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Greenest Countries in Europe 2020

Updated for 2020, 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 natural land for 30 European countries. Below we explain our findings and methodology.

Greenest Countries in Europe 2020

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 natural land like forests and ample renewable freshwater. With this in mind, our scoring system for 2020 uses relevant publicly-available data to rank each country across several categories. Lower scores indicate higher ranks (i.e., greener countries).

This is our updated study for 2020—you can find our 2019 study here and read about changes we've made to the study for 2020 here.

1. Sweden

Sweden is the standout greenest country in Europe. It ranked in the top 3 countries for greenhouse gases emissions, air quality, energy and land. For example, PM2.5 fine particulate matter concentration in the air of 5.9 means Sweden tied for the cleanest air in Europe with Finland and Iceland. Greenhouse gas emissions are the lowest at 5.4 tons per capita. In Sweden, only 0.4% of land is artificial surfaces. But while a high proportion of energy comes from renewable sources (55%), the actual per capita consumption of nonrenewable energy is still one of the highest in the EU (3.0 TOE per person).

Score
Composite Score3.3
Waste8
Energy3
Greenhouse Gases1
Air Quality1
Freshwater4
Natural Land3


2. Norway

Norway ranked as the second greenest country in Europe, largely due to their strength in the energy category where they ranked 1st with a 73% share of energy from renewable sources (the highest in the group). Norway also has a great supply of renewable freshwater resources, with 74.4 thousand cubic metres per capita (second only to Iceland). Norway didn't perform as well in the waste and greenhouse gas categories, due to high volumes of municipal waste per capita (508 kilograms per capita vs. an average of 460) and greenhouse gas emissions (10.1 tonnes per capita vs. an average of 9.4).

Score
Composite Score7.8
Waste17
Energy1
Greenhouse Gases20
Air Quality5
Freshwater2
Natural Land2


3. Iceland

Iceland ranked as the 3rd greenest country in Europe. Of particular note were spectacular showings in the energy, air quality, freshwater and natural land categories. For example, over 72% of the country's energy comes from renewable energy and the country has 519.3 thousand cubic metres of renewable internal freshwater resources per capita. Improvements could be made on waste (only 33% of municipal waste is recycled and municipal waste per capita is high at 499 kg) and greenhouse gas emissions (29th out of 30 with 17.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per capita).

Score
Composite Score9.0
Waste20
Energy2
Greenhouse Gases29
Air Quality1
Freshwater1
Natural Land1

Summary of Greenest Countries in Europe 2020

Below are 30 countries in Europe ranked from most to least green, with scores across waste, energy, greenhouse gases, air quality, freshwater and natural land. Lower scores are better.

RankCountryWaste RankEnergy RankGreenhouse Gas Emissions RankAir Quality RankFreshwater RankNatural Land RankAverage Rank
1Sweden8311433.3
2Norway171205227.8
3Iceland202291119.0
4Portugal1368613119.5
5Finland22102113410.2
6Austria291916101011.0
7Croatia1973278611.7
8Slovenia41516257712.3
8Ireland5252775512.3
10Latvia29451791212.7
11Lithuania18111012121713.3
12United Kingdom10211111191414.3
13Estonia23182846814.5
13Italy714922152014.5
15France1426713142316.2
16Spain2816128171816.5
17Denmark155179262916.8
18Romania268420202617.3
19Greece27121824111317.5
20Bulgaria16131529161918.0
21Germany1232214232718.3
22Luxembourg11303010211519.5
23Hungary1220623292819.7
24Slovakia21241328181620.0
25Netherlands3292515282220.3
26Cyprus3017142627920.5
27Malta2519219303020.8
27Belgium6282318252520.8
29Poland9222430222421.8
30Czech Republic24272621242123.8

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 categorised this data into six groups: waste, energy, greenhouse gases, air quality, freshwater and natural land. Each score is based on a country's rank across these categories.

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)
1Germany68%381
2Austria58%356
3Netherlands54%329
4Slovenia58%434
5Ireland41%226
6Belgium54%407
7Italy48%407
8Sweden47%424
9Poland34%272
10United Kingdom44%468
11Luxembourg48%530
12Hungary35%385
13Portugal28%319
14France43%513
15Denmark46%551
16Bulgaria35%435
17Norway39%508
18Lithuania48%640
19Croatia24%351
20Iceland33%499
21Slovakia30%475
22Finland41%615
23Estonia28%527
24Czech Republic16%405
25Malta6%301
26Romania14%414
27Greece19%504
28Spain33%703
29Latvia23%610
30Cyprus16%814

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.

Norway ranked 1st in the energy category with 73% of energy coming from renewable sources and 2.8 tonnes of oil-equivalent non-renewable energy consumed per capita. Iceland ranked 2nd, with a 72% share of energy from renewables and Sweden ranked 3rd.

RankCountryShare of Energy from Renewable SourcesNon-Renewable Energy Consumed per Capita (tonnes of oil equivalent [TOE])
1Norway73%2.8
2Iceland72%3.2
3Sweden55%3.0
4Latvia40%1.5
5Denmark36%2.1
6Portugal30%1.7
7Croatia28%1.6
8Romania24%1.4
9Austria33%2.7
10Finland41%4.1
11Lithuania24%2.2
12Greece18%1.9
13Bulgaria21%2.3
14Italy18%2.1
15Slovenia21%2.7
16Spain17%2.4
17Cyprus14%2.0
18Estonia30%3.9
19Malta8%1.6
20Hungary12%2.4
21United Kingdom11%2.5
22Poland11%2.6
23Germany16%3.3
24Slovakia12%2.8
25Ireland11%2.7
26France17%3.4
27Czech Republic15%3.7
28Belgium9%4.4
29Netherlands7%4.3
30Luxembourg9%6.9

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 those from international aviation. For interest, we include sub-data for gas emissions from agriculture and cows.

Sweden, Malta, Croatia and Romania ranked as the countries with the lowest levels of greenhouse emissions in our study. Sweden releases just 5.4 tons of greenhouse gases per capita a year. In contrast, Luxembourg is the worst country according to this metric and is responsible for 20.3 tons of greenhouse gases per capita annually.

RankCountryGreenhouse Gas Emissions (tons per capita)Gas Emissions from Agriculture (tons per capita)Gas Emissions from Enteric Fermentation of Cattle (tons per capita)
1Sweden5.40.70.3
2Malta5.50.10.1
3Croatia6.00.70.2
4Romania6.01.00.2
5Switzerland6.10.70.4
6Latvia6.31.40.4
7Hungary6.60.70.2
8France6.91.10.5
9Portugal7.00.70.3
10Italy7.30.50.2
11Lithuania7.41.50.5
12United Kingdom7.50.60.2
13Spain7.50.80.3
14Slovakia8.00.50.2
15Cyprus8.30.40.1
16Bulgaria8.30.90.2
17Slovenia8.50.80.4
18Denmark8.91.90.6
19Greece9.00.70.1
20Austria9.20.80.4
21Norway10.10.80.3
22Finland10.71.20.3
23Germany10.70.80.3
24Belgium10.80.90.4
25Poland11.00.90.3
26Netherlands11.61.10.4
27Czech Republic12.20.80.3
28Ireland13.24.12.2
29Estonia15.31.10.4
30Iceland17.51.80.4
31Luxembourg20.31.10.7

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.

Finland, Iceland and Sweden tied for 1st place in the air quality category, with total concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) of just 5.9 micrograms per cubic meter. Poland has the worst air quality, with 20.5 micrograms per cubic meter—more than 3X as much as Finland, Iceland and Sweden.

RankCountryRuralUrbanTotal Concentrations of Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
1Finland5.56.55.9
1Iceland65.95.9
1Sweden5.46.15.9
4Estonia6.276.7
5Norway6.47.87
6Portugal7.18.17.9
7Ireland7.68.78.3
8Spain8.39.89.5
9Denmark9.510.310.1
10Luxembourg8.810.410.2
11United Kingdom8.410.610.5
12Lithuania10.912.311.5
13France9.912.411.6
14Germany10.511.911.7
15Netherlands1112.112.1
16Austria10.913.112.4
17Latvia10.814.412.7
18Belgium9.41312.9
19Malta10.11414
20Romania12.715.414.3
21Czech Republic13.615.615.1
22Italy11.115.715.3
23Hungary14.416.315.6
24Greece13.516.415.7
25Slovenia14.716.415.8
26Cyprus15.917.116.8
27Croatia15.817.617
28Slovakia16.41817.5
29Bulgaria17.720.818.8
30Poland1821.520.5

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 internal freshwater is defined as the total volume of river runoff and groundwater in a country, in natural conditions, exclusively by precipitation into a territory.

According to data from AQUASTAT gathered via the World Bank, Iceland is the clear winner in the freshwater category, with 519 thousand cubic metres of renewable internal freshwater resources per capital. Second place in the freshwater category went to Norway (74.4) and third place to Finland (19.6). Cyprus (0.7), the Netherlands (0.7), Hungary (0.6) and Malta (0.1) have the least renewable freshwater resources per capita.

RankCountryRenewable Internal Freshwater Resources per Capita (thousand cubic metres)
1Iceland519.3
2Norway74.4
3Finland19.6
4Sweden17.6
5Ireland10.5
6Estonia9.7
7Slovenia9.1
8Croatia8.9
9Latvia8.5
10Austria6.4
11Greece5.3
12Lithuania5.3
13Portugal3.7
14France3.0
15Italy3.0
16Bulgaria2.9
17Spain2.4
18Slovakia2.3
19United Kingdom2.2
20Romania2.1
21Luxembourg1.8
22Poland1.4
23Germany1.3
24Czech Republic1.2
25Belgium1.1
26Denmark1.1
27Cyprus0.7
28Netherlands0.7
29Hungary0.6
30Malta0.1

Land

Forests and other natural areas 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. In contrast, cropland and urban areas can put a strain on the environment, through higher temperatures, rainwater runoff problems, poor quality air, displacing wildlife and other environmental perils. We ranked the countries based on the percentage of land in each country that is natural—that is, neither cropland nor artificial surfaces (including urban and associated areas).

Iceland ranked 1st in the land category overall, with only 0.05% of the land surface taken up by artificial surfaces and 1.2% by crops. Norway ranked a close 2nd, and Sweden 3rd.

RankCountryLand Area (1,000 ha)Cropland (1,000 ha)Artificial Surfaces (1,000 ha)Percent of Land not Crops or Artificial
1Iceland10,025121599%
2Norway36,5118054599%
3Sweden40,7312,56814694%
4Finland30,3922,2456093%
5Ireland6,8894423893%
6Croatia5,6598897289%
7Slovenia2,0132383487%
8Estonia4,3476882084%
9Cyprus9241233283%
10Austria8,2521,39620681%
11Portugal9,1611,70913280%
12Latvia6,2111,2982480%
13Greece12,8903,22020074%
14United Kingdom24,1936,13196971%
15Luxembourg243641570%
16Slovakia4,8081,36117269%
17Lithuania6,2642,1393667%
18Spain49,95516,98555665%
19Bulgaria10,8563,63725365%
20Italy29,4149,2181,44365%
21Czech Republic7,7212,54334663%
22Netherlands3,3671,07547163%
23France54,75619,4641,33062%
24Poland30,61911,29182061%
25Belgium3,02885934061%
26Romania23,0088,95854160%
27Germany34,93711,9712,50660%
28Hungary9,1264,49935848%
29Denmark4,0002,3979242%
30Malta32101132%

If you decide to visit one of these beautiful countries, be sure to invest in a policy from a good, cheap travel insurance company to protect your holiday and your wallet should something go wrong.

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 land. 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 30 European countries for which we could find data based on each metric and calculated an average ranking for each category. In categories where multiple factors were at play, we calculated the percentage difference for each country from the average value for a metric, then averaged these differences and ranked the countries accordingly.

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 internal freshwater resources per capita (i.e., precipitation that replenishes rivers and groundwater) to give an idea of long-term access to this strained resource.

Land data includes the proportion of natural habitat in each country—that is, land that is neither artificial nor cropland, because forests and other natural areas are important for CO2 reduction and the water cycle, to give a picture of the percentage of natural land in a country.

Note: we made a few changes to our study of Greenest Countries in Europe from 2019:

Changes for 2020

  • We updated the source for freshwater resources to the World Bank for the inclusion of Iceland and Norway to the study.
  • The freshwater resources data now reflects internal resources only (not internal and external).
  • In the land category we now use a metric to estimate the natural land in a country by subtracting the cropland and artificial surfaces from the total land area—we had previously used a forest metric to capture the natural area.
  • We changed the study from 28 EU countries in 2019 to the 30 European countries for which we could source full data for 2020, resulting in the addition of Iceland and Norway to the study.

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

  • World Bank/AQUASTAT: Renewable internal freshwater resources from precipitation per country in million cubic metres per capita

Land

  • FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations): Percentage of land that is cropland and artificial surfaces.
Erin Yurday

Erin Yurday is the CEO, Co-founder and Editor of NimbleFins. Prior to NimbleFins, she worked as an investment professional and as the finance expert in Stanford University's Graduate School of Business case writing team. Read more on LinkedIn.

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