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Greenest Countries in the EU

We analysed the most recently-available environmental data from Eurostat, the European Environmental Agency and the World Health Organization to determine which EU countries are the greenest—both in terms of natural environment and human impact. Our evaluation covered metrics related to air quality, freshwater, greenhouse gases, waste, energy and forests for the 28 European nations. Below we explain our findings and our methodology.

Greenest Countries in the EU

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).

1. Sweden

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).

Score
Composite Score3
Waste2
Energy8
Greenhouse Gases2
Air Quality1
Freshwater3
Forests2



2. Latvia

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%).

Score
Composite Score8
Waste17
Energy1
Greenhouse Gases5
Air Quality15
Freshwater4
Forests6


3. Portugal

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%).

Score
Composite Score9
Waste22
Energy3
Greenhouse Gases7
Air Quality4
Freshwater13
Forests4

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.

RankCountryWaste RankEnergy RankGreenhouse Gas Emissions RankAir Quality RankFreshwater RankForest RankAverage Rank
1Sweden2821323.0
2Latvia171515468.0
3Portugal223741348.8
4Finland1613222219.3
5Lithuania5691012159.5
6Croatia173425199.8
7Slovenia21416235310.5
8Austria771914101111.3
9Estonia111727311512.3
10Spain211211620813.0
11Romania152318231913.3
12Bulgaria1010152771213.5
13Hungary61862182313.7
14Slovakia1121122661014.3
15Italy1191020221414.3
16United Kingdom822139192215.5
17France1720811162115.5
18Denmark225187172615.8
19Greece2511172214716.0
20Germany11232312212018.3
21Belgium1262116242418.7
22Poland4192028251718.8
23Ireland242526592519.0
24Czech Republic4242519261619.0
25Malta2715117282719.2
26Netherlands8272413152819.2
27Luxembourg1728288181819.5
28Cyprus27161424271320.2

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

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.

RankCountryShare of Energy from Renewable SourcesNon-Renewable Energy Consumed per Capita (tonnes of oil equivalent [TOE])
1Latvia39%1.4
2Romania25%1.3
3Croatia27%1.6
3Portugal28%1.7
5Denmark36%2.2
6Lithuania26%2.0
7Austria33%2.7
8Sweden55%3.1
9Italy18%2.1
10Bulgaria19%2.3
11Greece16%2.0
12Spain18%2.2
13Finland41%4.4
14Slovenia22%2.7
15Malta7%1.5
16Cyprus10%1.9
17Estonia29%4.0
18Hungary13%2.3
19Poland11%2.4
20France16%3.3
21Slovakia12%2.7
22United Kingdom10%2.6
23Germany16%3.4
24Czech Republic15%3.5
25Ireland11%2.9
26Belgium9%4.7
27Netherlands7%4.4
28Luxembourg6%6.6

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.

RankCountryRecycling RateMunicipal Waste (kilograms per capita)
1Belgium53%409
2Slovenia58%471
2Sweden49%452
4Czech Republic38%344
4Poland35%315
5Lithuania48%455
6Hungary35%385
7Austria58%570
8Netherlands53%513
8United Kingdom44%468
10Bulgaria32%435
11Estonia28%390
11Germany66%633
11Italy45%489
11Slovakia23%378
15Romania13%272
16Finland42%510
17Croatia21%416
17France42%513
17Latvia25%438
17Luxembourg48%607
21Spain30%462
22Denmark48%781
22Portugal31%487
24Ireland40%581
25Greece17%504
27Cyprus17%637
27Malta7%604

Greenhouse Gases

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.

RankCountryGreenhouse Gas Emissions (tons per capita)Gas Emissions from Agriculture (tons per capita)Gas Emissions from Enteric Fermentation of Cattle (tons per capita)
1Malta4.90.10.1
2Sweden5.50.70.3
3Romania5.80.90.2
4Croatia6.00.70.2
5Latvia6.01.40.4
6Hungary6.30.70.2
7Portugal6.90.70.3
8France7.11.10.5
9Lithuania7.21.60.5
10Italy7.20.50.2
11Spain7.30.70.2
12Slovakia7.60.50.2
13United Kingdom7.80.60.3
14Cyprus8.20.40.1
15Bulgaria8.40.90.2
16Slovenia8.60.90.4
17Greece8.80.70.1
18Denmark9.21.80.6
19Austria9.30.80.4
20Poland10.50.80.3
21Belgium10.70.90.4
22Finland11.01.20.3
23Germany11.30.80.3
24Netherlands12.11.10.5
25Czech Republic12.40.80.3
26Ireland13.34.02.2
27Estonia15.01.00.4
28Luxembourg19.21.30.7

Air Quality

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.

RankCountryRuralUrbanTotal Concentrations of Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
1Sweden5.46.15.9
2Finland5.56.55.9
3Estonia6.276.7
4Portugal7.18.17.9
5Ireland7.68.78.3
6Spain8.39.89.5
7Denmark9.510.310.1
8Luxembourg8.810.410.2
9United Kingdom8.410.610.5
10Lithuania10.912.311.5
11France9.912.411.6
12Germany10.511.911.7
13Netherlands1112.112.1
14Austria10.913.112.4
15Latvia10.814.412.7
16Belgium9.41312.9
17Malta10.11414
18Romania12.715.414.3
19Czech Republic13.615.615.1
20Italy11.115.715.3
21Hungary14.416.315.6
22Greece13.516.415.7
23Slovenia14.716.415.8
24Cyprus15.917.116.8
25Croatia15.817.617
26Slovakia16.41817.5
27Bulgaria17.720.818.8
28Poland1821.520.5

Freshwater

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).

RankCountryRenewable Freshwater Resources per Capita (thousand cubic metres)
1Croatia27.8
2Finland20.0
3Sweden18.5
4Latvia17.4
5Slovenia15.5
6Slovakia14.8
7Bulgaria14.3
8Hungary11.9
9Ireland11.0
10Austria9.5
11Estonia9.4
12Lithuania7.9
13Portugal7.1
14Greece6.7
15Netherlands5.4
16France2.8
17Denmark2.8
18Luxembourg2.7
19United Kingdom2.6
20Spain2.4
21Germany2.3
22Italy1.9
23Romania1.9
24Belgium1.8
25Poland1.6
26Czech Republic1.5
27Cyprus0.3
28Malta0.2

Forests

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.

RankCountryTotal Land (Square Kilometres)Forests and Woods (Square Kilometres)Percent of Land that is Forest or Wooded
1Finland337,547242,70772%
2Sweden449,896308,89769%
3Slovenia20,27713,05764%
4Portugal88,84752,45759%
5Estonia45,34726,62159%
6Latvia65,51937,09457%
7Greece131,91271,35454%
8Spain498,504259,73452%
9Croatia56,53929,36652%
10Slovakia49,02624,09249%
11Austria83,94439,86247%
12Bulgaria110,99550,88746%
13Cyprus9,2493,98543%
14Italy301,291128,15643%
15Lithuania65,41225,33539%
16Czech Republic78,87430,42439%
17Poland313,851116,32537%
18Luxembourg2,59595637%
19Romania239,06884,36235%
20Germany358,327118,86033%
21France549,060176,84032%
22United Kingdom247,76369,19528%
23Hungary93,01324,45126%
24Belgium30,6687,58525%
25Ireland70,60116,06623%
26Denmark43,1627,10616%
27Malta3154414%
28Netherlands37,8244,17611%

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Methodology

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.

Sources

Waste

  • 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)

Energy

  • 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

Greenhouse Gases

  • European Environment Agency (EEA), accessed via Europa.eu: Thousand tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per country
  • World Bank: Population statistics

Air Quality

  • World Health Organization: concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) per country

Freshwater

  • Europa.eu: renewable freshwater resources from precipitation per country in million cubic metres
  • World Bank: Population statistics

Forests

  • Europa.eu: square kilometres of total land cover, forest and other wooded land

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