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.
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 then combines these scores into a single overall score that ranges from 100 (best) to 0 (worst). These scores provide a foundation from which governments can see how close they are to their established environmental policy goals and implement effective environmental policies.
As in most countries, Denmark's EPI score of 77.9 in 2022 was notably lower than its 2020 score of 82.5. Nonetheless, Denmark again earns the title of most environmentally friendly country in the world. Denmark stands out for its high scores in "nearly all issues tracked by the EPI", and garnered extra praise for its efforts in the fields of clean energy and sustainable agriculture. Denmark is also one of only a handful of countries on track to reach "net zero" CO₂ emissions by 2050. 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.
The United Kingdom's 2022 EPI score of 77.7 was the second-highest in the world, and the country's 23-point improvement over the ten years from 2012 to 2022 was the third-highest of any country. The report's creators specifically singled out the UK's efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions—like Denmark, the UK is one of very few countries currently on schedule to reduce their net CO₂ emissions to zero by 2050. The UK was also one of six countries to post a perfect score of 100 for sanitation and drinking water, and scores high for its management of solid household fuels and soil acidification.
The country with the third-highest EPI rating (76.5) in 2022, Finland ties several other high-scoring countries for first place in several performance indicators, including Marine Protected Areas, Grassland Loss (protection), Soil Acidification, Wastewater Treatment, Household Solid Fuels, PM2.5 (air quality), Sanitation, Drinking Water, Heavy Metals, and "Black Carbon" Emissions. About 35% of Finland’s power comes from renewable energy resources, and forest and wildlife conservation are high priorities.
Vaulting into fourth place is Malta, which ranked 23rd on the 2020 EPI but has improved by 25.4 points between 2012 and 2022, the biggest gain of any country in the world during that period. Malta tied for first place in categories including its protection of tree cover, its marine trophic index (which measures the quality of fish in its fisheries), the quality of its drinking water, N₂O emissions. Malta is also one of only three countries, along with Ireland and Botswana, to share a first-place ranking in greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity growth rate, which measures a country's ability to grow economically without increasing its greenhouse gas emissions.
Fifth place belongs to Sweden, which scores at or near the top in multiple categories related to air and water quality, such as Soil Acidification and PM2.5 (which measures particulate pollution in the atmosphere). Sweden also ranks second-in-the-world for Sustainable Pesticide Use, just one place behind Australia, and has the fourth-best management of Heavy Metals (lead) in the world. Sweden is one of the planet's most sustainable countries, known for its use of renewable energy sources and low carbon dioxide emissions.
The small European country of Luxembourg—the sixth-most environmentally friendly country in the world—scores well in several Biodiversity-related categories. It is ranked second in the world at protecting its various plant and animal species, behind only Botswana. Luxembourg also posts top scores in the categories of Sanitation, Waste Management, Household Solid Fuels, and Soil Acidification. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Luxembourg has made significant progress in protecting its environmental health despite having a rapidly growing population and the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world.
The highest-ranking Eastern-European country in the 2023 EPI, Slovenia ranks only 35th in terms of overall air quality thanks to its unfortunate greenhouse gas emissions. However, it ranks second in the world in terms of overall Ecosystem Vitality, with top-ranked Terrestrial Biomes, minimal Wetland Loss and Soil Acidification, and excellent Species Protections. According to the EPI, more than 30% of Slovenia's territory is protected land, the highest percentage of any European country.
The world’s eighth-most eco-friendly country, Austria ranks first in the world in the category of Ecosystem Vitality, making it the only country to score higher than Slovenia. Austria has some of the strictest standards in Europe in categories such as waste management, chemicals, and air pollution. Agricultural regulations are also stringent, specifically with regard to pesticides and fertilizers.
Ninth-ranked Switzerland has high environmental health, sustainability, water sanitation, and water resources. Switzerland’s public sector is increasingly requiring eco-friendly and resource-friendly products. The country is one of the top recyclers in the world, and has strongly embraced renewable energy. For example, Switzerland's largest transportation company, SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), relies upon electric trains—and as of 2023, 90% of the trains' electricity was generated via hydropower plants.
The final country in the 2023 top ten, Iceland ranks first in the world in terms of overall Environmental Health, an umbrella category made up of indicators such as Air Quality, PM2.5 (which measures particulate air pollution), Ozone, Sanitation, Drinking Water, Waste Management, Recycling, Lead, and more. Although Iceland's environmental performance has few weaknesses, the EPI report postulates that improved grazing management in the Agriculture sector could boost Iceland's score even higher.
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.
EPI Score 2022
EPI Score 2020
EPI 10-year change 2022
US News 2022 Rank
Internations 2020 rank
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||53.2||48.4||8.90||n/r|
|Sao Tome and Principe||52.9||37.6||7.00||n/r|
|United Arab Emirates||52.4||55.6||15.90||24||22|
|Antigua and Barbuda||52.4||48.5||9.70||n/r|
|Trinidad and Tobago||47.8||47.5||19.00||n/r|
|Central African Republic||44.9||36.9||-0.70||n/r|
|Republic of the Congo||40.1||30.8||6.20||n/r|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||39.4||45.4||10.00||n/r|
|Papua New Guinea||24.8||32.4||0.20||n/r|
With an EPI score of 77.9, Denmark is currently the world's most environmentally friendly country. However, that number has dropped from 82.5 in 2022.