579177477_798192.html
City of Toronto. Following 2018 Success, City of Toronto Issues Its Second Green Bond. Retrieved from https://www.toronto.ca/news/following-2018-success-city-of-toronto-issues-its-second-green-bond/
Eurostat. Municipal Waste Statistics (1995 - 2019). Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Municipal_waste_statistics#Municipal_waste_generation
Our World in Data. CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Database. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-drivers
The World Bank. What A Waste Global Database (2010 - 2020). Retrieved from https://datacatalog.worldbank.org/search/dataset/0039597
United Nations Statistics Division. Demographic Statistics Database: City Population. Retrieved from http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=POP&f=tableCode:240
United Nations Statistics Division. Municipal Waste Collection in Selected Cities. Retrieved from https://unstats.un.org/unsd/envstats/qindicators.cshtml
US Environmental Protection Agency. Solid Waste EMissions Estimation Tool (SWEET) version 3.1 (2018). Retrieved from https://www.waste.ccacoalition.org/document/solid-waste-emissions-estimation-tool-sweet-version-31
Victoria State Government, Plan Melbourne. Retrieved from https://www.planmelbourne.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/377127/Plan_Melbourne_2017-2050_Summary.pdf