Magazine article World Watch

Nordic Countries Are World's Sustainability Leaders

Magazine article World Watch

Nordic Countries Are World's Sustainability Leaders

Article excerpt

Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland ranked among the five most "sustainable" countries in a recent survey of 146 nations. The 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), released in January, rates nations on their ability to integrate economic and human development with sound natural resource management. The Nordic countries achieved top scores in part because of their low population densities, ample natural resources, and successful management of environment and development concerns.

Yale and Columbia researchers developed the ESI as an alternative to usual measures of "progress" such as gross domestic product. It integrates 76 sets of socio-economic and environmental data into 21 indicators of sustainability, from pollution levels to a county's ability to address waste, population, and other environmental challenges over time. "By highlighting the leaders and laggards ... the ESI creates pressure for improved results," notes Yale law professor Daniel C. Esty.

The ESI rankings also dispel some common myths about sustainability--notably, that a tradeoff exists between economic competitiveness and strong environmental protection. Finland, for instance, rivals the United States economically but scores higher in most areas of sustainability. While the U.S. ranks well in such areas as water quality and overall capacity for environmental protection, its high waste and greenhouse gas emissions lower its position to 45th.

The team also found that while income is important, it doesn't always translate into strong environmental stewardship. …

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