Where does your country rank when it comes to being green?

This year’s pandemic gave us a glimpse into a green new world. Two benefits were immediate: pollution disappeared and wildlife returned to unexpected places. We hope it inspires every country to strive for greener days—but how do we determine what makes a country ‘green’?

Many factors contribute to the answer: how a nation tackles climate change, how it protects biodiversity, and how it looks after its citizens for example. Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Index (EPI) does all this math for us.

Developed by Yale and Columbia Universities, the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the EPI compares national policies around environmental sustainability—32 performance indicators across 11 categories in all. The 2020 EPI was recently released.

Here are the top 5 eco-friendly countries on the list...


5. France | 80.0%

bike in ParisPhoto by JOHN TOWNER on UnsplashThe only EPI category where France scored perfectly was Pollution Emissions. However, it received 100 percent rankings on several factoring performance indicators, including household fuel exposure, sanitation, terrestrial biomes and species protection.

What else makes France special? New buildings in industrial zones must now be topped with solar panels or green roofs. The capital of Paris is in the midst of doubling its bike network. And President Emmanuel Macron recently committed another €15bn to develop a low-carbon economy. Meanwhile, in the wake of COVID, Lyon’s Mayor Grégory Doucet declared, “Ecology is not the enemy of the economy, it’s its best ally.”


4. United Kingdom | 81.3%

London BridgePhoto by Hulki Okan Tabak on UnsplashIn 2018, the United Kingdom released a 25-year plan with straightforward green goals: cleaner air and water; plants and animals which are thriving; and a cleaner, greener country for all. Efforts are paying off as the country received perfect EPI scores for pollution emission management, sanitation and drinking water. The vitality of water resources also ranked high. Recently, the UK has also banned plastic microbeads, improved animal welfare standards and reduced the use of grocery bags by 83 percent with a simple 5p charge.


3. Switzerland | 81.5%

switzerlandPhoto by Daniel Cox on UnsplashPerfect scores for pollution emissions, sanitation and drinking water join a near-perfect score (99 percent) for waste management in this politically neutral nation. Switzerland's tap water could be bottled and sold for a premium in any other country. Many towns charge citizens for literally every bag of trash they create, but recycling is free. And the trash produced by citizens is burned in modern incinerators that help create energy for homes with minimal air pollution.


2. Luxembourg | 82.3%

LuxembourgPhoto by Cedric Letsch on UnsplashThis is Europe’s largest investment fund centre. The only perfect score Luxembourg received was for pollution emissions, but quality of drinking water and wastewater management earned near-perfect rankings as well. The country is also home to the world’s first green stock exchange: the Luxembourg Green Exchange (it lists 50 percent of the world’s green bonds). Being landlocked, one factor that might easily drag down a score was excluded: fisheries management.


1. Denmark | 82.5%

SwitzerlandPhoto by Ricardo Gomez Angel on UnsplashWhat sets the land of Vikings, Lego and Danish pastries apart from other countries is consistently high ratings across every facet of the EPI, along with consistent performance over the years. Denmark received perfect scores for minimizing lead exposure (heavy metals), and management of pollution emissions and water resources. It also received near perfect scores for waste management, sanitation and drinking water. Denmark is also on track to be fossil fuel-free by 2050, and is home to the Greenest City in the World: Copenhagen.


Other noteworthy nations… for better or worse

Costa RicaCosta Rica photo by Berti Benbanaste on UnsplashThis year’s top 5 countries are all in Europe, but in recent years Australia, Singapore and Costa Rica have also made the list. Canada currently ranks 20th in the world, tied with the Czech Republic and Italy. On the other end of the spectrum, the five lowest-ranking countries this year were Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Liberia.

There’s a clear relation between national wealth and a country’s ability to address environmental concerns: the required infrastructure to fight climate change and environmental degradation is expensive, while the quest for prosperity can further degrade conditions. That said, the world’s two biggest economies—United States and China—rank 24th and 120th respectively on the EPI. Both nations’ performance leave much to desire. It will also be interesting to see how these countries rank on the next EPI given their response to the pandemic. Trump has already eased some environmental protections, which doesn’t bode well for the United States.