Is your country green enough? (Final results)

This work is the big challenge taken by Maria Vlasova.


1. About the Challenge
2. Methodology
3. Countries: evaluation and analysis
4. Conclusion

1. About the Challenge

When we think about “greenest” countries, isn’t it sometimes too obvious who is best? But what if it’s not that obvious? What if we do not give it enough thought?

I personally had many misconceptions about countries’ environmental performances. And I still wear “pink glasses” quite often when it comes to the global environmental situation. That’s why I decided to start this challenge. First, I had high ambitions and wanted to cover all countries in the world, but as I continued to work alone on this, I had to cut the amount of information involved (see this challenge’s intro here).

So I chose to work with the top 20 wealthiest countries in the world, as the topic of economical sustainability and environmental sustainability was alluring to me. It was also thought-provoking to think that wealth can be quite fragile and that environmental sustainability has a much bigger impact than we think it has.

From this work. I’m also aiming to show that the government is a true key player when it comes to the question of environmental sustainability. It is often put that ordinary people and consumers should lead the change (e.g. recycle, consume less), but it is actually a country’s authorities who make all the processes possible to happen.

There are currently many tools to measure countries’ “green” performance such as EPI (Environmental Performance Index) and many articles on who is the top greenest etc. The problem with these tools/articles is that they either put emphasis mostly just on the environmental quality condition by evaluating air quality, water quality, etc. (EPI), or either has an unclear methodology and you can’t see the reason why this country is performing better than another one. That’s why I had to develop my own methodology to be able to evaluate countries’ performances in the way that it’d be clear why and how.

This work’s main aim is not to make a list of who is the greenest in the top 20 wealthiest countries. The main goal is to give some food for thoughts, to ask questions. Is environmental sustainability just about the good quality of environment and greenery? Is current economic wealth as stable as we think it is? There are many thoughts shared in this article, so be ready for some long-read.

(P.S. As we can see during this pandemic situation, it is not stable at all)

2. Methodology

The constraints of the work were that I had to create my own methodology in order to do countries’ assessments. Additionally, during working on the article I had a hard time choosing what message I want to bring to readers. And I have never done this kind of free article writing, so it was sometimes hard to switch from my normal scientific report style.

Methodology has been a relatively hard part to decide on due to the complexity of the evaluation. In the end, the list of aspects to value was composed and formed into a table. Each aspect represents a core value that in my personal understanding is essential for environmental sustainability. It took me a considerable amount of time, thinking, and discussion with others to outline all aspects.

Thus, each country will be evaluated in each aspect. In the final arrangement, each country’s evaluation will be compared to each other and the ranking list of “who is the “greenest” among the wealthiest” will be made. (The comparison and evaluation information will be available in the next section.)

3. Countries: evaluation and analysis

Finally, they are here. On the map, you can see the top 20 wealthiest countries in the world.

Here is the list (random):
1 ) Luxembourg
2) Norway
3) Switzerland
4) USA
5) Qatar
6) Singapore
7) United Arab Emirates
8) Germany
9) Sweden
10) Ireland
11) Iceland
12) Austria
13) Saudi Arabia
14) Hong Kong
15) Canada
16) Australia
17) Macao
18) Finland
19) San Marino
20) Netherlands

The list changes every year, it can differ depending on the information source, so it is not the ultimate top 20 list, but definitely list of one of the wealthiest in the world. The criteria for selecting was GDP per capita (Gross Domestic Product per person). It indicates how much economic production value can be assigned to each citizen. There are surely other values (e.g. income per capita) that are used as a measure of the country’s economic productivity, but GDP per capita is the most commonly used one.

Each country will be judged based on its environmentally sustainable approach to see if these countries are actually sustainable in long term development and if the wealth has a direct correlation to sustainability or not in this top 20.

So, let’s see who is the “greenest” there. Furthermore, you can see each country’s short analysis. The order of the countries for short analysis is based on the environmental sustainability approach evaluation.

1) Sweden

Sweden is a Scandinavian country located in Northern Europe. Sweden has one of the highest GDP per capita but also has one of the highest percent of taxation. Sweden is highly dependent on international trade and has many transnational global companies.

2) Norway

Norway is a Scandinavian country with a population of around 5 million people. It is famous for its beautiful nature and fish export. It is not part of `EU, thus EU directives and politics toward the environment are not applied here. Norway has tremendous hydroelectric potential due to its geographical features. Europe’s largest aluminum producer.

3) Finland

Finland is a northern European country located near Sweden. Despite severe climate and low density of population, it has a stable economy with one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. Known as a major food industry exporter, these days Finland is slowly shifting to more service, technology, and information-oriented economy.

4) Iceland

Iceland is an island country located in the north of the Atlantic Ocean. It is famous for its green landscapes and vivid contrast of climate. The Icelandic economy includes manufacturing and services, but it is mainly based on fishing and the production of a broad variety of fish products.

5) Ireland

Ireland is the country of western Europe with a mixed economy. Ireland had a big growth in the baking and construction sectors but currently doesn’t have as high rate of growth as previously. However, for many years it still remains in the top countries with the highest GDP per capita.

6) Singapore

City-state located only 137 km from equator. It is known as one of the biggest world’s trade centers. Singapore is relatively self-autonomous but remains a major exporter for instance orchids and aquarium fish.

7) Switzerland

Switzerland is another Central European country with a population of 8,5 million people. It’s famous for its wealth and rural landscapes. Switzerland is the largest producer of municipal waste in Europe. There are several global scale Swiss companies like Nestle or Novartis that import a great number of resources and then produce their own products.

8) Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a small Central European country with a population of around 600 00 people. It is known as Europe’s most powerful investment management center. Luxembourg is also known as one of the biggest steel producers in the world. It follows EU directives on environmental

9) Austria

Austria is a central European country, a member of EU, located near Germany and Switzerland. Country’s most important economic base is a service sector (2/3 of GDP) after the country’s successful transition from industrially and agriculturally based economy.

10) Germany

Germany is a central European country. It is a major importer (e.g. crude oil) and producer of goods and fuels (coal). Germany is a popular destination of tourism and along with its industrialized economy, it’s one of the wealthiest countries in Europe.
Improvements, but still have many things to improve (e.g. recycling rate, energy renewables usage).

11) Netherlands

Netherlands is located in northwestern Europe. The country is a popular touristic destination in EU. Netherlands has a stable growing economy and is Europe’s fifth-largest exporter of goods. Netherlands has one of the lowest share of renewable energy among EU countries.

12) Canada

Canada is the second-largest country in the world located in the North American continent. As almost half of Canada is covered in forest, it is the world leader in the export of pulp, paper, softwood lumber. It also exports farm, fish, and mineral products.

13) USA

United States of America with a population of 328 million is the third most populated country in the world. USA is one of the largest exporters of goods in the world and the country has one of the biggest economies in the world. USA lacks sufficient environmental policies and is the number two biggest emitter of CO2 in the world.

14) Australia

Australia is a continent-country located in the Southern Hemisphere between the Pacific and Indian oceans. Manufacturing, service sector, mineral exploitation development changed the Australian image as a country prone to natural disasters and highly dependent on the agricultural sector.

15) San Marino

San Marino is a small republic in central Italy. It is one of the smallest independent states in the world. Its economy is mainly based on tourism and agriculture.

16) Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a special administrative region on the south coast of China that has been a British colony for around one century up until a few decades ago. Hong Kong is highly dependent on the import of any kind of consumer goods due to land’s limited sources. Hong Kong is known as major manufacturing, shipping, trade, and regional financial center.

17) Macao

Macao is a special administrative region on the south coast of China near Hong Kong. Many people know Macao is an “Asian Las Vegas”. Trade and service sector are the main sources of income for this region

18) Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a young country located in Arabian Peninsula. It is known as a major oil exporter that made the country with one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. Saudi Arabia has made efforts to also develop towards less dependence on oil export.

19) United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates in Arabian Peninsula. It is one of the biggest petroleum exporters with Abu Dhabi (the wealthiest emirate) has the largest oil reserves, whereas the emirate of Dubai puts more focus on business and financial operations.

20) Qatar

Qatar is known as a wealthy independent emirate in Persian Gulf. Its economic prosperity is derived from the extraction and export of petroleum and natural gas. Qatar is the third biggest CO2 emitter per capita in the world.

4. Conclusion

This list in some ways was not surprising. Even though leading roles were taken mostly by Scandinavian European countries, can we actually tell that they are truly sustainable? I don’ think so. Both Sweden, Norway, and Finland are highly dependent on consumer goods imports. They are countries located in a severe climate with low agricultural development.

Other countries’ economies that are almost fully dependent on their resources (e.g. oil) like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates are the perfect example of nature exploitation without any boundaries. The resources market is noticeably unpredictable, and these countries faced a challenging situation when oil prices were changing or dropping significantly.

Thus, it is so important to find more sustainable oriented solutions. Is a country truly wealthy if its wealth is dependent on such a changing variable? These countries have although very high potential in solar energy production and Saudi Arabia already stated that it plans to make around 20% of countries’ energy consumption fulfilled by solar energy.

We know usually the leaders of the sustainability change. But what actually if we are wrong. The leaders that we usually think of are so highly dependent on resources import, they are not fully powered by renewable energy (far from that) and they produce and mine materials that are potentially harmful to the environment. Are these wealthy countries being the best? Is wealth actually what we should look for?

Costa Rica’s 99% percent of energy comes from renewable sources. Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for sustainable tourism. Country’s’ authorities are actively working on maintaining and preserving Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity. Around 10 % of it is used for agriculture ensuring enough supply for resident’s needs. May be Costa Rica soon will be the global leader in sustainability?

This brings a lot of questions. Should the definition of the wealth be extended to sustainability and especially environmentally sustainable as it’s the core for other fields of life? It is understandable that wealth, as we know it now, is not the ideal measure for a country’s prosperity? And it is not measure for citizens’ well-being. Is there anything more important? Maybe people’s happiness and good life living is actually more about sustainability than we think it is?

There are surely many questions. And it’s important to think about them and look for answers. So, I’ll live a few questions open for you. Just think, if something suddenly would happen (Covid-19 is a good example here), would these wealthy countries be able to maintain themselves autonomously? Is wealth being the main thing we should aim to? How actually important is sustainability? What should we do or work on to improve things?


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Countries comparison:’s-great-efforts-in-addressing-climate-change