Sustainability and green living is a hot topic right now and for good reason. Air quality improved over the pandemic and we have a new appreciation for the outdoors and a revived commitment to the planet. Climate awareness is now inarguably mainstream and people all over the world kept a close eye on the COP26 negotiations in Scotland.
Expats looking for green living now have a number of eco-friendly destinations to choose from. And if you are already an expat, why not see if your country or city makes the top ten best destinations for green living for expats?
So where are the best countries for green living for expats?
The world’s top ten most green, clean air, climate-conscious countries are all in Europe!
All 180 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe were graded by The 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) on 32 key sustainability indicators. The EPI scores were based on the latest data on critical things such as air and water quality, waste management, CO2 emissions, and other public health factors.
What makes a good destination for green living for expats?
Climate-conscious, eco-friendly countries have a number of things in common. Firstly, they have policies in place at an ecosystem and infrastructure level. They also have environmentally conscious citizens who do their bit to look after the earth, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it improves their own quality of life.
You can feel confident that your health as an expat, and that of your family, will benefit from the green living initiatives boasted by the top ten countries. As an expat, it may be helpful to think about what’s important to you specifically, whether that’s a cycle-friendly, low-traffic city centre, organic food, great air quality or having lots of green spaces full of wildlife.
How were the countries ranked for green living?
When ranking the best countries for green living for expats, a number of factors were taken into consideration including environmental policies and how close each country is to reaching its goals for things like:
- CO2 emissions
- Green spaces and biodiversity
- Air quality
- Commitment to renewable energy
- Sanitation and drinking water
Top ten best countries for green living for expats
As an expat or prospective expat, here’s what you need to know about each country and how they scored:
In 2020 Denmark had the highest level of environmental performance worldwide with an EPI value of 82.5. This is partly due to its progressive government and consistent commitments to the environment and society.
- Carbon footprint: Denmark is dedicated to protecting natural resources and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, with its capital Copenhagen aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025.
- Green living: As an expat in Denmark, you can enjoy the famous cycle superhighways, which connect city dwellers to the countryside. There are also many green hotels, restaurants and other cultural experiences to explore.
Well-known for its high quality of living, Luxembourg is growing fast while staying eco-conscious.
- Carbon footprint: Luxembourg is working hard to reduce traffic by improving its public transport network. It is also working to increase the share of renewable energy in electricity, which was up from 3.3% to 9.1%.
- Green living: The capital city, also called Luxembourg, is 20% forest, which means great air quality and lots of opportunities for cycling and walking.
Famous for its clean mountain air, Switzerland is increasingly popular with expats looking for a safe, green lifestyle.
- Carbon footprint: Switzerland is one of the top recyclers in the world.
- Green living: Expats who enjoy getting close to nature will be spoiled for choice in Switzerland, which is full of opportunities for skiing, hiking, mountaineering and more.
4 United Kingdom
Famously green when viewed from an aeroplane, the UK also scores high for best countries for green living for expats.
- Carbon footprint: One of the areas the UK scores well in is quality of water, with a score of 99.96% in 2019/20. It has also invested in renewable energy, with over 8,000 wind turbines across the country and offshore.
- Green living: The UK has fantastic countryside to explore. Many cities are encouraging cycling and electric cars, while levying charges on more polluting vehicles.
France is rated number five in the list, with high scores in the biodiversity and habitat category.
- Carbon footprint: Green initiatives that France has implemented include hydro turbines along rivers in the country and not allowing supermarkets to throw away food unnecessarily.
- Green living: Expats can look forward to delicious local food and produce as in 2020, nearly half of consumers in France said they shopped locally to reduce their environmental impact.
This mountainous landlocked country in Europe came sixth in the 2020 Environmental Performance Index.
- Carbon footprint: Known for its high standards on waste management and pollution, Austria also ranks highly for agriculture.
- Green living: Being in harmony with nature is a way of life in Austria. Cities, such as Vienna and Salzburg, are full of parks, many buildings are eco-friendly and there are free ski shuttles and hiking buses to encourage the use of public transport.
Famous for natural attractions, including the Northern Lights, Finland is another Scandinavian country in the top 10.
- Carbon footprint: Eco-conscious expats can enjoy exceptionally clean air and water, great recycling facilities and sustainable transport options. In 2020, renewable energy accounted for 40% of Finland’s total energy consumption.
- Green living: Helsinki boasts Europe’s most-used bike rental system. The country is full of trails where you can cycle, walk and run.
Sweden has made notable strides in sustainability in recent years.
- Carbon footprint: In 2019 Sweden ranked #1 in the EU for, recycling and using renewable energies. Sweden was placed second on the 2022 Climate Change Performance Index for achievement in climate protection and it has a goal of net zero emissions by 2045.
- Green living: Organic food features on many Swedes’ shopping lists, and eco-friendly and vintage clothing are popular here too.
Also in Scandinavia, Norway is famous for its whole population approach to green living and sustainability, which begins at school.
- Carbon footprint: Norway is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030.
- Green living: Norway is the world’s electric car capital. 54% of new cars sold in the country in 2020 were EVs That means quieter roads and less pollution.
Placed at number 10 in the 2020 report, Germany has strong eco commitments and policies.
- Carbon footprint: Germany is committed to phasing out nuclear power and is said to be on track for a renewable energy revolution. It also has very robust recycling systems.
- Green living: Expats will find that Germany has great public transport options and is also very bicycle friendly, with over 200 long-distance cycle paths.
Top tips for expats and sustainable living
- Prioritise your health cover. Healthcare can really vary according to expat destination. Generally speaking there is a correlation between a healthy environment and a healthy population, but it’s always worth looking into things like healthcare provision, life expectancy and maternity care, if applicable. If you’re a UK citizen living as an expat in the EU, do you know about the GHIC after Brexit?
- Look beyond the top 10. There are some great expat destinations that didn’t make the top 10 green countries this year, but generally do score highly. Research Iceland, Malta and Costa Rica for expats, for example.
- Don’t ignore the low-scoring countries. Consider additional research into the countries that didn’t score highly for expat green living in the EPI study. The US, Japan, Singapore and Canada are popular expat destinations, but if green living is important to you, check their eco-stats before you move. Japan, for example, has struggled with its eco credentials in the past but has made progress. Research shows that while only 10% of people in Japan say they shop locally, over 40% say they use
refillable products to avoid single use plastic.
- Ask local people of their views. Look into things like belief in the climate emergency and activism in the area. These sentiments can vary widely between expat destinations, with 81% of people in the UK agreeing that climate change is a global crisis in 2020, and young people in Japan trying to change the perception of their country’s lack of ambition for change.
- Find out about any COVID restrictions. These do vary by expat destination.
Peace of mind when you move
No matter where you go, you can take one thing off your mind. Our Partners at William Russell offer international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays. Click here for further information.