Environmentally friendly countries—alternately known as eco-friendly, nature-friendly, or green countries—are those that engage in processes and practices that minimize harm to ecosystems and the environment. The most desirable environmentally friendly practices are sustainable, meaning they can be carried out on an ongoing basis with little to no negative impact upon the world around them. The term "environmentally friendly" is often also applied to goods and services, laws, guidelines, and policies that inflict minimal (or no) damage upon the environment and ecosystems. Environmentally friendly products, processes, and practices impose no harm to the natural environment, help conserve resources like water and energy, and do not contribute to air, water, and land pollution.
How to measure a country's environmental friendliness: the Environmental Performance Index
Compiled annually by Yale University's Center for Environmental Law & Policy, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a statistical method of computing the collective environmental impact of all of a country’s policies combined. The 2020 Environmental Performance Index ranks 180 countries across 32 performance indicators related to environmental health and ecosystem vitality, from the amount of particulate pollution in the air and the purity of drinking water to the health of fish stocks and the management of wetlands. The EPI grades each country's environmental trends and progress, which provides a foundation from which governments can implement effective environmental policies. EPI measurements also enable countries to see how close they are to their established environmental policy goals.
Top 10 Most Environmentally Friendly Countries in the World (EPI score):
- Denmark — 82.5
- Luxembourg — 82.3
- Switzerland — 81.5
- United Kingdom — 81/3
- France — 80
- Austria — 79.6
- Finland — 78.9
- Sweden — 78.7
- Norway — 77.7
- Germany — 77.2
With an EPI score of 82.5, Denmark earns the title of most environmentally friendly country in the world. Denmark stands out for its high scores in the "biodiversity and habitat" and "air quality" categories. In addition to implementing some of the world's most efficient policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change, Denmark has long focused upon sustainability, championing clean products such as eco-friendly hotels, solar-powered boats, and organic food.
2-3: Luxembourg and Switzerland
The small European country of Luxembourg—the second-most environmentally friendly country in the world—is known for its high scores in biodiversity and habitat and water resources. Luxembourg has made significant progress in protecting its environmental health despite its rapidly growing population and GDP. Third-place Switzerland has high rankings for environmental health, sustainability, water sanitation, and water resources. Switzerland’s public sector is increasingly requiring eco-friendly and resource-friendly products. The country is also one of the top recyclers in the world.
4-5: The United Kingdom and France
The U.K. has a perfect score of 100 for sanitation and drinking water, which helped it achieve the world's 4th-highest EPI score, as well as for the management of solid household fuels. The country also ranks second for climate change and first for pollution emissions. These rankings are quite impressive, considering the U.K.’s population of 66.52 million. Fifth-place France has a perfect 100 for water sanitation and pollution emissions, and also ranks fourth for climate change and fifth for biodiversity. France has several environmental initiatives in place, such as using hydro turbines along its rivers and banning its supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food of good quality.
6-7: Austria and Finland
Austria is the world’s sixth-most eco-friendly country thanks in part to some of the strictest standards in Europe for waste management, chemicals, and air pollution. Agricultural regulations are also stringent, specifically for pesticides and fertilizers. These regulations enable Austria to score perfect 100s for drinking water and pollution emissions. Finland ranks seventh overall but is first in the world for air quality with a score of 99.3 and top-ranked for sanitation, drinking water, and heavy metals with scores of 100. About 35% of Finland’s power comes from renewable energy resources, and forest and wildlife conservation are high priorities.
8-10: Sweden, Norway, and Germany
Eighth place belongs to Sweden, which ranks just one place below neighboring Finland for air quality (98.2) and also ranks high for both solid waste and lead. Sweden is one of the most sustainable countries, known for its use of renewable energy sources and low carbon dioxide emissions. Norway is the ninth-most eco-friendly country in the world, with an overall environmental health score of 98.5 and a perfect 100 for sanitation and drinking water. Norway's current electricity production is 97% renewable, and the country recently set out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. Germany finishes the top ten with a perfect 100 for sanitation and a fourth-place biodiversity rating. Germany is ambitiously pursuing eco-friendliness with 10 policies that bring it closer to “a renewable energy revolution.”
Alternate methods of measuring environmental friendliness
Although the EPI is arguably the most comprehensive measure of country-scale environmental friendliness, additional metrics and viewpoints exist and can offer an alternate perspective. One option is the U.S. News "Best Countries" list, which devotes an entire section to environmental topics and sustainability in particular. A third approach comes from the website InterNations, which interviewed more than 15,000 expats about the sustainability of their current countries. Both surveys' results can be seen in the tables below.