See our updated study on the greenest countries in Europe for 2020 here.
Greenest Countries in the EU 2019
The best European countries for environmental sustainability are good at limiting landfill, recycling waste, consuming less energy, using a higher proportion of renewable energy and having clean air, plus they have a substantial proportion of forests and ample renewable freshwater. With this in mind, our scoring system uses relevant publicly-available data to rank each country across several categories. Lower scores indicate higher ranks (i.e., greener countries).
Sweden is the standout greenest country in the EU by far. It ranked in the top 3 countries for waste, greenhouse gases emissions, air quality, freshwater and forests. For example, rural and urban concentrations of PM2.5 fine particulate matter in the air of 5.4 and 6.1, respectively, mean Sweden has the cleanest air in the EU. However, while Sweden uses the highest proportion of energy from renewable sources (55%), the actual per capita consumption of nonrenewable energy is still one of the highest in the EU (3.1 tonnes of oil equivalent per person).
Latvia ranked as the second greenest country in the EU, largely due to an abundance of natural resources (freshwater and forests) as well as producing a relatively low amount of greenhouse gases per capita (6 tons per capita) and having the second lowest consumption of nonrenewable energy in the group (1.4 tonnes of oil equivalent per capita). However, Latvia's concentration of fine particulate matter (12.7) puts it in the bottom half for air quality and it has one of the worst recycling rates in the EU (25%).
Portugal is one of the greenest countries in the EU due to lots of forests (59% of the land is forest or wooded), good air quality (7.9 PM2.5) and more sympathetic energy consumption. For example, Portugal consumes a relatively low amount of nonrenewable energy per capital (1.7 tonnes of oil equivalent per capita) whilst also obtaining a relatively high amount of their energy from renewable sources (28%). However Portugal produces quite a bit of municipal waste (487 kg per capita) and has a low rate of waste recycling (31%).
Summary of Greenest Countries in the EU
Below are the countries in the European Union ranked from most to least green, with scores across waste, energy, greenhouse gases, air quality, freshwater and forests. Lower scores are better.
|Rank||Country||Waste Rank||Energy Rank||Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rank||Air Quality Rank||Freshwater Rank||Forest Rank||Average Rank|
Discussion of Categories
This study includes a wide variety of data in order to characterise each country's burden or benefit to the environment. We categorise this data into six groups: waste, energy, greenhouse gases, air quality, freshwater and forests. Each score is based on a country's rank across these categories.
Energy consumption is an important environmental factor because non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, and natural gas) are more harmful to the environment both to extract and burn. To quantify how energy consumption compares, we ranked countries on both the amount of non-renewable energy consumed per capita and also the percentage of consumed energy sourced from renewable sources such as hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy.
|Rank||Country||Share of Energy from Renewable Sources||Non-Renewable Energy Consumed per Capita (tonnes of oil equivalent [TOE])|
Waste & Recycling
Waste puts an incredible strain on the environment, for instance by filling up landfills. Reducing the amount of waste we produce and increasing recycling rates are both critical steps towards reducing the human impact on Earth. In fact, the EU has set waste targets to recycle 65% of municipal waste and reduce landfill to a maximum of 10% of municipal waste by 2030. Municipal waste includes that from households, commerce, offices and public institutions.
|Rank||Country||Recycling Rate||Municipal Waste (kilograms per capita)|
Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, which is responsible for rising temperatures and more extreme weather conditions around the globe. Extreme weather includes severe storms and associated flooding in some areas to extended droughts in others; or record-breaking heat waves and cold streaks across the globe. Greenhouse gases include that from international aviation. For interest, we include sub-data for gas emissions from agriculture and cows.
|Rank||Country||Greenhouse Gas Emissions (tons per capita)||Gas Emissions from Agriculture (tons per capita)||Gas Emissions from Enteric Fermentation of Cattle (tons per capita)|
The most damaging air pollution particles are PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) because they can penetrate deeply into the lungs when we breathe due to their small size. A study in the US showed that PM2.5 increased the rate of death by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (+3.3%) and heart disease (+2.1%). More locally, a study in Estonia showed that PM2.5 decreased life expectancy by nearly 8 months. Common sources of PM2.5 are traffic and local heating.
|Rank||Country||Rural||Urban||Total Concentrations of Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)|
Water is a vital yet strained resource, with need already outstripping demand in many parts of the world. Not only is water essential for life, but it is also necessary for agriculture, industry and the running of households. Renewable freshwater is defined as the total volume of river runoff and groundwater in a country, in natural conditions, exclusively by precipitation into a territory (and from neighboring territories).
|Rank||Country||Renewable Freshwater Resources per Capita (thousand cubic metres)|
Forests are critical to the environmental health of the planet. Besides providing habitats for animals, forests absorb and store CO2, help prevent flooding during heavy rainfall, reduce soil erosion and preserve groundwater supplies. We ranked the countries based on the percentage of land in each country that is left as woods or forest.
|Rank||Country||Total Land (Square Kilometres)||Forests and Woods (Square Kilometres)||Percent of Land that is Forest or Wooded|
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We focused our data collection on general environmental factors, such as air quality, freshwater abundance, greenhouse gas emissions per capita, energy consumption per capita, share of energy from renewable sources, waste generation per capita, recycling rates and share of natural forests. We gathered the data from several reputable sources including Eurostat, the European Environmental Agency, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.
Using these data sets, we first ranked the 28 EU countries based on each metric and calculated an average ranking for each category. The composite score is an equally weighted average of each category's score. A lower score indicates a better rank.
Waste data incorporated both the amount of municipal waste generated per capita and the percentage of municipal waste that is recycled to give a picture of a country's waste production and its efforts to reduce landfill waste through recycling.
Energy data includes the amount of nonrenewable energy consumed (i.e., thousand tonnes of oil equivalent) per capita, plus the share of energy consumed that comes from renewable sources.
Greenhouse Gases data are from the European Environment Agency (EEA), accessed via Europa.eu, to show the per capita amount of harmful greenhouse gases such as CO2 that are contributed to the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.
Air Quality data shows the concentration of fine particulate matter in the air that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, to give an indication of the cleanliness of the air we breathe.
Freshwater data includes the amount of renewable freshwater resources per capita (i.e., precipitation that replenishes rivers and groundwater) to give an idea of long-term access to this strained resource.
Forests data includes the square kilometres of land, forests and wooded area in each country to indicate the proportion of natural forest habitat in each country, because forests are important for CO2 reduction and the water cycle.
- Europa.eu: Municipal waste generated in kilograms per capita, recycling rate (i.e., the percentage of municipal waste generated that is recycled, composted and anaerobically digested)
- Europa.eu: Gross inland consumption of energy per country in thousand tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE), share of energy from renewable sources
- World Bank: Population statistics
- European Environment Agency (EEA), accessed via Europa.eu: Thousand tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per country
- World Bank: Population statistics
- World Health Organization: concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) per country
- Europa.eu: renewable freshwater resources from precipitation per country in million cubic metres
- World Bank: Population statistics
- Europa.eu: square kilometres of total land cover, forest and other wooded land