Which States Are the Most Environmentally Friendly?
A majority of Americans see the effects of climate change in their own communities and believe the federal government should do more to stop them. Despite growing concern about the climate crisis, some states are doing far less than others to boost energy efficiency, decrease the use of fossil fuels, and protect air, water, and soil quality. Are you living in a state that’s taking environmental actions?
A recent study by WalletHub examined each of the 50 states using 25 key metrics to find the most environmentally friendly states. The results offer insights into how to slow climate change and boost environmental protection. You might be wondering how your state ranks.
Which states received the top green rankings?
Because the study uses a variety of metrics, some states scored high in specific categories and not in others. The states at the top of the list were mainly from the Northeast and West.
The top 10 greenest states are:
- New York
- South Dakota
Which states received the lowest rankings?
The study also highlights which are underperforming at protecting the environment. West Virginia topped the list with the lowest green ranking.
The lowest-ranking states are:
- West Virginia
- North Dakota
How environmentally friendly is your state?
In the following interactive map, a smaller number indicates the state is more environmentally friendly according to WalletHub’s study. A larger number denotes a lower ranking.
How does the study determine the rankings?
WalletHub used three categories: environmental quality, eco-friendly behaviors, and climate change contributions to rank each state. The study analyzed a total of 25 key metrics, including air, soil, and water quality, solar energy capacity, gasoline consumption per capita, and average commute time by car, with the greenest states receiving the highest scores.
Some categories were weighted more heavily than others. For example, carbon dioxide or methane emissions per capita have a bigger impact on the total score than electronic-waste recycling programs or certified organic farms per capita.
Is there a big difference between the top and bottom of the list?
Yes, there was a stark difference between the highest and lowest-ranking states, especially for some key metrics. For example, for the total percentage of energy from renewable sources, Oregon, Maine, South Dakota, Washington, and Vermont use 15 times more than Ohio, New Jersey, Alaska, Louisiana, and Delaware.
There was also a big difference in energy consumption per capita, with a five-fold difference between the states with the least consumption — Rhode Island, California, New York, Florida, and Connecticut — and those with the highest — Alaska, Louisiana, Iowa, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
However, electricity rates vary widely by state. Not surprisingly, rates are among the cheapest in Louisiana, Wyoming, and North Dakota, and among the highest in California, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York. When electricity rates are high, it encourages conservation and makes energy-efficiency initiatives more appealing.
Are blue states greener than red states?
The study ranked all the states from the greenest to the least eco-friendly. Blue states, on average, ranked 15, while red states averaged 36. It turns out that political affiliation is closely linked to the environmental performance of different states.
For example, one of the key metrics for the WalletHub study is if a state has a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires a certain percent of the electricity that utilities sell to come from renewable sources. While states in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest all have RPS policies, few in the Southeast do, and many have expired in the Midwest, where there are fewer blue states.
This also highlights the importance of elections on the climate and environmental protection and that certain policies can have real and lasting results on resource consumption, eco-friendly behaviors, and environmental protection. When effective, policies can impact public transportation, air and water quality, effective land use, recycling programs, and energy use.
During the election season, look for politicians that share common sustainability values and offer effective solutions for issues. Also, make your voice heard with your elected officials and urge them to take action to protect the environment.
What is the benefit of ranking environmental performance?
Comparing states highlights those that are excelling and those that need improvement — and in what areas. These insights can also be helpful in determining how policies can shape results.
The United States had the third costliest year for natural disasters in 2021, with $343 billion in damages. Many of the metrics in the study relate to our impacts on the climate, such as methane and carbon dioxide emissions, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable energy. This information can help guide us in slowing the climate crisis.