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green planet leaves continents

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You buy Energy Star appliances, recycle cans and bottles, turn off lights when you leave a room, and grow vegetables in your backyard garden. Every day, thousands of Americans dedicate themselves to green living habits and energy conservation, but what about the rest of the world?

Other nations take green living just as seriously as Americans. You might be surprised to learn that the United States doesn’t always stack up well against other countries when it comes to sustainable lifestyles.

Germany leads the world in energy efficiency

In 2014, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published a report that ranks the top 16 economies in the world based on energy conservation. Germany won the top spot, while the United States placed 13th.

Part of the reason for Germany’s success is its score in transportation efficiency. U.S. drivers average over 9,300 miles behind the wheel each year. Between daily commutes to work and annual family vacations, Americans take full advantage of the nation’s highways. The resulting fuel consumption and air pollution reduces the nation’s overall efficiency.

Germany has also instituted green building codes. Rather than suggesting sustainable efforts, the Germans demand it. By 2050, they hope to reduce their 2008 energy consumption levels by at least 50 percent.

Sweden takes the crown for recycling

Reduce, reuse, recycle: Sweden’s got it covered. The Swedes are devoted not only to the reduction of waste, but also to the practical use of garbage. Trash doesn’t just collect in landfills. Instead, it is used to generate power.

Other recycling pioneers include Japan, Belgium, and Switzerland, the latter of which charges residents high premiums for garbage bags. Italy is another country to hit consumers where it hurts, right in the wallet. Citizens who fail to separate recyclables from waste face steep fines.

recycling in Stockholm

Advanced recycling programs in Stockholm, Sweden. (image: Holger.Ellgaard)

North America excels in appliances and buildings

Despite the low U.S. ranking in ACEEE’s report, the U.S. possesses more than a few redeeming qualities. Programs that encourage sustainable practices, such as Energy Star, keep North America from falling to the bottom of the list. Additionally, the U.S. has developed numerous green building and housing efforts, from solar energy generation to the use of sustainable materials.

Taking inspiration from other countries

Based on ACEEE’s assessment, the U.S. succeeds in terms of the carrot approach, offering tax incentives and financial rewards for sustainable practices. Other countries like Italy and Switzerland favor the stick instead, imposing fines and similar punishments for citizens who fail to embrace energy conservation with open arms.

Additionally, some forms of energy savings require an underlying infrastructure. For example, Americans use public transportation only 10 percent of the time, while Chinese citizens average more than 70 percent of their travel on public transit. To improve in that area, the U.S. may need to build the infrastructure for better public transit, especially in large cities.

Citizens, governments, companies, academia in cooperation

A widespread reduction of energy consumption can’t happen overnight. Citizens, governments, companies, and academia must work cooperatively to find solutions to their problems, and wake-up calls like ACEEE’s report might inspire new initiatives.

 

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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.