As Americans have become more environmentally conscious, a panoply of eco-friendly services have popped up across the country to cater to our eco-needs. Getting off the grid? Hire a solar panel installer. Messy house? Find a housecleaner who uses biodegradable, non-chemical cleaning agents. Need a house? You can even hire a green architect.
But there are two big problems with going green: availability and cost. If you want to build a zero-energy house, will you be able to find a green architect where you want to live? Maybe not. And even if you can find that good soul to build your home, will it be too costly to have your home be Energy Star certified? Maybe so.
It turns out that some of the country’s regions bleed green – and others, not so much. So we dug into some of the data on our site to see which cities can wave their eco-flag loud and proud.
The Nation’s Eco-Friendliest Cities
We ranked the largest cities in America to find the greenest by comparing the per capita prevalence of a representative group of ten types of green services. We controlled for the distribution of listings on Thumbtack so that cities with fewer listings overall weren’t penalized. Here are the ten cities nationwide with the highest per-capita prevalence of eco-friendly services:
- San Francisco, CA
- Oakland, CA
- San Jose, CA
- Las Vegas, NV
- Raleigh, NC
- Columbus, OH
- Seattle, WA
- Kansas City, MO
- Denver, CO
- San Diego, CA
The Bay Area – claiming the top three spots – earns its reputation as one of the world’s most environmentally friendly regions and ranks as the nation’s top hub for eco-friendly services.
These rankings match up well with other city rankings for sustainability. Nine of the top ten cities on our list are also cited by the National Resources Defense Council as examples of smarter cities. But we’d be interested to hear from those living in cities who made – or didn’t make – the top ten to see if the ranking rings true with you.
Having seen Portlandia (and assuming that it is factually accurate in every meaningful way), we were surprised to find that Oregon’s progressive mecca came in only 13th overall. Either this ster-eco-type is misplaced, or now is a great time to open a chemical-free carpet cleaning business in Portland. We’re betting on the latter.
You can click here to see the full rankings across every metric we looked at. Below is a graph of the prevalence of green services per capita on Thumbtack scaled from 0-100:
So that’s the score for overall green friendliness. But rankings varied significantly by the type of service we looked at. For example, although San Francisco was the #1 most eco-friendly city nationwide, it ranked only #10 for bike-friendliness. Here is a break-out of some of the more intriguing results.
Where Virginia Beach and Las Vegas excel
One of the metrics we looked at is bike friendliness. For this, we looked at the ratio of bike repair to auto repair shops as a proxy for overall bicycle use versus automobile use. Virginia Beach had the highest ratio of bike repair shops to auto repair shops, with Sacramento coming in second.
The South is looking like a pretty good place to be biking, with Virginia Beach and Charlotte taking two of the top three spots here. The warmer weather probably makes year-round biking a lot more appealing.
For some of the services in our basket, like house cleaning, there are both sustainable and ordinary variants of the services provided. For these, we looked at the ratio of these services on Thumbtack. They are graphed below:
Portland redeemed its lower-than-expected overall performance with by far the highest proportion of green house cleaners. New York too had a high proportion of green house cleaners, with almost 10% of all Manhattan house cleaners labeling themselves as eco-friendly.
We determined the same ratio for architects:
Las Vegas may be sin city, but it has serious virtues when it comes to sustainable building. A third of all architects from Las Vegas on Thumbtack work in sustainable design, nearly twice the proportion as the next city on the list, Raleigh. Predictably, “progressive” cities like Portland, Austin, San Francisco, and Seattle also had high proportions of architects focused on eco-friendly construction.
Price Up. Guilt Down. Some Facts on the Costs of Going Green.
Finally, a primary objection to going green is that it simply costs more money. We put that theory to the test.
We found a group of services that are commonly available in both eco-friendly and normal forms and looked at how the eco-friendly service compared with the eco-agnostic service (e.g. a personal chef specializing in organic foods, compared to one utilizing conventional ingredients). Because a hot dog probably won’t take as big a bite out of your wallet in Cleveland as it might in New York, we controlled for geographic differences in prices.
So when will going green cost you a lot more green?
For maid services, responsible cleaning comes at a hefty price. When hiring service pros who use only organic cleaning products rather than industrial agents, expect to pay about twenty percent more per hour for eco-friendly cleaners, regardless of where you are.
The same holds true for architects. We found that architects who advertise that they specialize in sustainable building charge an average of 14% more than their less sustainability-minded counterparts. And that doesn’t include any of the additional costs of sustainable versus conventional construction materials. Likewise, landscapers who specialize in sustainable gardening and design elements like composting and soil-friendly plants charge 13% more per hour than gardeners with no green emphasis.
On the other hand, we found that chefs preparing organic food charge the same hourly rates as those who don’t. The good news is that the services of your green chef should on average cost you about the same as those of a more typical chef. However, we make no promises about the cost of buying the organic food itself.
And for you stat nerds out there, here’s a methodology page where we explain how we calculated these premiums.
 The ten services used are: solar panel installation, bicycle repair, chemical-free house cleaning, organic catering, electronics recycling, chemical-free pest control, chemical-free carpet cleaning, sustainable interior design, green architects, and home energy audits.