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The Best and Worst Countries for Sustainable Living

See which countries live life in a way that minimizes the impact on our planet—according to expats who live there—and how the U.S. ranks among 60 countries

The perspective of outsiders can certainly offer valuable insight. As 7.8 billion people in the world continue to tax the planet’s resources, humanity faces the dual crisis of battling a pandemic and the longer-term problem of tackling climate change.

The urgency of Covid-19 has led to setbacks in sustainability, with things like increases in plastic waste, collapse of waste management chains and disruptions in the food supply chains that have resulted in the waste and destruction of food, crops and livestock.

But it also has inspired some climate solutions, what with more remote workers, cleaner air, a new appreciation of the outdoors, and a rethinking of urban life and infrastructure.

To find the best countries for a sustainable lifestyle, InterNations, a networking service for expats around the world, surveyed 15,000 expats representing 173 nationalities living in 181 countries around the world. Sixty countries met their requirement of at least 75 respondents.

Defining a sustainable lifestyle as living life in a way that minimizes the negative impact we may have on our planet, InterNations asked survey participants to rate their personal satisfaction with the following factors on a scale of one to seven: air quality, the natural environment, water and sanitation, the availability of green goods and services, energy supply, and the local waste management and recycling infrastructure. 

They also asked about respondents’ perception of how strongly the government supports policies to protect the environment and how interested the local population is when it comes to environmental issues.

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Finland ranks first out of the 60 countries. The Nordic country is voted best in the quality of environment subcategory, which includes the natural environment, air and water quality. A majority of expats in Finland (89%) agree that the government supports policies to protect the environment (vs. 55% globally in the survey) and 90% of expats are happy with the local waste management and recycling efforts (vs. 60% globally). One South Korean expat living there mentioned the “nature, clean water, and air.”

India ranks the worst, while the U.S. falls dead in the middle at No. 30 of the 60 countries included in the ranking. (According to Pew research, there are nearly 45 million foreign-born residents in the U.S.; 77% of them are lawful, naturalized citizens or legal permanent residents.)

Respondents in the U.S. were worried about the lack of government support for policies to protect the environment: The U.S. ranks among the bottom 10 of all the countries for this factor in the survey. One South African living in the U.S. said that Americans do not seem to be “environmentally conscious, and a little too unreliable in matters of recycling.”

Only 43% of respondents said that Americans are very interested in environmental issues. The majority living here were satisfied with water, sanitation, basic services and air quality, but only 56% were satisfied with the energy supply, compared with 62% globally.

Based on the InterNations report, these are the best and worst countries for sustainable living.