Finland is the 'most sustainable' country, say expats

India finishes last of 60 countries in environment and sustainability, as ranked by the expats who work there.

Environment & Sustainability Ranking, an Expat Insider topical report published by InterNations

Orange is best, blue is worst on this world map for the 'sustainable expat'.

Image: Environment & Sustainability Ranking, an Expat Insider topical report published by InterNations
  • How 'green' is life in your work country?
  • That's the question InterNations asked its network of expats.
  • The United States ended 30th out of 60 countries.

InterNations, the world's largest expat network, has delivered a global ranking with a twist. For the first time, it's asked its members to rate the environmental and sustainability qualities of their work countries. The best country for a sustainable life abroad: Finland. The worst: India. The U.S. lands exactly in the middle, at #30.

The ranking reflects the combined score for three categories:

  • Products and Utilities: How available are sustainable goods and services? How 'green' is the energy supply? What about the local waste management and recycling practices?
  • Policies and People: How engaged is the local government in green policies? And how environmentally aware is the public?
  • Quality of the Environment: Specifically, of the local environment, air and water.
The top of the list is populated by the usual suspects: eight high-income countries in Europe (four Nordics, four 'Germanics'), plus two more elsewhere (Canada, New Zealand). But not all European countries do well – Malta lands in the Bottom 10. Inversely, most Asian countries score low, except Taiwan, which finishes just outside the Top 10.

    Nordics on top

    Evo Hiking Area, H\u00e4meenlinna, Finland.

    Evo Hiking Area in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Great nature, clean air, clean water? Check, check and check.

    Credit: Kanta-Hämeen kuvapankki on Flickr/ Public Domain.


    1. Finland

    The Nordic country scores at or near the top in all categories surveyed, including the quality of the natural environment (say 96 percent of expats in Finland), water and sanitation (96 percent) and air (95 percent).

    2. Sweden

    Swedes lead the world in environmental awareness (84 percent versus just 48 percent globally). Perhaps not surprising, for the homeland of Greta Thunberg. This is reflected by government policy. Sweden currently gets more than 50 percent of its power from renewable sources and wants to go 100% renewable before 2040. "I've been here for over 20 years and I clearly see the benefits of my taxes paid coming back to me and the rest of society," says one American expat.

    3. Norway

    "The beautiful nature, the clean air and tap water, and the focus on the environment," are what one Ukrainian expat enjoys most about Norway. With 76 percent of expats happy with the availability of green goods and services, Norway's 'weakest' category is still 13 percentage points above the global average.

    4. Austria

    The first non-Nordic in the global ranking, Austria places in the Top 10 for each category and comes in first for the availability of green goods and services (90 percent).

    5. Switzerland

    Swiss nature is the most appreciated in the world (98 percent versus 83 percent on average). Switzerland also gets stellar results for air and water quality and the availability of green energy and green goods and services.

    6. Denmark

    Danes are very much into green causes, as is their government, say 83 percent resp. 84 percent of expats. "Organic food is readily available, and they are good with recycling," observes a South African expat. And they love cycling: 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike.

    7. New Zealand

    85 percent of expats agree that the New Zealand government takes green issues seriously. In fact, New Zealand plans to use 90 percent electricity from renewables by 2025. The country also scores high on the quality of its natural environment and all other categories – albeit slightly less on the quality of its water and sanitation.

    8. Germany

    "I enjoy the rising awareness about environmental issues and the alternatives the government and society are developing," says one Colombian expat. Indeed, 80 percent of expats agree the German government is pro-environment (versus 55 percent globally).

    9. Canada

    The only North American destination in the Top 10, thanks especially to expat appreciation of Canada's natural environment (96 percent), but also the quality of its water and sanitation (90 percet) and the availability of green goods and services (80 percent).

    10. Luxembourg

    "Access to nature for hiking and bicycling" is a definite boon for one American expat. In fact, the country's natural environment, although ranking 13th out of 60, is its lowest-rated subcategory. Luxembourg does even better when it comes to green energy, waste management, and the quality of its air and water.

    Taiwan, most sustainable destination in Asia

    \u200bEternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County, Taiwan.

    Eternal Spring Shrine in the Taroko Gorge, Hualien County. Outside of Taipei, Taiwan can be surprisingly green and beautiful.

    Credit: Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0

    11. Taiwan

    The highest-scoring expat destination in Asia, Taiwan boasts 92 percent approval of its waste management and recycling, and 80 percent of the availability of green goods and services. But "the air pollution (in Taipei) is getting worse because it is too crowded," one expat complains.

    12. Netherlands

    Green goods and services are widely available, agree 82 percen of expats, as is green energy. However, 13 percent rate the Dutch environment negatively, 4 percet above the global average.

    13. Portugal

    Well ahead of its neighbor Spain (#20), the country scores high for air quality (91 percent) and natural environment (95 percent). "I like the opportunity for gardening and growing our own food," says one expat.

    14. Estonia

    Estonia scores in the Top 20 for every category and gets its highest marks for its natural environment. "A beautiful country with excellent air quality and open spaces," praises an Indian expat.

    15. Costa Rica

    Both the government and the people are very supportive of green policies, find 82 percent, resp. 67 percent of expats. "It's easy to live a healthy lifestyle with regard to the food, climate, clean air and water," says one. Costa Rica won the 2019 UN Champion of the Earth award and has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050.

    16. Czechia

    "The beauty of the environment" is one of the best things about living in Czechia, says a Russian expat. No less than 97 percent of expats agree.

    17. France

    77 percent of expats are happy about the availability of green goods and services in France, which is 14 percentage points above average. The country also scores well for waste management and recycling. In short, France has a "good, green and clean environment," one Iranian expat finds.

    18. Australia

    While ranking high on the quality of its nature, water and air, Australia scores low when it comes to government support for green issues (51 percent). Fortunately, expats see more interest among the general population (68 percent).

    19. Singapore

    Expats rate the government's interest in green issues higher than globally average (77 percent versus 55 percent), but the Singaporean public's engagement for the same less than average (40 percent versus 48 percent). Of course, in a small, crowded place like Singapore, "(nature) spots are limited."

    20. Spain

    Spain's "scenery, diversity of places to visit and healthier environment" are what rate highly with one British expat. Its weak point is governmental and public support for green issues – but still slightly above the global average.

    London is "polluted and noisy"

    \u200bEven at 2:30pm, London gets clogged.

    Afternoon traffic jam in London.

    Credit: Garry Knight, CC BY 2.0

    21. Oman

    The highest-ranking country in the Middle East, Oman does especially well for natural environment (93 percent) and air quality (76 percent). However, only 50 percent are happy with the availability of green goods and services (versus 63 percent globally).

    22. United Arab Emirates

    Despite higher-than-average scores in some categories, the UAE's 52nd place out of 60 for the appreciation of its natural environment drags down its overall score.

    23. Israel

    Two in three expats rate Israel's air quality positively, 55 percent think the government cares about the environment (exactly the global average) and 51 percent thinks the public does too (slightly above global average).

    24. Ecuador

    The highest-ranked South American country, Ecuador scores especially well for its natural environment (95 percent). Its overall ranking is dragged down by lower scores for air and water quality. One Dutch expat sees "a lack of care for the environment."

    25. Japan

    Japan boasts a "high quality of life due to clean air and water, as well as many natural recreational places," reports a Malaysian expat. Waste management and recycling is rated highly (85 percent), but not the government's (27 percent) nor the public's (33 percent) engagement in green issues.

    26. Ireland

    Expats are particularly satisfied with Ireland's air quality (16th) and natural environment (19th), but only 65 percent are content with the quality of the water and sanitation.

    27. Belgium

    Biggest pluses: the public is into green issues (57 percent), the availability of green goods and services (75 percent) and green energy (66 percent). Belgium scores below average for air quality and one Danish expat complains about "poor green infrastructure."

    28. United Kingdom

    "(London) is very polluted and noisy," complains a Swiss expat. In fact, the UK's natural environment ranks just 43rd. On the upside, green goods and services are slightly more available than the global average.

    29. Bahrain

    The Gulf state ranks near the bottom for its natural environment and performs best for its government's green credentials (72 percent). One British expat regrets "the lack of green spaces."

    30. United States

    When it comes to green government policies, the U.S. ranks in the Bottom 10; but the country does a lot better in terms of the availability of green goods and services. "I like that basic services for living, such as access to clean water, are guaranteed," says one Venezuelan expat.

    World map for the 'sustainable expat'

    The best & worst destiations for the sustainable expat

    Sixty expat destinations ranked for sustainability, from best (orange) to worst (light blue). In between: fairly okay (brown), middling (grey) and not that great (dark blue).

    Credit: Environment & Sustainability Ranking, an Expat Insider topical report published by InterNations

    31. Panama

    While 94 percent of expats are happy with the quality of the natural environment, only 37 percent find Panama's waste management and recycling practices up to scratch (versus 60 percent globally). "There is a lot of litter on the streets and in the ocean," says one expat.

    32. Italy

    Italy's "beautiful landscapes and natural areas" earn the country high praise, but that is offset by "air pollution and heavy traffic," as the same expat explains.

    33. Colombia

    Just like its overall score, Colombia is a mid-fielder in most categories. Its worst ranking is for air quality (47th), its best for the policy and people attitudes towards the environment (30th).

    34. Qatar

    65 percent of expats appreciate the Qatari government's green efforts, but just 40 percent think the people feel the same. "There is a lack of green options, but things are changing," observes a Canadian expat.

    35. Hungary

    Expats rate the quality of Hungary's water and sanitation higher than the global average (76 percent versus 72 percent), but its air quality significantly lower (49 percent versus 62 percent).

    36. Poland

    Poland is one of the few European countries to rank below average. No less than 60 percent of expats are unhappy with the air quality in Poland, compared to just 24 percent worldwide.

    37. Russia

    "St Petersburg is absolutely beautiful. There are many parks and green spaces, and the canals and the coast make it even better," gushes an American expat. But Russia is bigger than St Petersburg, and on the whole less pleasant. Water quality and waste management are just two categories rated well below the global average.

    38. Argentina

    88 percent of expats like Argentina's natural environment, and 64 percent are satisfied with air quality (versus 62 percent globally) but the country performs average or worse on all other indicators.

    39. Chile

    Chile scores among the Bottom 10 for air quality, and not too well on many other indicators, but the quality of the country's natural environment (appreciated by 89 percent of expats) somewhat mitigates the result.

    40. Malaysia

    With 86 percent of expats lauding Malaysia's natural environment, the country scores above the global average in exactly one category. An Australian expat in Kuala Lumpur expresses concerns "about the air quality and waste disposal."

    South Korea's "rather horrible" air

    \u200bSmoggy Seoul

    Seoul's air quality is so bad you can picture it. Only India's air is perceived as worse than South Korea's, according to the expat survey.

    Credit: Jimmy McIntyre – editor HDR One Magazine, CC BY-SA 2.0

    41. South Korea

    Coming in on 59th place, South Korea scores particularly poorly for air quality. One Filipino expat even finds the Korean air "rather horrible". The water and sanitation quality are rated a lot higher, though.

    42. Turkey

    Turkey's natural environment scores only slightly below average (78 percent versus 82 percent globally), as does the appreciation for its air quality (59 percent versus 62 percent). But the country scores well below global average when it comes to waste management (42 percent versus 60 percent). One expat laments the "traffic, pollution and lack of recycling" in the country.

    43. Mexico

    Mexico is the worst performer among the North American destinations. No less than 35 percent of expats are dissatisfied with the quality of water and sanitation. One respondent mentioned the "lack of clean and operational public restrooms."

    44. Cyprus

    The island nation scores particularly well on air quality (68 percent), but worse than average on many other indicators, notably environmental awareness. "Garbage is just left anywhere," complains one British expat.

    45. Greece

    Greece's worst score is for waste management and recycling (53rd), but it does better for air quality (19th). Overall, 89 percent of expats appreciate Greece's nature, but the country is "not environmentally conscious," a Canadian expat says.

    46. South Africa

    Being Africa's best-ranked country at #46 is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory. In fact, South Africa scores near the bottom in many categories, including green energy options and government interest in green policies (both 59th).

    47. Brazil

    The worst destination in South America when it comes to environment and sustainability. Just 23 percent of expats say the government supports green policies, only 32 percent think the population is interested in them. A Canadian expat lamented the "lack of empathy for the environment."

    48. Morocco

    Morocco's biggest draws for expats in terms of environment and sustainability are its air quality (67 percent) and its nature (80 percent). But "I wish there was a greater awareness (with regards to) littering," complains an American expat.

    49. Saudi Arabia

    Best score: 50 percent of expats believe the Saudi government supports green policies (still 5 percent below the global average). "I don't like the total reliance on cars, the lack of recycling, and the lack of green spaces," an Australian expat says.

    50. China

    29 percent of expats are dissatisfied with China's natural environment, more than three times the global average (9 percent). "The air quality is terrible, and the people are packed tightly together," says an American expat.

    Bad, worse, India

    man standing surrounded by garbage

    India scores worst in all three categories, but to be fair – some of its problems were imported from more developed countries.

    Credit: Jacques Holst, CC BY-NC-SA

    51. Hong Kong

    Hong Kong's two highest-ranked qualities are its natural environment and its water and sanitation infrastructure (both 37th). It does a lot worse for air quality (55th). "They still have landfill sites. And food waste is also a huge problem," observes a Hungarian expat.

    52. Malta

    The only European country in the Bottom 10, Malta performs poorly in all categories, but especially in terms of green policies. Only 33 percent of expats thinks the government cares about those, and only 48 percent think the same of the people. "It's a shame," says one British expat: "Wind farms and electric buses would be a good idea."

    53. Kenya

    No less than 72 percent of expats are unsatisfied with Kenya's waste management and recycling, versus just 28 percent globally, and just 23 percent of expats believe Kenyans are interested in the environment, versus a global average of 48 percent.

    54. Philippines

    The Philippines places in the Bottom 10 for each category. There is "no environmental care," laments one British expat.

    55. Thailand

    53 percent of respondents agree that the Thai government is not supportive of green policies, more than double the global average (25 percent). An American expat lists "air pollution and the government's inability to enforce air pollution laws" as their least favorite aspect of expat life in Thailand.

    56. Vietnam

    Expats rate only India and South Korea as having worse air quality than Vietnam. A Dutch expat lists "air pollution, noise, bad waste management and rodents" as things he does not like about living in Vietnam.

    57. Indonesia

    50 percent of expats are unhappy about the state of Indonesia's water and sanitation infrastructure (vs. just 15 percent worldwide). "There is no waste management. All rubbish is going to the rivers and into the ocean," says a German expat.

    58. Egypt

    The country on the Nile scores among the worst three in all of the survey's categories. There seems to be "no care for the environment," says a Polish expat. A French expat in Cairo laments the absence of "organic or pesticide-free foods".

    59. Kuwait

    Only 12 perent of expats are pleased with Kuwait's natural environment. That the emirate's worst result, but not the only bad one. "Poor sanitation and inept waste management" are among the worst things in Kuwait, says one Australian expat.

    60. India

    India is the worst destination for all three categories. 87 percent of expats are dissatisfied with India's waste management and recycling efforts, 82 percent rate the air quality poorly (with 55 percent saying it's "very bad"), and 69 percent are unhappy with the quality of the water and sanitation infrastructure.

    World Bank data suggests India's output of renewable energy is 15%, significantly lower than the global average of 23 percent. However, in terms of the ubiquitous rubbish in India, it should be noted that the country has been used by western countries as a dumping ground for plastic waste.

    Maps and data from Expat Insider 2020 by InterNations. Read the entire report here.

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