Atlanta ranks 48th in Sustainable Development among US Cities

By: Erica Barton

In addition to releasing a report that ranks countries’ progress toward achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) released the 2019 US Cities Sustainable Development Report, which ranks US cities on their progress toward these global goals. The SDGs should be achieved at the national level, but that requires diligent work at city, state, and regional levels. Implementation of local policies and the work of local organizations are necessary to reach the goals. 

Overall, cities in the US are doing the best at SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation. This was measured by looking at how much of a city’s population is drinking water from a source with a Safe Drinking Water Act violation, and looking at water conservation efforts in the area. The report indicated that US cities collectively show the lowest performance in regard to SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy, but energy production and consumption were measured at the state-level, making it difficult to precisely assess how cities are performing. However, much of the population live and work in metropolitan areas. Improving energy efforts, like transitioning to renewable energy sources, at the city level will have positive effects on sustainability overall. Additionally, improvements in this area will help cities do their part toward climate action, SDG 13, which is also a low performing goal across the board.

Atlanta’s progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals

Out of the 105 cities in the report, Atlanta ranked 48th. According to the report, Atlanta has not fully achieved any SDGs, but is performing moderately in most of the goals. All of the cities face challenges, but San Francisco, CA, San Jose, CA, and the Washington DC area are performing the best across the goals. The cities ranked the lowest, with the poorest SDG performance, are mostly southern cities, with Memphis, TN, Jackson, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA at the bottom of the list. Atlanta is in the middle, performing better than many southern cities, and is continuing to make progress. Many organizations and institutions throughout our city are committed to sustainable development. Below are just a few examples of how Atlanta is making sustainable change:

Atlanta is a Center for Sustainable Development

The Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE) of Greater Atlanta is a network of local stakeholders who are committed to making sustainable change in the Atlanta area. The RCE Greater Atlanta was recognized by the United Nations University in 2017 and is part of a global network of RCEs. The goal of the RCEs is to advance the Sustainable Development Goals by getting people involved at the local level. The RCE Greater Atlanta offers sustainable development education and training to its members, who come from all parts of Atlanta society, such as local government, small and large businesses, nonprofits, and universities.

Atlanta Buses Go Electric

Atlanta’s MARTA bus system recently received a grant from the United States Department of Transportation to replace six of their diesel buses with electric buses. This is an important step towards reducing vehicle emissions and improving air quality in our city, as well as toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7. This also has the potential to affect SDGs 13 Climate Action and 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities. This is a great example of institutions at different levels working together to create sustainable change. MARTA, a city level public transportation organization, partnered with nonprofit Center for Transportation and the Environment to write a proposal seeking funding for this project. The US Department of Transportation, part of the federal government, funded the project. It is clear that organizations at all levels are needed to make change.

Atlanta Detention Center Closes

Earlier this year, the Atlanta Detention Center was closed and the building is currently being transitioned into a Center for Equity with the goal to offer resources and services to residents of the community. This is a step toward SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities within Atlanta. This action also shows our local government’s commitment to criminal justice reform and, consequently, progress toward SDG 16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. 

Atlanta Community Food Bank Fights Food Insecurity

Atlanta Community Food Bank is a consistent force for reducing food insecurity in the Atlanta area. They provide healthy food to community kitchens, senior centers, and childcare facilities in 29 counties in and around Atlanta. While food insecurity is persistent in our area, the work of the Atlanta Community Food Bank shows there is progress being made. Their work directly affects SDG 2 Zero Hunger and, in turn, other goals, like SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing and SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities. 

“localized planning, monitoring and action are necessary to achieve the SDGs”

Making sustainable change and achieving the SDGs requires participation from businesses, institutions, and citizens at every level of society. Starting small, focusing on our cities and regions, is necessary to see change on a larger scale. If you are committed to seeing more sustainable development in the Atlanta area, get involved with one of the organizations mentioned in this article and join the RCE Greater Atlanta.



Atlanta, Sandy Springs, and Roswell were included together in the report.

Goals 14 and 17 were not included in the US cities report.

The figure in this article  was created using information found in the report. Quotes can be found in the report.

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