Responsible Consumption and Production

Are the Top 5 Sustainable Countries in the World the Best We Have?

As reported by EPI in 2018, the top 5 sustainable countries in the world are.  

  1. Switzerland
  2. France
  3. Denmark
  4. Malta
  5. Sweden 

If a developing country is looking to be more sustainable, should they simply follow in the footsteps of these countries? Let us find out.  

It is important to first understand how EPI determines whether a country is sustainable or not. As the name suggests, EPI by in large only considers environmental indicators.  These include air quality, water and sanitation, agriculture, forest, fisheries, etc. However, I don’t think this is an accurate representation of sustainable development. In an ideal world, the notion of sustainability should include its three pillars – environmental, economic and social. 

Adding on to this, EPI only takes into account the environmental performance of a country’s policies. It does not consider the country’s impact on the rest of the world. Living in a globalised world, where goods are bought and sold in an international market, this can be misleading. Look at the following report published by Global Footprint Network on Earth Overshoot Day, July 2019 (source). 

2 out of the 5 top sustainable countries of 2018 are consuming 2.8 (Switzerland) and 2.7 (France) Earths worth of resources. Are we asking developing nations to aspire to this benchmark of sustainability? To quote from Brundtland Commissions’ Our Common Future report, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (source). At this rate, we would somehow need to find an extra 0.75 earth for our future generation.  

Why are we still relying on a onedimensional indicator to rank the sustainable countries of the world? If developing countries use this indicator as a benchmark for sustainability, we run the risk of needing to move to mars. Question is, can we develop an indicator that incorporates all three pillars of sustainability? I think we can. However, developed and developing countries both need to work together to develop a holistic indicator.

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