The latest list of the world's most sustainable cities shows that Australia still has some way to go before its leading population centres join the ranks of the world's most environmentally friendly urban hubs.

The 2016 Sustainable Cities Index released by global design consultancy Arcadis features no Australian urban centres at all amongst its top fifteen placeholders. Canberra, the most sustainable city in Australia as measured by the index, took out 18th place amongst the total of 100 cities around the globe that were ranked.

Sydney is the second most sustainable city in Australia, taking 21st place on the index, followed by Brisbane which was listed as 30th. While frequently cited as the world’s most liveable city, Melbourne performed less impressively than its other sizeable peers within Australia, coming in 32nd on the Arcadis index.

UK-based consultancy the Centre for Economic and Business Research compiled the indicative rankings on behalf of Arcadis, based on the analysis of a total of 32 different indicators spread across the three sustainability pillars of people, planet and profit.

European cities dominated the top ten on the index, with a few Asia cities also displaying impressive sustainability chops.

The Top 10 Cities on the Overall 2016 Sustainable Cities Index:
1. Zurich
2. Singapore
3. Stockholm
4. Vienna
5. London
6. Frankfurt
7. Seoul
8. Hamburg
9. Prague
10. Munich

Greg Steele, CEO Australia Pacific, Arcadis, said that while Australia’s middling performance on the index indicated that sustainability was a major concern for our cities, we would still do well to look at the example set by leading urban centres overseas in order to improve our future performance.

“Australia performed relatively well overall but further examination of our cities‘ rankings across the three pillars shows there is room for improvement,” 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 geographically large cities require long-range, integrated planning in order to keep pace with international sustainability standards,”

Steele pointed to the lingering influence of the “Australian dream” as one issue in particular that could impede future efforts to raise the sustainability of our urban centres.

“A theme we saw emerge across a number of indicators was Australia’s traditional preference for low-density living, which can inhibit housing affordability, access to services and even work-life balance,” Steele said.

“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.”

Another major issue working against the sustainability of Australia’s urban centres in future is poor long-term planning and lack of thorough consideration for future needs.

“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,” Steele concluded.