According to the business information database Crunchbase, 21,653 startups are working in one of the industries under the umbrella of sustainability in the United States.
Startups are, generally speaking, companies that are privately owned and aren’t trading on the stock market. In terms of industry profiles, this selection includes companies working in five broad strands of sustainability:
Based on this categorization, here is how the sustainability landscape in the United States breaks down:
Taken together, these companies employ an estimated 1.6 million people and have amassed an impressive $134.4 billion in funding and investment.
But where are these companies thriving? Which states and cities are home to most startups in sustainability? And what parts of the country are leading the way in Renewable Energy, Environmental Engineering, and Recycling?
Our report breaks it all down.
By raw number of startups, California has many more sustainability companies than any other state. However, if we look at the number of sustainability companies per capita, different states emerge at the top.
The top three states by the number of sustainability companies per 100,000 residents, according to Crunchbase listings, are Massachusetts (12.34), Colorado (11.91), and Vermont (10.53).
Sure enough, California is in fourth place with 10.34 companies per 100,000 inhabitants. Another populous state – New York – wraps up the top 10 with 7 such companies per 100,000 people.
At the city level, the one with the greatest density of sustainability companies is Boulder, CO where there are 115 such companies per 100,000 residents.
Almost following the ranking of the states, the city with the second highest density of green businesses is in Massachusetts. Cambridge, MA probably best known for being home to the University of Harvard and MIT, has 74.8 sustainability startups per 100,000 people.
Of the remaining eight spots in this ranking, six are occupied by cities in California, chief among them Berkeley, CA (70.3 companies per 100,000 people), Palo Alto, CA (67.2), and Santa Cruz, CA (49.8).
It’s worth pointing out that much like Cambridge, MA the cities with the highest sustainability startup concentrations in California are also home to renowned universities. Berkeley is home to the University of California, Berkeley, and Palo Alto is where Stanford University is located.
Another way to measure how successful sustainability companies are in each city is by looking at how much investment they attract.
By that metric, the city that stands out is Salt Lake City, UT where the average funding amount garnered by such companies is $204.5 million, with R-Zero and Goodera being two of the most prominent companies in the city.
Three other cities have an average funding amount of over $150 million: Santa Monica, CA ($154.3M), Fremont, CA ($153.4M), and Houston, TX ($150.7).
Two more California cities round out the top 10. In Oakland, CA and San Francisco, CA the average amount of investment raised by companies in sustainability is $80.3 million and $78.4 million, respectively.
Now that we’ve covered top cities and states overall let’s zoom in on key industries within sustainability to see where in the United States companies in, for example, Renewable Energy, Green Building & Engineering, and Recycling & Pollution reduction are most prolific.
As far as renewable energy companies go, there’s no place like Boulder, CO which has 60 such companies per 100,000 residents. AES Distributed Energy and Wunder are some of the top Boulder-based companies in this industry, each with millions raised in investment.
In the top five cities in this category are some of the usual suspects, such as Cambridge, MA (51.2) and Palo Alto, CA (48.2).
Zooming on renewable energy by type, it’s worth pointing out that Ann Arbor, MI has the most wind power-focused companies (2.4 per 100,000 people), Palo Alto, CA is top for solar energy (16.2), while Cambridge, MA leads in biofuels and biomass energy (3.4).
Recycling & Pollution Control
With regards to companies in Recycling, Waste Management, and Pollution Control, it’s Sarasota, FL that tops the list with 20.3 such companies per 100,000 people. Environmental Waste Solutions is one such company specializing in waste disposal and LED lighting.
A city that didn’t appear in many other rankings, but is second in this one is Marietta, GA with 19.7. San Rafael, CA (18.0), Boulder, CO (16.2), and Berkeley, CA (14.2) wrapping up the top five.
Coming up towards the top in many rankings, Cambridge, MA is the #1 city for businesses working in Environmental Engineering.
In Cambridge, around 22.1 companies per 100,000 residents are in these industries, which include businesses like Commonwealth Fusion (a company developing an inexhaustible power plant), and Yard Stick PBC (which specialize in soil carbon measurement).
Joining Cambridge, MA in the top five city rankings are Boulder, CO (21.9 companies per 100,000 people), Somerville, MA (16.1), Berkeley, CA (13.4), and Sarasota, FL (12.9).
Green Consumer Goods
Boulder, CO claims the top spot of companies in consumer goods again, with 24.7 such companies for its 100,000 residents. Perhaps more interesting is the presence of Petaluma, CA (10.1 companies per 100,000 residents), whose consumer-centric companies like Smári Organics put it in the second spot.
Santa Cruz, CA (9.6), Cambridge, MA (8.5), and Sarasota, FL (7.4) make up the rest of the top five.
An important branch of the sustainability industry is Environmental Consulting. Here, again, Boulder, CO grabs the top spot with its 23.8 businesses per 100,000 people.
What’s curious, however, is that Portland, ME cracks the top five with quite a few eco-driven consulting firms, the main one being Woodard & Curran, who claim to “take a comprehensive approach to environmental problem-solving”.
To check out the top five cities for each of the above strands of sustainability, check out our interactive chart below.
What makes Boulder, CO and Cambridge, MA – the two cities that topped rankings across different genres of sustainability – so special?
Boulder and Cambridge have invested significantly in combating climate change and enforcing more climate-friendly policies. Both cities are home to excellent universities such as Harvard, MIT, and the University of Colorado, facilitating innovation between academia and industry.
Admittedly, both cities have fairly small populations, making density figures of sustainability businesses even more impressive.
But it’s not just these two cities. From various reports and studies, it’s clear that many cities across the United States are making an effort to become more environmentally friendly and support businesses that may help them on this journey.
The government’s pledge to invest $60 billion in the production of batteries, solar panels and clean energy also spells a promising future for green enterprise in the United States.
Seizing upon this and other opportunities locally remains key to cities and businesses in their transition towards sustainability and tackling climate change.
To see how the number of sustainability companies in your city compares, check out the interactive table below.
Sustainability is an important issue for many people, and this is reflected in the world of business, too. This article is a part of a series of reports exploring the ways that the demand for sustainable businesses is changing the US workforce, and in turn, where green workers of the future will learn their skills.
Company counts were taken from Crunchbase and reflect the number of companies tagged as working in Environmental Consulting in one or more of the sustainability industries, which include: Biofuel, Biomass Energy, Clean Energy, CleanTech, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Engineering, Green Building, Green Consumer Goods, GreenTech, Natural Resources, Organic, Pollution Control, Recycling, Renewable Energy, Solar, sustainability, Waste Management, Water Purification, and Wind Energy.
Population figures for U.S. states and cities were taken from the U.S. Census Bureau.