At a time when air pollution in London exceeds annual limits in just five days, the push to ‘go green’ has never been stronger. Living in a heavily polluted environment is no good for your health, and it’s probably not something you want to expose your children to. However, with many countries now well aware of the benefits of sustainable living and environmental harmony, there are a rising number of green locations to choose from if you want to escape the grime.
In this article, we’ll be exploring some of countries offering the best environmentally friendly lifestyle, as well as cities and states that can cater to families in search of strong eco credentials.
The first entry on our list is a quick splash across the Channel, France. While it may be dotted with controversial nuclear power stations, the Republic is also a strong representative of green living in Europe.
As well as actively pursuing climate change reduction measures, the French government offers a €10,000 bonus to those switching diesel cars to electric models. The ‘super bonus’ has led to electric car registrations ballooning.
When it comes to plastic bags, often the bane of the idyllic countryside, the French government introduced a non-degradable bag ban in mid-2016 and has been pushing for biodegradable replacements since early 2017.
In terms of eco cities, the capital, Paris, is a surprising but strong recommendation. As well as being peppered with smaller parks, Paris is also surrounded by substantial woods and forests like Bois de Vincennes, Bois de Boulogne and Foret Domaniale de Meudon.
As the majority host of the Tour de France, the country is also known for its support of cycling in and around cities. In particular, a number of cities (including Paris) use the Vélib’ bicycle share system, while on Sundays the Paris Breathes program closes certain roads to cars in a bid to clean up the city’s air quality.
Another strong European candidate in the list of most environmentally-focused countries is Germany.
As with France, Germany is on track to meet promises made in the Paris climate conference and, additionally, the nation has a particularly innovative approach to recycling. As well as focusing on reusing as much material as possible, there is also the ‘Green Dot’ system to reduce waste in the first place.
Companies pay to display the Green Dot on their products as a sign of their sustainable credentials and for collection for recycling, but the more packaging they use the higher the cost.
This has driven companies to strip down packaging as much as possible, which comes at a time when other nations continue to struggle with a surplus of unnecessary wrapping.
Germany is also an innovative and inspiring country when it comes to sustainable technologies, with a recent experiment seeing the creation of the world’s largest artificial sun. As part of an effort to eventually produce non-polluting fuels, the ‘Synlight’ experiment highlights German science as a keystone of sustainable technologies.
Two of the top green cities in Germany are the capital, Berlin, and Freiberg, a city on the eastern border with Poland and the Czech Republic.
Berlin’s draws for the environmentally-minded include the Environmental Zone, where only vehicles that meet strict emissions standards can drive.
For Freiberg, which is arguably the origin point of environmental awareness in Germany, renewable energies are prevalent, particularly when it comes to solar power. With a strong push to make housing as efficient as possible, city planners are at the forefront of cutting energy usage down to its absolute minimum.
Sticking in Western Europe for now, the Netherlands is also a haven for families looking for a greener future.
If you like taking the family cycling across the countryside or around cities, the Netherlands is an excellent choice, and not just because of its flatness.
While the capital of Amsterdam allegedly has more bicycles than people, this is for good reason, with the city featuring cycle-only zones and heavy support for cycle lanes. For more conventional travel, Amsterdam is also dotted with electric vehicle charge points.
The Netherlands’ cities are an overall solid choice for cycling, and the situation could get even safer in the future.
One of the most notable green plans from the Dutch government has been to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars from 2025 onwards, making electric vehicles the de facto method of transportation.
While the abundance of bikes can make it a tad chaotic at times, the clear focus on moving away from gas guzzling vehicles makes the Netherlands and its cities highly recommendable for any looking to be part of a nation that gets greener by the day.
A frequent placer and occasional top-ranker on the most climate friendly country lists, Denmark is the first Scandinavian entry on our exploration.
While the bicycle is not as widespread in Denmark compared to the Netherlands, it’s still a common method of transport, especially around the capital of Copenhagen.
Living near to your place of work is standard, as is using public transport if you don’t cycle. A large number of Copenhagen’s busses are electric, which further reduces their impact on the environment.
Denmark’s energy usage and its sources also deserve recognition, with renewables contributing strongly to national energy generation. The country is additionally notable for generating no energy via domestic nuclear reactors, although a small portion of national power does come from nuclear sources in other countries.
If you were thinking of moving to the Danish capital, Copenhagen has an extra draw due to its ambition to be carbon neutral by 2025.
Our second Scandinavian entry is Denmark’s neighbour, Sweden, which is another strong contender for the title of the world’s greenest nation.
Families looking to get away from car-clogged streets will be happy to find that bicycles and public transport are widely used, while cities are often designed specifically to aid walkers and non-vehicle users.
The Swedish capital of Stockholm deserves particular mention as a city designed to be green decades ago. Planning to make it an eco-city began back in the 1970’s, which culminated in Stockholm winning the first European Green Capital award in 2010. While this is a remarkable achievement for Sweden and its capital, city officials have no plans of stopping there.
Stockholm’s planners aim to have the city free of fossil fuel usage by 2050, an ambitious goal that puts it on the map with Denmark. Should these plans meet targets and succeed in banishing pollution from Stockholm, then it could well become one of the greenest capitals in Europe.
The icing on the cake for Sweden’s eco-credentials is that the nation is actively trying to meet or exceed Paris’ climate change goals.
Our Asian pick for environmental excellence is the island of Singapore and its capital city, Singapore.
With a relatively small main island of 710km2, Singaporeans have had to innovate in order to make sure their green spaces stay green.
Singapore’s isolation compared to other nations means recycling is widespread and the Zero Waste non-profit initiative ensures that people are as educated as possible at reusing or recycling anything they don’t need anymore.
In a notable push to try and live in harmony with Singapore’s wildlife, the Gardens by the Bay ‘supertrees’ have been built. Aiming to allow humans to live alongside wildlife, they capture light with solar panels and are festooned with a variety of creeping plants and vines.
On the more mundane level, Singapore also has a strong focus on efficient public transport and hopes to maximise land use efficiency by the mid-21st century.
With an industrious outlook towards environmental protection, Singapore may be something of a jewel in the crown of eco nations that actively seek to merge natural and manmade habitation.
The last entry on our list is the slightly contentious United States, which has recently made environmental headlines for the wrong reasons.
Under the leadership of Donald Trump, plans have been laid to take the US out of the Paris Agreement, a measure designed to reduce or prevent climate change. Going further against environmental protection, Trump aims to revitalise the nation’s fossil fuel mining to provide jobs.
While this (and some of Trump’s other policies) fly in the face of an environmentally friendly nation, there are still scattered parts of the US that are adapting themselves into being sustainable, family-friendly environments.
One of the highlights of the US green cities is San Francisco, located in the southwestern state of California.
As well as turning previous landfill sites into sprawling parks, San Francisco’s government has also striven to make public transport low or no-emission.
What the city takes in and puts out is also telling of its pro-environment focus. As well as many restaurants and vendors sourcing locally and sustainably, composting and recycling is widely practiced to cut down on the city’s carbon footprint.
Adding to this green ethos are the vast Lake Merced and Golden Gate parks, which cover over 1600 acres in total.
Another haven for environmentalists in the US is a bit further removed from the mainland – the Hawaiian state capital of Honolulu.
With nature reserves covering large swathes of the Hawaiian Islands, officials are keen to promote sustainable sourcing and eco-friendly transport to keep the island chain in pristine condition for future generations.
The wild card status of the US means that it could take an environmental turn for the worse, depending on how Trump’s environmental policies pan out. With that in mind, keep a close eye on the news if you’re hoping to enjoy green living in the US.
We hope that you’ve been inspired by our look at some of the world’s wonderful eco-havens. If you’re considering a move abroad in the near future, remember to keep checking our blog for useful emigration advice and support.
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