Frankfurt, Germany has been named the world's most sustainable city.

Australian cities have failed to make the top 10 in a new listing of sustainable cities compiled by natural and built asset design and consultancy firm Arcadis.

Sydney and Melbourne took out 11th and 17th place, respectively, in a measure of environmental, social and economic performance of 50 major world cities.

Not surprisingly, European cities took out most of the top 10 places with seven entries. Frankfurt, Germany was listed as the world’s most sustainable city, just eclipsing London. Frankfurt also led on the sub-indices of “profit” and “planet”, with excellent waste management and low levels of air pollution, while Rotterdam, Netherlands topped the “people” sub-index for its high literacy and good work–life balance.

The ranking, conducted by the Center for Economics and Business Research, found there was “no utopian city”, with all city leaders having to “manage a complex balancing act between the three pillars of sustainability”, according to an Arcadis media release.

The “people” element was consistently the lowest scoring, with the report saying cities were “failing to sufficiently meet the needs of their people”. This was one area, however, that Sydney and Melbourne did well, being placed 4th and 8th, respectively.

On “planet”, Sydney ranked 18th and Melbourne 23rd, both let down by relatively poor energy use and renewables mix, natural catastrophe exposure and solid waste management.

“Our world is changing at a faster pace than ever before,” Arcadis global cities director John Batten said. “Developing technology, population growth and the emergence of a truly global economy mean that the notion of national borders is becoming less relevant. Instead, we see the concept of the ‘global city’ taking hold.

“The Sustainable Cities Index highlights the areas of opportunity for cities, to inform decision-making and hopefully make them more sustainable economically, environmentally and for the welfare of their inhabitants.”

He said the ranking wasn’t designed to create a hierarchy of elite cities, but to highlight areas of opportunities for cities to become more sustainable.

Arcadis recently acquired Hyder Consulting, who has worked on the controversial East West link in Melbourne and Sydney’s WestConnex.

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