Some of the United States' Greenest Territories

In the same way that sustainability can be understood in a variety of ways, so too can the term "green." Being "green" can refer to a variety of things, from the preservation of natural habitats to the promotion of social justice.

green states

Being "green" can mean different things to different people, just as sustainability can mean different things to different people. One definition of "green" is "the natural world preserved and unaltered. Green refers to an ecologically sustainable lifestyle and to a social system that promotes environmental harmony.  

Public health, as we here at MPHOnline are well aware, is a complex endeavor. And promoting green spaces and environmental sustainability is an important part of public health promotion. Thus, we have spent considerable time investigating the various "green" (and not-so-green) options available to states.  

While the United States is often praised for its natural beauty, the ways in which its citizens engage with that beauty vary astonishingly from one state to the next. Specific concerns addressed by this ranking include:

  • Is there a way to get a comprehensive picture of each state's green space and protected green space
  • Is this park being preserved, or is it slowly eroding away?
  • How accessible is this park to the general population across a state?  
  • What kinds of recycling and alternative-energy programs are in place across the country and in each state?  
  • How much does each state waste?  
  • Along with a slew of questions that follow from them  

Almost twenty factors were considered when determining where each state landed in the following ranking, so some of the results may come as a surprise. It's true that Alaska is "green" in some respects, but the state lags behind the rest of the country in areas like renewable energy, recycling, and public access to its abundant natural resources. Rhode Island may be tiny, but despite its dense population, it is a leader in areas such as green space preservation, energy efficiency, and access to the outdoors.  

This is how we ranked the 50 greenest states.

We analyzed a wide variety of metrics, sourced entirely from experts in the field. Some examples of the four types of metrics used are:

Measurement / Percentage of Overall Mark

  • Typicality of Renewable Energy Sources (25%).
  • Beautiful Scenery and Open Areas (25%).
  • Recycling and waste reduction (25%).
  • Equal Opportunity and Clean Outdoor Space (25%).

Green energy prevalence in 2019 evaluated how much of a state's total energy demand was met by renewable resources. The range of these figures was Seventy-seven percent to one hundred percent (a huge range) ) U.S. Department of Energy data used here  

Analysis of each state's open space and natural beauty counted the total number of acres of protected land. Major municipal, state, and federal park systems were included. The percentage of a state that is protected land was calculated by dividing the total protected land area by the state's total cubic acreage. In addition, we accounted for undeveloped public spaces. This data comes from a study conducted on land owned by national parks and was commissioned by the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The rankings of natural beauty were also examined from a variety of sources. It's true that opinions vary widely on what constitutes a beautiful landscape, but many lists have a general consensus on which states are the most and least stunning.  

Diverting and recycling waste was measured in several ways, such as the amount of trash sent to landfills in relation to the state's population and the number of batteries recycled per capita. There are no comprehensive national statistics on recycling at this time. Battery recycling is one of the first and most well-known types of recycling, so we used it as a proxy for the effectiveness of recycling initiatives across the country. U.S. Census, E.P.A., and Call2Recycle provided the data for these metrics.

It is a well-known fact that low-income communities in the United States are disproportionately impacted by pollution and a dearth of natural elements, so this issue has been categorized as "social justice and access to clean outdoors." Accordingly, we consulted reliable state-by-state social justice rankings for this section. Counts and outcomes for programs catering to people with disabilities, members of minority groups, and those with other interests are included. We also examined the overall pollution levels in each state, as well as the number of days between air or water pollution warnings and violations. These components came from places like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Loyola University New Orleans Social Justice Index.

State Scoring in General Comparing Green Energy Sources Room to breathe and scenic views Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Equal Rights for Minorities and Safe Places to Play Outside Washington 1 10 6 2 12 Hawaii 2 1 2 24 8 California 3 25 1 1 9 Providence, Rhode Island 4 1 29 16 3 Maine 5 1 25 4 28 Florida 6 18 6 5 14 State of New Hampshire 7 22 32 5 1 Vermont 8 21 40 2 2 Delaware 9 1 21 7 46 Oregon 10 7 39 15 9 Minnesota 11 12 45 17 3 Michigan 12 24 4 11 18 Massachusetts 13 16 5 18 25 Maryland 14 26 8 10 13 New York 15 15 8 30 16 Nevada 16 8 41 8 36 Idaho 17 1 46 25 30 Wisconsin 18 14 19 29 24 Virginia 19 37 13 12 7 Tennessee 20 20 21 27 21 This is South Dakota. 21 9 38 35 20 Connecticut 22 31 16 19 21 Missouri 23 17 41 35 6 Georgia 24 19 37 40 16 New Jersey 25 40 10 22 14 Pennsylvania 26 41 18 9 31 Iowa 27 11 50 27 34 Kentucky 28 45 11 32 5 This is the state of North Carolina. 29 23 3 44 37 Arkansas 30 32 35 38 9 Alabama 31 27 29 32 39 Nebraska 32 13 48 37 40 Specifically, the State of South Carolina 33 28 29 34 38 State of West Virginia 34 49 17 25 23 Colorado 35 42 15 19 43 Texas 36 44 21 13 44 Ohio 36 38 26 30 35 Arizona 38 30 13 41 42 New Mexico 39 48 32 21 27 Montana 40 36 26 38 32 Wyoming 41 51 24 22 28 Mississippi 42 33 43 48 18 Utah 43 46 12 13 50 Kansas 44 35 49 41 25 Illinois 45 34 28 43 45 Indiana 46 29 34 45 48 State of North Dakota 47 39 47 46 32 Oklahoma 48 43 43 47 40 Alaska 49 50 19 50 46 Louisiana 50 47 36 49 49

Most Eco-Friendly States in the USA

Many of the "greenest" states in the United States have been committed to environmental protection for quite some time. While it's true that every state has room for improvement, many of the United States' greenest are already setting the global standard for environmental responsibility.

How Green is the State of Washington?

Although Washington State topped our list overall, it did not perform exceptionally well on any of the individual metrics we used. Instead, Washington State ranked in the top ten in almost every category. Around 36% of the state of Washington is owned by the federal government as protected land (no buildings or industrial use). Parks make up about 4% of the total land area in the state, so this area accounts for about 12% of the total. Large swaths of public land across the state's eastern plains and its 64 named mountain ranges make much more of the state accessible for exploration.  

Washington also has some other "green" features worth mentioning, such as a relatively large number of recycling centers and a high rate of garbage diversion. Additionally, pollution, social justice ratings, and access to nature all ranked highly.  

To what extent does Rhode Island promote environmental sustainability

Park and skyline at sunrise in Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Those of you who aren't from Rhode Island probably won't be surprised to hear that the Ocean State performed exceptionally well on all of the indicators we looked at. Only a select few states, including Rhode Island, have committed to eventually using only renewable energy sources. With a target date of 2030, Rhode Island is on track to be one of the first states to accomplish this. Most of the credit for this goes to Rhode Island, home to the first offshore wind turbine farm in the United States.  

Aside from its high overall ranking, Rhode Island also performed very well in terms of the percentage of its population that lives in green spaces. For its size, Rhode Island doesn't have a lot of park space, but the state has set aside one acre of land for every three residents to enjoy as parkland. All over the state, from the forested interior to the coastal lands, you can find state parks. Positivity regarding citizens' exposure to pollutants and access to parks is indicated by high levels of public transportation and positive social justice performance.  

Exactly how environmentally friendly is Hawaii  

Hawaii's status as one of the "greenest" states in the Union should come as no surprise, as it is one of the few states whose name is more often than not associated with the state's natural beauty than with any man-made institutions. The 50th and final state in the Union is the most secluded, being completely encircled by water. The "green" impact is increased by carefully monitoring marine ecosystems up to three miles from each island.  

Similar to Rhode Island, Hawaii is working toward a future where all of its electricity comes from renewable sources. Currently, solar panels provide nearly 40% of the energy used in the state. The state's sustainability is also aided by wind turbines and geothermal energy harnessed from volcanic heat.  

A high percentage of protected and park land, a very low landfill footprint, and a quality access to nature score (walk to the beach, anyone?) also contributed to Hawaii's ranking as a green state. )  

The 10 Most Polluted States in America

The least environmentally friendly states in the United States also tend to perform poorly on a number of related metrics. Unfortunately, many of these states also have some of the highest pollution levels and lowest social justice ratings. This pattern has been well-documented, and the most recent data shows that minorities are 60% more likely to be exposed to air pollution than they are to cause it. While the federal government owns a lot of land in many of these states, only a relatively small fraction of it is preserved as parkland or wilderness areas (Alaska is an exception). The three lowest-scoring states also ranked near the bottom in the nation for use of renewable energy, landfills, and recycling.

Just how "Un-Green" is the State of Louisiana

Although Louisiana is a cultural powerhouse, it falls far short when it comes to environmental protection and responsible community involvement. Followers of the BP oil spill and the state's continued record-setting pace of losing important environments (the state loses about a football field of land an hour to rising sea levels and erosion) will not be surprised by this.  

Without a doubt, Louisiana is still home to some stunning natural areas. Nonetheless, they are among the least accessible or protected in the country, so we have not included them in our ranking. In addition, despite extensive solar and hydroelectric potential, the state's use of renewable energy is extremely low. With nearly 38 tons of garbage dumped by each state's residents annually, Louisiana is near the bottom of the list.  

For the sake of the state that gave us jazz, gumbo, and zydeco, rapid and comprehensive change is needed now if the state is to become even remotely "green" or sustainable.  

Alaska's "Un-Greenness": How Bad Is It?

Un-green Alaska This came as a surprise to us, too. To be fair, Alaska does rank high on some lists of environmentally friendly states. Alaska justifiably boasts the highest concentration of national forests, national parks, and other forms of protected land in the United States.  

It's possible that Alaska's singularity contributes to the problems we discovered there. Alaska, which has some of the coldest winters in the United States, has a tendency to use a lot of energy. Due to a low population and a high concentration of small towns, recycling facilities are scarce. Increased garbage disposal rates per person Despite the wealth of available resources, the country ranks near the bottom in its use of renewable energy.  

Alaska has a relatively small human footprint in comparison to other places, but there hasn't been much done to reduce that footprint. Recent events, such as making the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge available for oil drilling, have also not been encouraging. Undeveloped areas may maintain their current size for the time being. From what we've learned about sustainability, however, which includes consideration of both human behavior and environmental conditions, the state still has some work to do.  

Does Oklahoma Rank High or Low in "Un-Greenness?"  

Oklahoma is the third oil-drilling-heavy state to make our list of least environmentally-friendly states. Since fracking is a common cause of earthquakes in the Sooner State, it's easy to see that environmental and human safety aren't necessarily a top priority there. As a state, Oklahoma had the lowest recycling rate, the largest landfill footprint per resident, and the seventh-smallest parkland area per person, all of which contributed to its low overall ranking.  

Despite this, the state's rolling hills and desert landscape are undeniably beautiful. To the south, you'll find Ouachita National Forest, the largest and oldest national forest in the United States. There are large sand dunes covering about 1,600 acres at Little Sahara State Park. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve also boasts the distinction of being the largest tallgrass prairie ecosystem under permanent protection anywhere in the world.  

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