ESG | The Report

The Environmental Performance Index: How it Works

If you are reading this, then somehow you ended up on a search for the Environmental Performance Index. If you were looking for a unique tool that provides a comprehensive assessment of key environmental challenges, then you have found it. The Index monitors risk factors and preventive actions for 198 countries, territories, and regions by ranking them according to their performance. The Index uses more than 40 indicators grouped into multiple themes including health impacts, climate change impacts, water resources, habitat diversity, and ecosystem vitality.

What is the EPI?

The history of the Environmental Performance Index dates back to 2002 when it was designed to support the environmental objectives set out in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. It was created by Yale University and Columbia University with help from the World Economic Forum.


How does the EPI work?

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) collects data and ranks countries in terms of their levels of performance on various environmental health indicators, such as air and water quality, climate change mitigation strategies, waste management efficiency, and environmental protection policies.

A savvy team of economists, operations research analysts, and environmental scientists curate data from sources such as the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, and the United Nations Global Pulse to compile a comprehensive info package that is used to create an overall score for each country. This score establishes the EPI global rankings which can be utilized by each nation to prioritize areas for improvement in its own environmental policy-making strategy. In the end, countries are able to compare their rankings and see where progress has been made and where more attention is required.

How is the Index used?

While the results are telling, they are not meant to be used as a punitive measure. But when combined with other international rankings, such as the International Monetary Fund’s GDP per capita ranking or the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index which specifically includes environmental criteria, they give a much broader picture.

The EPI is also unique in that it ranks countries according to their progress towards realizing preselected policy targets rather than according to their current status only, meaning it is more forward-looking. The index provides a new perspective on environmental priorities by linking health and environmental issues. This highlights areas where investments can have the greatest impact in terms of human well-being as well as biodiversity conservation.

How is the EPI calculated?

The index is divided into five separate themes, each of which is composed of one or more indicators. Each theme is then assigned a weight by the authors (from 0 to 25%) and an overall index score is derived based on the aggregate value for all indicators within a theme, relative to their respective target values.

The final EPI score for a given country is calculated as the geometric mean of its rankings on each theme. The final ranking is then derived by sorting the countries based on their EPI score.

For example, one country may receive a higher overall index score but perform worse on habitat diversity, meaning another country will be ranked higher if it does better in this issue area.

The top 5 EPI performance ranking criteria

  • Health impacts: Health impacts refer to the human health and ecosystem impacts that result from exposure to environmental hazards.
  • Water resources: Water resources refer to water use, access, and quality within a protected area or watershed.
  • Climate change impacts: Climate change refers to greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activities due to fossil fuel combustion, agriculture (livestock), forestry (deforestation), and other changes in land use.
  • Habitat diversity: Habitat refers to the extent of natural areas within protected areas, including their quality and the proportion of designated protected areas that are well managed.
  • Ecosystem vitality: Ecosystem vitality refers to biodiversity or the number of species in a given country. It also refers to the percentage change in threatened species, which is unique to this category.

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How the Environmental Performance Index works

The EPI ranks countries according to the above-mentioned criteria by taking into consideration how they score with respect to these 5 themes – together with their performance on more than 30 indicators grouped into the above-mentioned themes – and providing a comprehensive assessment of environmental challenges.  It is meant to be a tool for governments and non-governmental agencies alike.

The EPI is unique in that it provides Current, Not Attained, and Attained scores alongside each country’s ranking (1 through 198). The Current score represents the country’s performance on all indicators with respect to the 5 themes without taking into consideration how far they are from meeting their targets. The Not Attained score shows the country’s performance on each indicator with respect to the 5 themes, but also taking into consideration that they may not be able to hit their targets in full due to resource and technological constraints – they are simply trying their best. Lastly, the most closely ranked countries (those with a rank of 1-50) are highlighted in green. These are the countries that have performed best with respect to their targets, encompassing the aims outlined in each theme.

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Definitions of EPI rankings

The top 50 countries are labeled “Super Performers”. Countries 51-198 are labeled  “Near Super Performers”, while countries 1-50 are labeled “Leading Performers.” Every year the EPI alters the boundaries of these rankings to ensure that the best-performing countries are reflected. For instance, should countries like Sweden (Super Performer) or Norway (Leading Performer) score poorly in the Climate Change Theme, they would be knocked down into Near Super Performer rankings and vice versa. Countries can also move around within their given rankings (i.e. a Near Super Performer could move down into the Leading Performers’ bracket), based on how well they are progressing towards meeting their targets outlined in each theme. This ensures that countries that continuously perform poorly would be reflected by dropping them to Near Super Performer rankings, rather than keeping them at Attained or Current scores.

EPI organizational partners for ranking factors

The EPI also uses the International Monetary Fund’s GDP per capita ranking. This allows a comparison to be made between the environmental health of each nation and their ability to protect it. It is actually one of the most important factors in determining a country’s ranking because many countries with high GDPs per capita have been very irresponsible in how they manage their environment.

They also rely on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. However, there is a focus on how responsible each sector is when it comes to the protection of the environment in order to assist in ranking a nation based on its performance in this area.

The EPI uses The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index to determine if people have a voice when it comes to environmental issues or if their voice is suppressed. This allows for comparison to be made between the amount of environmental damage that occurs due to an autocratic rule versus a democratic one, in order to give preference to nations with open democracy in place.

The world is in a state of environmental crisis. In order to solve the problem, we need to know what it looks like and how bad it really is.

What does the EPI tell us about ecosystem vitality?

The world is in a state of environmental crisis. In order to solve the problem, we need to know what it looks like and how bad it really is. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) provides a comprehensive assessment of key environmental challenges by ranking countries according to their performance on more than 30 indicators. It captures both risk factors and preventive actions for 198 countries, territories, and regions. It’s an important tool that can help us understand where our planet needs the most attention so we can work together toward solutions.

10 Lesser Known Criteria of the WHO EPI

Of all of the ranking factors, there are some that are lesser known. These include:

1. The health and well-being criteria measure how the country’s average noise levels affect its citizens, as well as how much accessibility to healthcare they have.

2. The ecosystem vitality index tracks the change in forested areas over time and evaluates its impact on biodiversity and carbon storage capacity.

3. The utilization of the energy sector tracks how efficient has the country become in converting fossil fuels into electricity.

4. The water and sanitation index measures the number of people lacking access to clean drinking water, as well as indoor and outdoor pollution levels.

5. The agricultural land index evaluates natural disasters that might affect crops or livestock, chemical storage capacity, soil quality and contamination, and the pollution caused by agricultural chemicals.

6. The food system performance index examines statistics about non-communicable diseases, obesity levels, sugar intake, diabetes rates, the incidence of kidney disease, air pollution from processing food, soil erosion, and nutrient depletion.

7. The climate change score measures what percentage of emissions are produced domestically versus imported goods, greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, and greenhouse gas emission per capita.

8. The built environment score measures the transportation infrastructure available to citizens, energy used for heating or cooling buildings, public transit usage, development of renewable energy sources, and levels of toxic material produced by industry, among other things.

9. The water resource management score evaluates water access, water withdrawal intensity, energy sector water intake and discharge, surface water chemical contamination, sanitation, floods, and droughts.

10. The waste management score evaluates the recycling rate of waste by weight or volume; recyclable material in the waste stream; percent of non-hazardous waste that is recycled; hazardous solid waste generation per capita; hazardous waste management; and percent of organic material in solid waste.

Which countries are the most eco-friendly?

10 countries which repeatedly rank as Super Performers include:

  • Costa Rica
  • Slovenia
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Canada
  • Norway

The list is by no means comprehensive, however, it does provide insight into the countries that are at the pinnacle of environmental performance. Costa Rica is particularly interesting; not only is it ranked as a Super Performer for EPI, but it also currently holds the title of “Most Sustainable Country in Latin America” by GPI (Global Peace Index). The EPI has been updated and now includes two new resource-specific indicators, one for water and one for biodiversity.

Which countries are the least environmentally friendly?

10 of the lowest-ranking countries include:

  • Uzbekistan
  • Ecuador
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Countries that are not included in either list are typically middle-ranking and include Peru, El Salvador, and Brazil. Upon examining the top and bottom ten on both lists, we find that there is a relationship between EPI ranking and GPI ranking. However, as some countries like Costa Rica rank high in one but low in the other (Costa Rica has ranked as 5th most peaceful country by GPI), these rankings do not always mirror each other.

14 Tips for Creating a Better Environment

If you want to contribute to a more sustainable world then here are 14 tips for helping:

1. Food: Eat food that is produced closer to home so as to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during transportation. If you can’t, buy organic and local produce wherever possible to minimize the use of additional chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

2. Energy: Turn off electrical appliances that you aren’t using and try not to leave appliances on standby. Exchange your incandescent lightbulbs for fluorescent ones and reduce the use of air conditioning by opening windows and using fans instead.

3. Transportation: Drive less (or better still, cycle or walk), ask about environmentally friendly ways of getting to work, such as joining a car share scheme, try to reduce the number of flights you take, and avoid taking unnecessary car journeys. Use public transport instead of hiring a car when possible.

4. Waste: recycle as much as you can at home or work, share resources by borrowing things that other people no longer use, sort your waste into the appropriate recycling bins according to local guidelines, compost organic waste where possible, and don’t throw away items with your normal rubbish, instead find ways of reusing them.

5. Buildings: Make sure that you keep the temperature in buildings low during winter and high during summer to conserve energy, insulate walls and attics if appropriate, turn down the heating when nobody is at home or sleeping, ask for green electricity from your energy company if they offer it, and try to keep the use of air conditioning during hot weather to a minimum.

6. Transport: Reduce your car mileage by using public transport, cycling, or walking where suitable, share your journey with other people by carpooling, avoid unnecessary flights, and use video conferencing instead of business trips.

7. Industry: Choose a green energy supplier whenever possible, reduce emissions from industrial processes by adopting greener technologies and practices, use water sparingly in the workplace, and repair any leaks as soon as possible.

8. Hazardous substances: Avoid using hazardous chemicals in both professional and domestic settings, if you have to work with potentially noxious materials, use personal protective equipment to minimize contact, and consider using the services of a specialist eco-cleaner.

9. Consumer goods: buy recycled and recyclable products, reduce your plastic waste by reusing or recycling it whenever possible, read product packaging labels carefully to make sure that you know what is in them and where they come from, try to shop locally (at farmers markets or independent shops) and reduce the number of impulse shopping trips you make.

10. Climate change: Plant trees to improve air quality, encourage your workplace to adopt greener practices, lobby your government to develop climate-friendly policies, try to live a ‘carbon-lite’ life (e.g., cycle or walk instead of driving), reduce heating and cooling where possible by opening windows, don’t let the car engine idle, turn off appliances at the power socket when not in use, wash clothes in cold water, line dry washing where possible and limit your shower time.

11. Biodiversity: Plant native species of plants that are well adapted to local weather and soil conditions, reduce or prevent invasive species from taking hold by using weed control techniques such as crop rotation and chemical spraying where appropriate, don’t let cats wander outside to kill wild animals and use pesticides responsibly (keep them locked up and ensure that they are out of the reach of children and pets).

12. Noise: Reduce noise pollution by keeping your car radio turned down, use earplugs when attending loud events such as concerts and sporting events, and insulate buildings with soundproofing materials in appropriate spots.

13. Access to information: lobby companies and government agencies to adopt sustainable practices in the workplace (e.g., recycling programs), lobby your local authorities to develop public transport infrastructure that meets the needs of the local population, encourage businesses in your area to adopt sustainable practices (e.g., energy efficiency schemes).

14. Groundwater: fix any leaks on external pipes as soon as possible before excess water is lost through seepage or evaporation, collect rainwater for use in irrigation and other household activities where possible, and reduce the amount of water you use in your garden by installing water-saving devices.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one hundred countries have already acknowledged that sustainable development is in their best interest…

The Environmental Performance Index in conclusion

The environment has become an increasingly important issue over the past few decades. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one hundred countries have already acknowledged that sustainable development is in their best interest and they made it clear that creating a better environment would be a focal point of upcoming years.

This came in light of growing awareness of environmental issues and the fact that many countries had already taken steps to create a better environment, such as through the implementation of their own action plans. The Environmental Performance Index provides a comprehensive assessment of key environmental challenges for 183 countries around the world which gives insight into how we can best tackle these issues.

Caveats and Disclaimers and Environmental Health

At ESG | The Report, we believe that we can help make the world a more sustainable place through the power of education. We have covered many topics in this article and want to be clear that any reference to, or mention of environmental health scores or energy-efficient buildings in the context of this article is purely for informational purposes and not to be misconstrued as investment or any other legal advice or an endorsement of any particular company or service. Neither ESG | The Report, its contributors their respective companies nor any of its members gives any warranty with respect to the information herein and shall have no responsibility for any decisions made, or actions taken or not taken which relate to matters covered by ESG | The Report. As with any investment, we highly recommend that you get a financial advisor or investment adviser, and do your homework in advance of making any moves in the stock market. Thank you for reading, and we hope that you found this article useful in your quest to understand ESG and sustainable business practices. We look forward to building a sustainable world with you.

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