Though myriad of definitions and interpretations of happiness exists out there in the world, today we will look at the happiness through the lens of sustainability. ‘Sustainability’ is the buzzword used in the world currently. It is a common narrative with all the big companies and countries today along with effective actions to become more sustainable.
The common practices of being sustainable include working towards preserving the environment and resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, use more renewable energy, government policies for climate change and pollution control, producing very low waste, and manage their waste effectively. A few countries are working well towards all these aspects. Let’s have a look at them.
Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe and constantly tops the ‘green’ country ranking. The country is blessed with plenty of flowing water and possesses 63% forest cover. They make good use of it and their two largest renewable power sources are hydropower and biomass. Currently, more than 50% of the energy used in the country is renewable. The country had set the target to reduce the carbon emission by 50% by 2020, which they achieved well ahead of time in 2012. The country has planned to move to 100% renewable electricity by 2040-2045. Sweden is one of the countries using high energy per person, but they have reduced their carbon emission (by using electric buses, smart roads and urban farming) and are moving smartly towards sustainable energy consumption.
Sweden has always believed in leading the way on important sustainability considerations. A few examples of such ‘future-proofing’ are being the world’s first country to introduce a tax on carbon emission, providing a subsidy on electrical vehicles since 2006, ensuring that 95% energy used in public transport is renewable, and a huge focus on treatment and reuse of wastewater.
Famous for its watches and renowned tourist destinations in the beautiful Alps mountains covered with snow, Switzerland, another European country, is also a champion ‘green’ country. Today, they get 75%+ power from renewable sources, with more than 50% of their energy produced by hydel power. They are also rapidly growing in the use of solar energy. They have one of the most sustainable waste management programs in the world. Switzerland is planning to reduce their carbon emission to 0% by 2050.
A few other interesting characteristics are exhibited by ‘green’ Switzerland. It is one of the few countries that does not have a landfill – around 50% is recycled, and the rest is used to produce energy. It also extensively uses ‘carbon capture’ – such a plant captures 900 metric tons of CO2 annually directly from the air, which is approximately the quantum released by 200 cars running on fossil fuels.
Another European country featuring in the list is Denmark. Apart from being celebrated for having the oldest monarchy in Europe or being one of the happiest countries, the country secures spot in top 10 for ‘greenest’ and the most sustainable countries in the world. Its capital, Copenhagen, is one of the greenest cities in the world. The number of bicycles was more than the number of cars in Copenhagen in 2016. They have built separate highways for promoting bicycles and reducing the pollution produced by cars. Wind is their main resource of energy. In 2021, nearly half of the electricity generated in the country and nearly 75% of energy produced through renewable sources (wind, solar and bioenergy). Having been a frontrunner in policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they now plan to cut emissions by 70% by 2030 from the level of year 1990 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Norway is known for its stunning landscapes and especially beautiful waterbodies called ‘fjords’. With high amount of water resources and its rainy climate, Norway predominantly uses hydro energy to power the nation. The government is well committed to making the country greener by initiatives such as allocating huge budget for oceans, encouraging citizen to use biomass, having the most efficient waste reduction system and promoting electric vehicles by not collecting sales tax or VATS and significantly reducing road tax. Norway is the biggest market for electronic vehicles in Europe. Despite being one of the largest oil producers in the world, fossil fuels have less than 2% contribution to the country’s energy generation. They are planning to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 (depending on other countries’ emission cuts), which is 20 years earlier than most countries in the world.
An analysis of the four ‘greenest’ countries in the world highlights some interesting observations.
All these countries are based towards the northern part of Europe (in fact, other than Switzerland, the other three countries are in the northern-most part of Europe). Undoubtedly, this cannot be coincidental.
Endowed with high natural resources which they can use for their energy generation, countries like Norway and Sweden are counted in the list of the greenest countries despite having the highest per capita energy consumption. Unlike other countries in the world that have natural resources, these countries are successful in being more sustainable because of their initiatives to use their natural resources effectively.
It is also a fact that all four countries are ranked in the top 10 among the world’s happiest countries. If we look at the per capita GDP ranking, the four countries also feature in the top 20. The UN SDG ranking for 2022 places all these four countries in the top 10.
All of this indicates that a strong correlation is built between being sustainable, per capita GDP, SDG ranking, and of course, happiness. Apparently, the key to happiness is sustainable development and going ‘green’.
These countries are clearly showing the way to the rest of the world!