Now, this may come as a shock to you, so brace yourself, but the United States of America is not the most environmentally friendly country in the world. Okay, so maybe that’s not actually that shocking. But you may be surprised by some of the countries that top the Environmental Performance Index – jointly developed by Yale and Columbia Universities in collaboration with the World Economic Forum – a report that is released every two years ranking countries’ performances on environmental health (air quality, water and sanitation) and ecosystem vitality (forests, biodiversity and habitat, climate and energy). Truly leading by example, the countries listed below are the top 10 environmental performers as of the 2016 EPI report:
Finland (Score: 90.68/100): Finland is the world’s environmental leader; and for good reason. In air quality, biodiversity, water quality and sanitation, Finland scores top marks in almost every aspect. In addition, the country generates nearly 2/3 of its energy from nuclear and renewable resources, and its goal of consuming 38% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020 is legally binding. Finland has also committed itself to becoming a carbon-neutral society by 2050.
Iceland (Score: 90.51 /100): Losing out on the top spot by an ice cube shaving is the island nation of Iceland. The country nearly notched a perfect score in their citizens’ access to clean air and drinking water, as well in their sanitation practices. Also, about 95% of Iceland’s heating demands are generated through geothermal energy making the country the largest green energy producer per capita in the world.
Sweden (Score: 90.43/100): In 1995, Sweden introduced a tax on carbon-intensive fuels, which has significantly reduced C02 emissions. As of 2016, Sweden generates over 80% of their electricity through nuclear and hydroelectric power. Energy efficiency is also highly valued in Sweden and like IKEA, they provide you with all of the tools you need to succeed; every municipality has an energy adviser that citizens can turn to for advice on making their home energy efficient.
Denmark (Score: 89.21/100): Being that the top four ranking “green” countries are all Nordic, maybe it’s time to consider a move… Denmark has led the charge in reducing their carbon emissions over the past decade. What’s more impressive, the country’s increase in renewable energy has reduced their C02 emissions by over 30% in the last 15 years while also improving their GDP by nearly 10%.
Slovenia (Score: 88.98/100): The first non-Nordic country to make the list we figured would be one of central Europe’s economic powerhouses, so we were quite surprised to see it was actually Slovenia. Surprises aside, Slovenia has a beautiful country and they know how to take care of it. With over 50% of its territory listed as protected areas, Slovenia ranks second in the world to only Venezuela in total percentage of land area protected.
Spain (Score: 88.91 /100): Deforestation and air-pollution, two issues that often go hand-in-hand, have caused problems for Spain over the past few decades. In response, Spain has set in place plans to reduce waste, improve their air quality and atmosphere protection, and improve their biodiversity. And despite all of this, Spain ranks as one of the top countries in the world in sanitation and cleanliness of their drinking water.
Portugal (Score: 88.63/100): It’s actually quite surprising that Portugal isn’t closer to the top of this list considering that in 2016 the country ran for 107 straight hours on renewable energy. In addition to their commitment to renewables, Portugal is working diligently to preserve their water resources and improve on their wastewater treatment sectors because of their vulnerability to the effects of climate change as a smaller, coastal country.
Estonia (Score:88.59/100): Ranking at #1 in the world in both biodiversity and agriculture, Estonia also scores near perfect marks in the health impact categories: clean air and water sources, and sanitation. Estonia does a wonderful job of providing a sustainable environment for their local flora and fauna as well as for their citizens.
Malta (Score: 88.48/100): The Azure window of Malta. If you’ve never seen it before, I can commiserate with you. Unfortunately, it collapsed into the sea earlier this year. Still, Malta is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and their denizens’ collective mindset is just as breathtaking. 99% of their citizens believe that environmental protection is of personal importance because of the negative impact it can have on their public health. 99%!! Compare that with only 40% of American’s holding that same belief. Because of these concerns, Malta has made a conscious effort to keep their air quality and water sanitation some of the cleanest in the world.
France (Score: 88.42/100): That’s right, coming in at number 10 is France. Scoring well across the board, France’s multifaceted environmental protection effort is well deserving of a spot in the top 10. Additionally, nuclear energy provides over 75% of the electricity in France and the country has no domestic oil reserves. Because of France’s fertile land, over 50% of their territory is cultivated for farming.
Clearly European nations have dominated the environmental performance index over the past few years and have set a wonderful example for the rest of the world to follow. And as a bonus, you now know that if you’re planning a vacation to one of these countries any time soon, you won’t have to worry about drinking water. Cheers to the great progress these countries have made and the leading example they have created for the rest of the world to follow.