In the recently released Sustainable Cities Index, a ranking of the world’s leading cities, not one Australian city made the top ten. Under the index, cities were ranked on the concepts of people, planet and profit – and it’s clear that Australia has more to learn about becoming a sustainable leader.

shutterstock_412333285The Sustainable Cities Index, compiled by the Centre for Economic and Business Research for global design and consultancy firm Arcadis, judged cities from around the world on three sustainability categories: people, planet and profit.

People rates the city on health, education, income inequality, crime, housing affordability, work-life balance and living costs.

Planet is based on energy consumption, use of renewables, emissions, drinking water, air pollution and sanitation.

Profit refers to transport infrastructure, tourism, GDP per capita, mobile and broadband access, and employment rates.

Out of 100 cities around the world, four Australian cities made the list including Canberra (18th), Sydney (21st), Brisbane (30th) and Melbourne (32nd).

Sydney did rank 8th in the world in the planet category, but overall, the title of most sustainable city in the world for 2016 went to Zurich in Switzerland.

Seoul was named most sustainable in the people category, Zurich was number one for planet and Singapore came out on the top for profit.

Cities all around the globe are currently facing challenges relating to an increasing population and urbanisation, both of which put pressure on infrastructure. Combined with climate change, maintaining asset performance and companies competing for investment, it can be hard for cities to strive for sustainability.

Arcadis CEO Australia Pacific, Greg Steele, said that while the Sustainable Cities Index highlights that parts of Australia do operate sustainably, there are still things Australian cities can be doing to plan for a sustainable future.

“Australia performed relatively well overall but further examination of our cities rankings across the three pillars shows there is room for improvement,” Mr Steele said.

“Cities like Seoul, Zurich and Singapore reveal areas Australia can develop in order to build a sustainable future for its cities.

“True sustainability is about more than just environmental footprint, issues such as an ageing population and the urban sprawl of geographically large cities require long-range, integrated planning in order to keep pace with international sustainability standards.”

Mr Steele said one of the things that sets Zurich apart from other cities is its highly coordinated network of public transport options, which is something that Australia should replicate.

“By comparison, Australian cities are characterised by ‘radial’ networks, meaning people need to go to the city centre then go back out to adjacent communities. Combined with fewer, less frequent transport options, it’s no wonder a significant number of the population still choose to drive,” Mr Steele said.

The Sustainable Cities Index also highlighted Australia’s preference for low-density living, which has the potential to inhibit housing affordability, access to services and even work-life balance.

Mr Steele said Australian cities averaged 67 per cent for work-life balance, 44 per cent for affordability, and 60 per cent for transport infrastructure.

“Finding a comfortable ‘liveable density’ makes factors such as transport, waste management and connectivity easier to improve, increasing the overall quality of life in cities. Importantly though, planning for the quality of infrastructure is critical to make this work,” Mr Steele said.

“Overall, we know that Australia tends to lag in planning for the longer term. Key to developing more sustainable cities will be working in close consultation with all elements of a community, and future planning to ensure we not only meet current demand, but can readily adapt to future needs.”

This partner content is brought to you by Arcadis. For more information, visit

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