European cities dominate Global Destination Sustainability Index

10 April 2024 3 min. read
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In its annual report on the world’s top sustainable cities, the Global Destination Sustainability (GDS) Index lists mostly European cities as the top green destinations. The very top of the index is populated by several Scandinavian cities, with cities in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland in the top 5.

It should come as no surprise to see Sweden’s charming second city Gothenburg in the first place of the GDS Index ranking. That is because it has led the index every year since 2016 – with the city now again considered the top city in the world in terms of striving for a sustainable future.

Gothenburg is known for its ambitious strides in cutting emissions, including 95% of its public transport running on clean energy, one of the world’s most sustainable airports, and even environmentally-conscious festivals.

European cities dominate Global Destination Sustainability Index

Source: Global Destination Sustainability Index

Oslo, Norway’s capital city, took second place. Next were Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Bergen. A remarkable 86% of the destination cities improved their scores when compared with the results from last year’s ranking.

The ranking focuses mainly on cities as tourist destinations – and though 86% of the cities included have signed on to international initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, only 33% have integrated tourism and events into their climate strategies.

Another star in this year’s ranking is Finland’s capital city Helsinki, which ranked in fourth place, a rather dramatic rise from the 12th spot in last year’s edition of the index. Liverpool, in the UK, was the awarded as the ‘most improved’ in the ranking, with increased certification of local supply chains and improvements in renewable energy.

Of the 100 destinations ranked in the Global Destination Sustainability Index, 46 were in Western Europe, with another four in Eastern Europe, which includes Gdansk, Krakow, Ljubljana, and Tallinn. Large cities made up the greatest share of ranked destinations, with populations of over 500,000, but below 1.5 million.

European cities dominate Global Destination Sustainability Index

Source: Global Destination Sustainability Index

“The evolution and results of the study unequivocally demonstrate that destination management organizations can and do drive accelerated economic, social, and environmental transformation within their tourism and events’ ecosystems,” said Guy Bigwood, CEO of Global Destination Sustainability movement.

“With this compelling evidence, we hold the key to an optimistic future for travel and events. By amplifying our regenerative action plans and scaling them with urgency, we pave the way for meaningful change and progress,” he continued.

Ranking in 14th place in the ranking, the South Korean city of Goyang was the top-rated non-European city. The tourism industry in Goyang has made strides in sustainability and continues to work towards greener mobility and urban environments.

The GDS Index carefully analyzes a number of important factors that qualify destinations as sustainable leaders. This process looks beyond greenwashing or marketing and instead focuses on third party certifications and other sustainable labels held by hotels and events like festivals that draw in large amounts of visitors.

From low-cost (but high-emissions) airlines to wasteful, consumerism-focused visits, the tourism industry does not have the best reputation as far as sustainability. Europe, home to many of the world’s top tourist destinations, has been working to minimize the negative impact of what is often called ‘overtourism’.