The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, maintains the "Better Life Index," an interactive tool that enables a user to compare well-being among the 34 OECD member countries, as well as OECD partners Russia and Brazil. The index consists of 11 indicators that seek in aggregate to measure the well-being of societies. By offering up this index, the OECD aims "to involve citizens" in the debate over what constitutes well-being, and "to empower [citizens] to become more informed and engaged in the policy-making process that shapes all our lives."
One of the inarguable components of well-being is the environment in which we live. For its "Environment" topic, the OECD uses two primary criteria to rank its members: water quality and air pollution. Water quality is defined as the "percentage of people reporting to be satisfied with the quality of local water." Air pollution is defined as the "average concentration of particulate matter (PM10) in cities with populations larger than 100,000, measured in micrograms per cubic meter." You may be familiar with particulate matter measurements, as they have been commonly cited in the recent spate of news stories on China's industrial pollution and air quality woes. The World Health Organization denotes 20 micrograms of tiny particulate matter as an annual suggested inhalation limit per person.
According to the OECD, the five countries with the highest scores in the "Environment" topic in the Better Life Index are as follows:
Are there any guiding principles that the richest industrialized countries such as the U.S., which ranks 16th out of 36 countries in the OECD survey, can draw from this data? It's likely the lessons are not markedly different from those that the poorest countries can derive: Over the long term, the combination of smart policy and a determined mindset may count as much as wealth in a country's journey to become environmentally friendly. Also, as the OECD implies, the concept of a healthy natural environment is unalterably linked to our own well-being.