Forum for the Future's sustainable cities index found that Liverpool, Birmingham and Hull are the least sustainable of the UK's 20 most populous cities. Brighton and Hove made the top of the list, with Edinburgh taking second place.
The cities were ranked against a number of criteria that included quality of life, employment and public transport. Other factors included the ways in which cities are preparing for social and environmental changes and air and water quality.
Although the city came bottom, Liverpool City Council's executive member for the environment Berni Turner argued that it was the first to produce an ecological footprint report.
He said he is "surprised" that the city fared badly on water quality and insisted that the report "seems not to note our very high percentage of green space and natural areas for biodiversity". But the index would be a useful benchmark, he added.
The Sustainable Cities Index is available at PlanningResource.co.uk/doc.