Cleanliness doesn't just look better—it actually leads to a better (and longer) life. Clean water, pure air, efficient handling of waste, and effective sanitation can all significantly improve human health.
For example, countries with high air quality scores reduce their citizens' chances of being exposed to harmful particles such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which reduces the frequency of illnesses associated with air pollution, such as respiratory or cardiovascular disease. Countries with high pollution levels see high rates of non-communicable diseases, accounting for 72% of all deaths, 16% of which are caused by toxic pollution.
Researchers at Yale University and Columbia University collaborated with the World Economic Forum to measure the cleanliness and environmental friendliness of 180 countries around the world. To accomplish this task, they created the Environmental Performance Index (EPI).
The Environmental Performance Index measures 32 performance indicators across 11 categories related to two overarching policy objectives: ecosystem vitality and environmental health. These categories include air quality, water and sanitation, biodiversity and habitat, and sustainability. Once the scores are tabulated, the countries are ranked in order from the cleanest to the dirtiest. In this way, countries can see at a glance how effective their environmental policies are and how close they are to achieving their environmental goals.
With a total EPI score of 82.5, Denmark is 2020's cleanest and most environmentally friendly country. Denmark stands out for its high scores in several categories, including Wastewater Treatment (100), Waste Management (99.8), and Species Protection Index (100). It also has some of the world's most comprehensive and effective policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change. Denmark's focus on sustainability shows in the country's increasing number of eco-friendly hotels, solar-powered boats, and organic food.
Luxembourg has made significant progress in reducing the negative impacts on its environment despite its rapid population and GDP growth. Luxembourg's overall score is 82.3, but arguably even more impressive are its scores in Sanitation (100), Drinking Water (97.7), and Pollution Emissions (100). A relatively small nation with fewer than 600,000 people, Luxembourg is a largely rural nation with plentiful forests and ample nature parks.
Switzerland is the third-cleanest country in the world, with an overall EPI score of 81.5. Switzerland scored exceptionally high for both Drinking Water (100) and Sanitation (100), and matched Denmark's perfect score in Species Protection Index. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Switzerland is known for its clean water and abundant wildlife.
The United Kingdom is the fourth-cleanest country in the world, receiving an EPI of 81.3. This score is impressive, considering the country's population of 66.52 million. The UK has perfect scores for Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Pollution Emissions.
France has an EPI score of 80, making it the fifth-cleanest country in the world. Although France is industrialized, almost 80% of its energy is from nuclear power, significantly reducing its carbon emissions and helping it to a perfect 100 score in Pollution Emissions. France's environmental initiatives include hydro turbines along its rivers and banning supermarkets from throwing away unused, good food.
With an EPI of 79.6, Austria is the sixth-cleanest country in the world. Austria ranked third overall for agriculture, having stringent regulations for pesticides and fertilizers, and fifth for ecosystem vitality. Austria is known to have some of Europe's strictest air pollution standards, chemicals, and waste management. About two-thirds of Austria is covered in dense forests and meadows.
Finland, the second Nordic country on the list, is the seventh-cleanest. About 35% of Finland's energy comes from renewable energy resources. Finland ranks first in the world for Environmental Health (99.3) and Air Quality (98.8), as well as achieving perfect 100s for Sanitation & Drinking Water and Heavy Metals Exposure. The country also prioritizes forest and wildlife conservation.
Sweden's EPI score is 78.7. The country is one of the most sustainability-focused in the world, known both for its low carbon dioxide emissions—Sweden is tied with Australia for having the second-cleanest air in the world—and for its use of renewable energy sources. Sweden is also focused upon nature and has increased greenery throughout the country while also preserving thousands of acres of forests.
Norway's EPI is 77.7, good for 9th place in the world. It has a perfect 100 score for Sanitation and Drinking Water and an air quality score of 97.9, the fifth-highest globally. Norway is second in the world in Environmental Health, behind only Finland. Norway's electricity is 97% renewable. By the end of 2020, the government aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.
Germany is the tenth-cleanest country and is also the most technologically advanced country in the world, which is no small achievement. Its EPI score is 77.2, with a perfect score for Unsafe Sanitation and ranking fourth for Biodiversity & Habitat. Germany is heading towards a "renewable energy revolution," increasing its environmental friendliness through green initiatives and investments in sustainability.
Here are the top 10 cleanest countries in the world:
Denmark ranks as the world's cleanest country with an EPI score of 82.5. The country is also the most environmentally-friendly country.
The 10 countries that have been ranked the cleanliest are Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Germany.