The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a method of quantifying a state or country’s environmental policies. It is a successor to the Environmental Sustainability Index and the Pilot Environmental Performance Index. Yale University and the World Economic Forum collaborated with the Columbia University and the European Commission’s Joint Research Center on all three indices. The first EPI was published in 2002.
Every two years, the EPI releases a report that ranks countries by their environmental policies and sustainable living practices. In March 2016, the EPI released the most recent report that listed and ranked 180 countries by their green living and environmental policies. The 20 most eco-friendly countries had all made gains, and the top 10 were all in Europe.
The EPI uses 20 criteria that fall into the broad categories of protecting ecosystems and human health. A country can score up to five points per criterion for a maximum total of 100 depending on their effectiveness in such matters as protecting fisheries or providing safe drinking water.
The two categories are further subdivided into nine core issues, namely:
- Climate and Energy
- Biodiversity and Habitat
- Water Resources
- Water and Sanitation
- Air Quality
- Health Impacts
The core issues are further subdivided into the 20 criteria used to calculate a country’s scores. Water and Sanitation, for example, includes Unsafe Drinking Water and Unsafe Sanitation.
The EPI’s top ten countries are the following:
Finland came in first with a score of 90.68. Its government has pledged to develop a carbon-neutral society that does not exceed the country’s carrying capacity by 2050. It currently gets 2/3 of its electricity from nuclear power and renewable energy sources.
Finland got fourth place in Health Impacts and eighth in Fisheries. It placed in the top 20 in the categories Air Quality, Biodiversity and Habitat, Climate and Energy, and Water Resources. While Finland does have a lot of forests, its lowest scores were in the categories of Forests and Agriculture.
Iceland is a very close second with a score of 90.51. According to its government’s National Energy Authority, Iceland gets 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like hydropower and wind. Iceland is extremely geologically active with a lot of volcanoes and geysers, and the island’s geology enables its citizens to get 25 percent of their electrical power from geothermal power – more than any other country.
Iceland achieved third place in the categories Climate and Energy and Health Impacts. It took the fourth spot in Air Quality.
Sweden came in third with a score of 90.43. The EPI gave it top scores for wastewater treatment and drinking water quality. Like Finland, however, Sweden lost some points for unsustainable logging.
Sweden came in fifth place in Health Impacts and tenth in Climate and Energy. It placed in the top 20 in both Water Resources and Water and Sanitation.
Denmark received a score of 89.21 that put it in fourth place. Its government has established a program called the “Green Growth Initiative” that is supposed to encourage both economic growth and environmental protection. The Danish government has also committed 13.5 DKK (around $1.9 billion US dollars) to the program.
Denmark placed in the top 20 for the categories Biodiversity and Habitat, Health Impacts, Water and Sanitation, and Water Resources. Conversely, it placed 128th in Fisheries for unsustainable fishing practices.
Slovenia earned a score of 88.98 that put it in the fifth spot. The EPI declared Slovenia to be the global leader in habitat protection and gave it perfect scores for Species Protection and Terrestrial Protected Areas.
Slovenia also came in eighth for Biodiversity and Habitat and 15th for Forests. However, Slovenia received fairly low scores for Air Quality, for it is plagued by the airborne pollutants PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide.
Spain came in sixth with a score of 88.91. It came in eighth for Water Resources and ninth for Water and Sanitation. It also placed in the top 20 in Biodiversity and Habitat. Spain did, however, get a low score in Agriculture for unsustainable practices. To its credit, it has shown improvement in this area and is has also demonstrated considerable improvements in Air Quality and Health Impacts.
Portugal scored 88.63 that put it in seventh place. It earned a perfect score in Agriculture and thus came in first in that category. Portugal also placed in the top 20 in Water and Sanitation, Health Impacts and Climate and Energy. It received its lowest ranking and score in Forests for unsustainable logging practices.
Estonia came in eighth place with a score of 88.59. It earned perfect scores in both Agriculture, and Biodiversity and Habitat. Estonia also placed in the top 20 in Health Impacts. Its lowest score was in Forests. While its score and ranking in Fisheries have declined over the past decade, Estonia has begun to make improvements over the past few years.
Malta earned a score of 88.48 that put it in ninth place. It received a perfect score in Water and Sanitation and came in sixth in Fisheries. Malta placed in the top 20 in Air Quality. Malta still struggles with unsustainable agricultural practices, so its lowest score is in Agriculture.
France came in tenth place with a score of 88.20. It came in tenth for Biodiversity and Habitat. Air Quality is France’s weak point, for its air has an excessive amount of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). France’s air pollution, however, has lessened over the past decade.
The EPI found that even the most eco-friendly countries need to make improvements. Their report showed that, on average, most countries are improving in the areas of Access to Drinking Water, Access to Sanitation, and Health Impacts. On the other hand, Air Quality and Fisheries have been declining in most countries.
EPI reports do far more than give the top performing countries bragging rights; their primary purpose is to help policymakers develop the best ways to cultivate sustainable living practices within their country. The EPI provides data to inform policymakers which of their environmental initiatives have proven successful, and which ones still need improvement. For example, France got high marks in Biodiversity and Habitat, so its environmental programs in that area are obviously working. On the other hand, it still needs to work on its air pollution – as do many other countries. The EPI has noted that Air Quality has declined globally.
In 2015, the United Nations unveiled seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to improve social and environmental conditions around the world over the next 15 years. Some of these goals which can be measured by the EPI include Affordable and Clean Energy, Climate Action, and Life Below Water. Governments and other organizations could use the information to decide which green living initiatives to support.