For two years running, Frankfurt, the largest city in the state of Hesse, has been the most sustainable in the whole of Germany. In the global index put together by the consultancy firm, Arcadis, which measures sustainability based on three pillars — People, Planet and Profit — Frankfurt took first place in 2015 and came sixth in 2016. This city is the country’s most international, a financial hub and home to the European Central Bank headquarters, and its approach and commitment to managing the urban environment — as well as the city’s economy — have not only made it a benchmark within Europe, but can also provide a route map for other locations.

Situated on the River Main, the city has been committed to reducing its CO2 emissions and raising public awareness on this issue since the 80s. In 1987, according to data from the city itself, Frankfurt produced 11.4 tonnes of CO2 per inhabitant per year, but by 2009, they’d reduced this figure to 6.5 tonnes. Their objective for 2050 is to achieve zero emissions. It may seem like a tall order for a city with a population of over 700,000, which receives thousands and thousands of commuters each day.One of the keys is energy efficiency. As the European Union explains, “Frankfurt has shown commitment in this field through its long-term projects such as the ongoing development of cogeneration plants (which produce electricity and usable thermal energy at the same time), the implementation of an Energy Act which combines public-private initiatives and construction industry bans on the use of tropical hardwoods or PVC.” According to Florian Unger, the city’s head of Energy Efficiency, buildings with near-zero consumption are a tool to fight both energy poverty and climate change. Material poverty is combatted too. One example is the Stromsparcheck programme, which, over a year, trains the long-term unemployed to manage these kinds of buildings.

“For decades, our city has been working to protect the climate, like in 1990 when we co-founded the Climate Alliance of European Cities with Indigenous Rainforest Peoples or when we became one of the first municipalities to have an energy and environmental protection agency,” explained Andrea Graf, Project Manager for the Masterplan 100% Climate Protection signed in 2013.

“We see ourselves as an energy efficient city, with the greenest office buildings, and our energy policy is to combine cogeneration with large power plants. We also have renewable sources such as solar energy, wind power and biomass,” she went on to say in an interview with Goo 100% Renewable Energy. “It’s important to point out that we’re not acting alone; this approach is made possible by collaboration with our region and the State of Hesse.”

But Frankfurt isn’t only green when it comes to energy. In any physical description of the city, the colour of hope is also the predominant shade. Twenty years ago, a green belt was created totalling some 80km squared. And taking the urban area as a whole, there are over 200,000 trees, open spaces account for 52% of its surface area, and more than 40 parks intermingle with the city’s streets.

Frankfurt is also aware of the economic theory that incentives are a powerful tool in encouraging the public to act in a certain way; as such, it’s the first city in Germany to award electricity savings with a cash bonus. Homes that manage to reduce their electricity consumption by 10% compared to the previous year receive a 20 euro bonus, plus 10 cents for each kilowatt hour saved. On average, those who have taken part have received around 65 euros. It’s clear why, aside from being a trailblazer for green living in Germany, Frankfurt is the financial hub for the whole of Europe.