How well Jersey City is doing on the sustainability front depends upon who you ask.

Two financial websites come down on opposite sides of the question, one placing Jersey City firmly among the top cities when it comes to “greenness” but another putting Jersey City in the bottom third. The founder of a local environmental group has a more nuanced view, seeing both promise and inertia in the city’s efforts.

SmartAsset looked at the sustainability of 94 of the largest U.S. cities. It analyzed three categories: transportation, green efficiency and climate resilience. Jersey City ranked a respectable 20.

By way of context, Boston came in in first place, New York City in fourth.

The Jersey City Times ask SmartAsset to break out the “Green Efficiency” numbers for New York and Jersey City. Here’s what they gave us.

New York City

Green Efficiency Score: 78.76 (20th-best out of the 94 cities analyzed)

  • Renewable output as a percentage of total energy production: 50.8%
  • Green buildings per 100,000 people: 18.52
  • Plastic bag bans: 1 (this score is based on whether the corresponding state has legislation for plastic bag bans or fees on plastic bags)
  • Number of policies and incentives encouraging renewable energy development: 103
  • Greenhouse gas emissions per capita: 7

Jersey City

Green Efficiency Score: 55.23 (60th-best out of the 94 cities analyzed)

  • Renewable output as a percentage of total energy production: 15.68%
  • Green buildings per 100,000 people: 29.94
  • Plastic bag bans: 2 (this score is based on whether the corresponding state has legislation for plastic bag bans or fees on plastic bags)
  • Number of policies and incentives encouraging renewable energy development: 45
  • Greenhouse gas emissions per capita: 7

Jersey City’s relatively poor showing on the metric of “renewable output as a percentage of total energy production,” is the result of being captive to the state’s power grid. In an email SmartAsset explained “This specific metric is state-level data, and is from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This is renewable energy production divided by the total energy produced in each state (New Jersey for this example).”

According to the EIA, in 2020, natural gas and nuclear power accounted for 90% of New Jersey’s total electricity net generation, neither of which are considered renewable. New York, in contrast, gets a large share of its power from hydroelectric generation, and in 2020 the state was the third-largest producer of hydroelectricity in the nation, after Washington and Oregon.

In the other study, the website WalletHub gave Jersey City a far less favorable rating. In the “2022’s Greenest Cities in America” Jersey City placed at 69, in the bottom third of the 100 cities compared. The complete set of rankings can be viewed here.

Interestingly Boston and New York came in at 24 and 26 respectively, illustrating the different methodologies used.

The good news: Jersey City tied for first place in greenhouse gas emissions per capita and second place for commuters who drive.

While it did well on “Transportation,” tying for number 1, and 35 on “Lifestyle and Policy,” the city fared poorly with scores of 91 for “Environment,” and 96 on “Energy Sources.”

To Deb Italiano, President of Sustainable Jersey City, the low score on “Environment” is unsurprising. “We have a huge air quality problem here.”

What is her assessment of Jersey City’s efforts overall? “There are a lot of plans in place” she says, rattling off Jersey City’s Energy Action Plan, Green Infrastructure Plan, Master Plan and Resiliency Action Plan. However, she adds “to what degree things are being implemented here is not clear. There isn’t any transparency.”

“One of the the things that I think they’re not doing very well here is implementing more green infrastructure.” Green infrastructure, which includes restoring the tree canopy, creating green space and features such as “bioswales,” would, she says, mitigate flooding, lessen the problem of “heat islands” and offset greenhouse gas emissions.

While Jersey City seems to outstrip New York City on green buildings per capita, Italiano wants to see a bigger push when it comes to construction. “There is no requirement to mandate more efficient green buildings” she says. “Buildings are the major cause of emissions here and there’s never been any effort, like New York City, to audit those buildings and to push buildings to retrofit to lower emissions.” Indeed, New York city has double the number of policies and incentives encouraging renewable energy that Jersey City does.

Photo by Jayne Freeman

Aaron Morrill

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....