Earth Day 2014 is a time to reflect on the great things Mother Nature has done for us – and how we can return the favor.

Over the past few decades, governments and world leaders have become increasingly concerned with the effects of global climate change. The knowledge that we as humans have a hand in the health of our planet is reflected in policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conscious living choices and sustainable initiatives at all levels of society.

While we haven’t always gotten it right, countries all over the world are making great strides to protect the planet.

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    14. Iceland: Few countries rival Iceland’s unspoiled natural beauty, and for good reason: its people go to great lengths to keep their waters some of the cleanest in the world. And its capital city of Reykjavik is perhaps the most energy efficient of them all. About 85 percent of the total energy supply in Iceland is derived from locally produced renewable energy sources, including geothermal energy and hydropower. Photo: Creative Commons
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    13. Denmark: The country’s stringent energy policies put Denmark at the head of the pack in terms of nations looking to curb greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change. Photo: Creative Commons
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    12. United Kingdom: The United Kingdom ranked highest in health impacts, indicated by a low child mortality rate, and water sanitation. It also scored high in air quality. Photo: Reuters
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    11. Netherlands: The Netherlands is a frontrunner in sustainable business. With sustainability issues weaved into school curriculums, an active industry-led advocacy group and high public awareness, the Netherlands has a true conscience for the environment. Photo: Creative Commons
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    10. Norway: In 2009, Norway launched several strategies for environmentally sustainable aquaculture, a vital industry in Norway. Photo: Creative Commons
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    9. Sweden: Last year, Sweden earned the title of “most sustainable country in the world” for its use of renewable energy sources and low carbon dioxide emissions. Sweden also has taken progressive social and legislative steps to make sure the country is doing its part to take care of Mother Nature. Photo: Creative Commons
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    8. Austria: Austria is among the world’s top recyclers, a category shared by Germany and Belgium. In 2010, the three countries recycled the largest proportion of municipal waste in Europe. Austria’s recycling rate was the highest with 63 percent. Photo: Creative Commons
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    7. Spain: Spain is committed to pursuing renewable and low-carbon sources of energy. One-fifth of Spain’s energy comes from nuclear power, 15 percent comes from hydropower and 19 percent is made from other renewable sources such as wind. Photo: Creative Commons
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    6. Germany: Germany is one of the leading countries in Europe when it comes to “green” policies. From garden rooftops to promoting growth that is more environmentally friendly, Germany is doing its part to be a good steward. Photo: Creative Commons
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    5. Czech Republic: The Czech Republic has taken great strides to protect its natural resources, including setting aside 14 percent of its land as safeguarded territory. However, its air quality could use some improving. Photo: Creative Commons
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    4. Singapore: Singapore is the top performer in climate and energy of all the top 10 greenest countries. But its strengths are, unfortunately, outweighed by some of its weaknesses; the country performed poorly in terms of sustainable fisheries. Photo: Creative Commons
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    3. Australia: Of all the G20 countries, Australia was top dog in terms of environmental policies. The island country has some of the most robust conservation and environmental protections in the world. It also recently initiated a concrete carbon tax scheme to help reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Photo: Creative Commons
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    2. Luxembourg: Luxembourg has a long history of meeting sustainable development criteria. While it has yet to meet its Kyoto Protocol target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 72 percent of 1990 levels, Luxembourg has met its goal of setting aside 17 percent of its environment to be protected. Photo: Creative Commons
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    1. Switzerland: For the third year in a row, Switzerland is the greenest country in the world. And it’s not just its picturesque hills that give it the title. Over the past five years, Switzerland has introduced 15 new regional parks, with several others on the way. The country has also significantly reduced its carbon footprint. Kudos, Switzerland! Photo: Creative Commons

Every year, researchers from Yale University and Columbia University release a report that documents the sustainable practices of some 178 countries. Called the Environmental Performance Index, the report looks at 20 factors – including things like health effects, air quality, water and sanitation, agriculture, climate and energy – that indicate how “green” a nation is.  

Here’s a look at the 14 greenest countries in the world, according to how they ranked on the EPI. 

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