Sustainable Community Action

The Happy Planet Index, is a new - launched July 2006 - index from nef - the New Economics Foundation.

The Happy Planet Index moves beyond crude ratings of nations according to national income, measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to produce a more accurate picture of the progress of nations based on the amount of the Earth's resources they use, and the length and happiness of people's lives. The Index has been calculated for 178 nations for which data is available.

The HPI demonstrates happiness doesn't have to cost the Earth. It also reveals that there are different routes to achieving comparable levels of well-being. The model followed by the West can provide widespread longevity and variable life satisfaction, but it does so only at a vast and ultimately counter-productive cost in terms of resource consumption.


Village cinema


What is "Gross National Happiness" ? Explained by Morten Sondergaard


Nic Marks The Happy Planet Index

Greensmiley2.jpg Tip: click the four arrow symbol, bottom right of each embedded video (where available) to view video full screen.

Key findings

  • In terms of delivering long and meaningful lives within the Earth's environmental limits - all nations could do better. No country achieves an overall `high' score on the Index, and no country does well on all three indicators. The HPI shows that around the world, high levels of resource consumption do not reliably produce high levels of well-being (life-satisfaction), and that it is possible to produce high levels of well-being without excessive consumption of the Earth's resources.
  • Self appointed world ‘leaders’ - the G8 - score generally badly in the Index: The UK comes a disappointing 108th - with the remainder of the G8 faring little, if at all, better. Italy is 66th, Germany 81st, Japan 95th, Canada 111th, France 129th, United States 150th and Russia 172nd.
  • The UK manages only 108th place in the Index: Just below Libya, but above Laos. See also Happy Planet Index, UK
  • Central America is the region with the highest average score in the Index: The region combines relatively good life expectancy (an average of 70 years) and high life satisfaction with an ecological footprint below its globally equitable share. Central America has had a notorious history of conflict and political instability, but the last 15 years have been relatively peaceful, which perhaps, with traditionally high levels of community engagement, explain its success.
  • Countries classified by the United Nations as ‘medium human development’ come out better than both low and high-development countries: Only one ‘low-development’ country has a strong HPI score, whilst 21 per cent of countries classified as ‘highly-developed’ do. However, 44 per cent of countries with ‘medium-development’ score well. This is because, beyond a certain level, vastly increasing consumption fails to lead to greater well-being.
  • Well-being is not based on high levels of consumption: For example, Estonia - with high consumption - rates poorly on well-being. And, in the Dominican Republic where well-being is high, consumption is not above a globally equitable share.
  • Life satisfaction varies wildly country by country: Questioned on how satisfied they were with their life as a whole, on a scale of 1-10 (1 being ‘dissatisfied, 10 ‘satisfied’), 29.4 per cent of Zimbabweans rate themselves at 1 and only 5.7 per cent rate themselves at 10. By contrast, 28.4 per cent of Danes rate their satisfaction with life 10/10, with less than one percent rating 1.
  • Life expectancy also varies wildly: Babies born in Japan can expect to live to 82, but only to 32 and a half if born in Swaziland.
  • Overall, we are over-burdening the Earth’s currently available biocapacity: By consuming 22 per cent above our ecosystems’ ability to regenerate we are eating into and degrading the natural resources that our life-support systems depend on. In the process we are depleting the environmental goods and services that future generations will depend on, with potentially devastating consequences.


"We are used to comparing countries in terms of crude riches or what they trade. There are international league tables for performance on issues from corruption to sporting success. But, nef's Happy Planet Index measures something much more fundamental. It addresses the relative success or failure of countries in giving their citizens a good life, whilst respecting the environmental resource limits on which all our lives depend. The order of nations that emerges may seem counter-intuitive. But this is because, to a large degree, policy makers have been led astray by abstract mathematical models of the economy that bear little relation to the real world," Andrew Simms, nef's Policy Director.

Unexpected findings

Some of the most unexpected findings concern the marked differences between nations, and the similarities among some groups of nations.

  • Island nations score well above average in the Index: They have higher life satisfaction, higher life expectancy and marginally lower Footprints than other states. Yet incomes (by GDP per capita) are roughly equal to the world average. Even within regions, islands do well. Malta tops the Western world with Cyprus in seventh place (out of 24); the top five HPI nations in Africa are all islands; as well as two of the top four in Asia. Perhaps a more acute awareness of environmental limits has sometimes helped their societies to bond better and to adapt to get more from less. Combined with the enhanced well-being that stems from close contact with nature, the world as a whole stands to learn much from the experience of islands.
  • It is possible to live long, happy lives with a much smaller environmental impact: For example, in the United States and Germany people's sense of life satisfaction is almost identical and life expectancy is broadly similar. Yet Germany's Ecological Ecological footprint is only about half that of the USA. This means that Germany is around twice as efficient as the USA at generating happy long lives based on the resources that they consume.

Calculating the Index

The HPI incorporates three separate indicators: ecological footprint, life-satisfaction and life expectancy. The statistical calculations that underlie the HPI are quite complex. (See page 14 of nef's report for a full description.). However conceptually, it is straight forward and intuitive.

The HPI reflects the average years of happy life produced by a given society, nation or group of nations, per unit of planetary resources consumed. Put another way, it represents the efficiency with which countries convert the earth's finite resources into wellbeing experienced by their citizens.


The Happy Planet Index was produced by nef with the support of Friends of the Earth England, Ireland and Wales and the AIM Foundation.

Note on the data set

Any index is only as good as the data that feeds it and no data set is perfect, even those relied on by governments, central banks and international financial institutions. But nef say they have used the best available official statistics - the same as those used by policy makers - and are confident that there is much to learn from what they show, however surprising it may be.

Related topics

External links