The Most Sustainable Countries On Earth According To The Environmental Performance Index

With sustainability and the state of our earth’s environment at the forefront of global conversation, it is important to recognize the steps that particular countries and communities are taking to reduce their impact on the planet. The Environmental Performance Index provides a consolidated view of each country’s progress and where they need to improve in terms of sustainability and the preservation of our world’s ecosystems.  Keep reading to learn more about the Environmental Performance Index, or EPI, how some countries are championing sustainability and the United States’ EPI ranking.

What Is The Environmental Performance Index, or EPI?

To put it simply, the Environmental Performance Index is a ranking system used to compare the world’s countries based on their efforts to preserve and protect the earth’s environment. This index also measures how close countries are to meeting their established environmental policy objectives. The 2018 Environmental Performance Index is the most up to date index and has scored 180 countries on their environmental performance using the latest set of data available, as well as data from the past decade. In addition to receiving an environmental performance index score, countries also receive an environmental health and ecosystem vitality score. The environmental health score is based on the quality of the country’s air and water, while the ecosystem vitality score primarily indicates the condition of a country’s ecosystem and the animal species that live within these ecosystems. Some of the performance indicators used to score these countries are household air quality, air pollution, drinking water quality, wastewater treatment, species protection, marine protected areas and CO2 emissions. The scores achieved by each country are translated into rankings that can be used as an opportunity for countries to engage in friendly competition as they try to improve their rank. The Environmental Performance Index also gives countries a more granular view of the areas in which they need to improve when it comes to sustainability.

Read below to learn more about a few of the top ranking countries on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index and how they are working to achieve a brighter future for our planet.

1. Switzerland

According to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, Switzerland is ranked number one in the world for its achievements in sustainability and environmental conservation. Switzerland’s overall EPI score is 87.42, while its environmental health score is 93.57 and its ecosystem vitality score is 83.32. Much of Switzerland is occupied by natural lakes, forests and mountains and judging by their EPI score, this country is adamant about protecting these natural wonders, as well as the health of the environment on a global scale. This country also boasts a secure economy, a high standard of living and an impressive emphasis on education which could also contribute to their rank as number one on the Environmental Performance Index.

Switzerland has made great strides in their efforts to preserve water quality since the 1960’s and especially in regards to wastewater treatment. These strides were often spurred by the Swiss public, as environmental protection and impact has been brought to the spotlight. In 1967, wastewater treatment was written into Swiss law and as of 2005, 97% of the Swiss population was connected to a sewage treatment plant. Currently, there are approximately 900 wastewater treatment plants across Switzerland. The Swiss are also a leader in waste management with a recycling rate of 53%.

2. France

France is ranked number two on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index with an overall EPI score of 83.95, an environmental health score of 95.71 and an ecosystem vitality score of 76.11. The French are championing sustainability in a variety of ways, including food and fashion. Plans have been introduced to ban retailers from throwing out or incinerating unsold clothes and instead, donating these items to recycling organizations or second hand shops. France has also been named the world’s most food sustainable country in the world. One example of their fight against food waste is their requirement for supermarkets to pass out left over food to charities instead of throwing these food items away.

In addition to food and fashion sustainability, France is also paving the way for other lower EPI ranking countries in areas such as sustainable energy, water conservation and air pollution. Currently, France has a plan in place that will double the amount of wind power they can produce over the next five years. They are also installing a farm of hydro turbines in the Rhone river that will produce enough power to provide for 400 houses, starting a program to get old, pollution producing cars off the road and hiking up the price on goods packaged in non-recycled plastics.

3. Denmark

Ranking number three on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, Denmark is another country that is doing their part to ensure a bright future for the earth and its inhabitants. Denmark’s overall EPI score is 81.60, while their environmental health score is 98.20 and their ecosystem vitality score is 70.53. In addition to promoting the more heard of environmental initiatives, including clean energy and water conservation, Denmark is also addressing the environmental impacts of container shipping. The world’s largest container shipping company, Maersk Group, is located in Denmark, giving them a sense of obligation to pave the way for greener solutions in this realm. Maersk Group is currently addressing the CO2 impact of shipping by adding greener container ships to their fleets. These new ships are the largest,  most environmentally efficient to date and will reduce CO2 emissions by 35% per shipping container shipped.

Because most indoor establishments in Denmark require heating for over half of the year, they have put a strong focus on creating more energy efficient buildings in the country. Many Danish companies, including Rockwool, Velux, Danfoss and Grundfos, are all working to make Danish structures more sustainable by creating energy efficient windows, heating, indoor water sources and insulation. Denmark is also developing plans to help the United Nations reach its 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030. Some of these goals include clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible construction and consumption, climate action, keeping our water sources clean and sustainably managing earth’s forests and land.

4. Malta

A less obvious champion of sustainability is the country of Malta. Malta ranks number four on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index with an overall EPI score of 80.90. Their environmental health score is 93.80 and their ecosystem vitality score is 72.30. Malta’s high rank on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index may be attributed to their positive intentions when it comes to sustainability and green living. Although Malta’s options for green energy are limited, they are still working to utilize cleaner energy solutions. They are offering incentives to the people of Malta who purchase energy efficient appliances while also moving away from using oil in electricity to natural gas. Malta is also attempting to replace gas guzzling cars and reducing traffic congestion that contributes to air pollution by building new infrastructures and intelligent transport systems.

5. Sweden

Ranking number five on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, Sweden has committed to a greener future for all. Sweden’s overall EPI score is 80.51, while their environmental health score is 94.41 and their ecosystem vitality score comes in at 71.24. This country has made sustainability a priority for many years and continues to implement green living practices in their policies and the lives of their population.

One example of the way Sweden has had a positive impact on earth’s environment is by their use of district heating. District heating is similar to the central heating in your home, however it applies to entire towns or cities. Sweden made the switch from oil to district heating in the 1990’s and since then, has drastically reduced their contribution to the emission of greenhouse gasses, or GHGs. Specifically, Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg, has implemented a district heating network which heats 90 percent of the apartment blocks in the city as well as 12,000 stand alone homes. Additionally, Swedes have began to use “passive houses”, which reduces energy consumption by heating the home with human body heat, electrical appliances and sunlight. Sweden’s affinity for urban farming has also helped to reduce their environmental impact.

Another example of why Sweden ranks so high on the EPI is the fact that their citizens are highly engaged and inspired to individually contribute to a greener Sweden and a more sustainable planet. A study conducted by the European Commission found that an impressive 40 percent of Swedes are purchasing eco friendly food and other goods in a given month. This figure is much more steep than the average for other European countries. They are also participating in the idea of sustainable fashion, as established clothing chains are heavily competing with second hand and vintage boutiques. Recycling has become another indicator of Sweden’s commitment to sustainability. With the goal of a 90 percent recycle rate, Sweden has achieved an astonishing 88 percent recycling rate for aluminum cans and PET plastic bottles.

6. United Kingdom

The United Kingdom comes in at number six on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index with an overall score of 79.89. This country also boasts an environmental health score of 96.03 and an ecosystem vitality score of 69.13. Renewable energy is one way that the United Kingdom is showing its dedication to our planet’s environment. Onshore and offshore wind energy is the largest source of clean energy in the United Kingdom. Wind energy not only surpasses all other forms of clean energy in the UK by 13.8 percent, but also beats the combined use of coal and oil by 6.5 percent. Because the UK has committed to exploring and using renewable energy sources, the use of coal for electric has decreased from 57,438,000 tons in 2006 to 12,058,000 tons in 2016. Specifically, Scotland uses the most renewable energy sources in all of the United Kingdom.

Another source of renewable energy that the United Kingdom is embracing is solar power.  Currently, solar power makes up 4.2 percent of the United kingdom’s total electricity. It is projected that the use of solar energy will only increase in years to come as the UK continues to install Solar Photovoltaic technologies that convert sunlight to direct current electricity. The United Kingdom is also making progress in terms of recycling. The recycling rate from households in the UK has increased from 45.2 percent in 2016 to 45.7 percent  in 2017. Forward progress is expected to be made within the recycling realm, as the European Union has set a target recycling rate of 50% by the year 2020.

The United States’ Environmental Performance Index Ranking

The United States ranks at number 27 on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index. The overall EPI score of America is 71.19, while the environmental health score is 93.91 and the ecosystem vitality score is 56.04. Although the EPI ranks 180 countries and comparatively, a rank of 27 might seem acceptable, there is room for the United States to improve when it comes to sustainability and specifically, ecosystem vitality.

There are a few ways that the United States can improve its EPI ranking, with the first being a larger focus on the importance of sustainability and green living. Like Sweden, if the health of our planet was made a top priority in our country, it would perhaps inspire more Americans to take individual initiative to go green and invest in sustainable energy sources and cars, limit food waste, become less reliant on industrial livestock production and more. Currently, the recycling rate in the United States stands at 34.3 percent which is a low figure when compared to Switzerland’s recycling rate of 53 percent. Doing your best to recycle items you use everyday in your home or office is a great start to increasing the recycling rate in America. Additionally, prioritizing the use of renewable energy sources like wind power, hydropower and solar power would be another way to increase the United States’ EPI ranking.

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