The Swiss city beat off strong competition to take first place in the 2016 Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, announced on Monday, which ranked 100 major cities on 32 indicators across three aspects of sustainability: people, planet and profit.
The survey was carried out by Arcadis, a global consultancy firm focusing on sustainability, in partnership with the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr).
Zurich came top overall, ahead of Singapore, Stockholm, Vienna and London in the top five. European cities took 16 of the top 20 places.
And the Swiss city can claim to be the greenest in the world as it also topped the ‘planet' sub-index, which measured environmental factors including energy, pollution and emissions.
The survey praised Zurich's commitment to the environment, including its investment in renewable energies and focus on energy efficiency.
It also called the city a “pioneer” in its aim to become a 2000-watt society by 2050, meaning a city using only 2000 watts of energy per capita, the amount globally recognized as a sustainable level of energy use.
“Public transit in the city is highly regarded as a sustainable model for other cities,” it added.
Zurich also scored highly in the ‘profit' sub-index, which measured business environment and economic health, coming fifth.
However it ranked a disappointing 27th place for ‘people', which measured social performance including quality of life, health, education, income inequality, crime, housing and living costs.
While the report praised Zurich's high quality of life, educational and employment opportunities and health provision, “affordability and work-life balance are the primary causes of this disparity,” it said.
The Swiss city wasn't the only one to suffer a split personality
“Many cities do well in two of the people, planet and profit ratings, but very few do well in all three, indicating the challenge that cities have in balancing all three needs effectively to ensure long-term sustainability,” found the survey.
“The challenge of putting people at the heart of a city's sustainability is one that many cities struggle with,” it added.
Putting people at the heart of sustainability is essential, said Arcadis' John Batten in his introduction, since “a city revolves around its people and sustainability ultimately improves their quality of life”.
“Getting a city to invest, develop, evolve and, ultimately, be a better host for its permanent residents, will propel it to become more sustainable and competitive”.
Also ranked in the survey, Geneva placed a respectable 12th overall, mainly thanks to its environmental credentials which saw it come third in ‘planet'. However the city of Calvin only ranked 30th for ‘people' and 42nd for ‘profit'.
“The purpose of the [index] is not to create a hierarchy of elite cities but to indicate areas of opportunity,” said Batten.
The 100 cities in the ranking were selected to provide an overview of the planet's cities, providing wide-ranging geographical coverage, but also a variety of levels of economic development, expectations of future growth and an assortment of sustainability challenges.