"100% Pure'" New Zealand slips six places as new environmental rankings reveal that so called 'eco-tourism' destinations leave much to be desired.

For the environmentally minded traveller, the green credentials of their next holiday are of great concern. With countries marketing themselves as guilt free escapes, the reality can often be far removed from the euphoric slogans.

From Norway to Uzbekistan, the words "Pure" and "Natural" litter travel brochures.

It's a positive sign that environment-minded travellers are already setting the precedent for tourism destinations.

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However, often the environmental health of these countries has a long way to catch up with the promise. With incentive to greenwash far easier than find solution to the many environmental problems that plague holiday destinations, conscientious travellers may wonder who to trust.

Fortunately for the past two decades American research students and the World Economic Forum have been diligently crunching the numbers for a concise, country to country health check. The Yale University Environmental Performance Index, or EPI, may be just what you need to set your travelling conscience at ease.

Bottom tier: Popular destination, India has fallen almost to the bottom of the EPI rankings at 177. Photo /Nicolas Economou, Getty Images
Bottom tier: Popular destination, India has fallen almost to the bottom of the EPI rankings at 177. Photo /Nicolas Economou, Getty Images

The biennial study releases rankings on countries' environmental impact. Its 2018 results rank nearly two-hundred countries in terms of eco-friendliness, placing the glacially pure Switzerland at number 1 to the uranium-mining republic of Burundi at number 180.

Conducted by the Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy, it ranks the countries for criteria including "environmental health" and "ecosystem vitality".

As a deep dive into a country's environmental health, it peers beneath the self-appointed statues of eco- destinations.

And it seems some green credentials have been nothing but fig leaves.

The self-proclaimed "Naturally Irresistible" Uzbekistan and "Pure" Grenada fall at 146 and 118 on the rankings respectively.

The tourism agency for the Caribbean island of Grenada promotes an "untouched beauty" and a "lifestyle so pure and authentic that you feel instantly renewed". Yet the results show this island nation has suffered a drop in regional fish stock and drinking water quality, along with an increase in greenhouse gasses.

However, as a tourist destination, New Zealand is in no place to criticise. While still leading the Pacific for ecological health - it crashes out of favour on issues of 'tree cover loss', and the impact of agriculture saw it drop to 40th place for Ecosystem Vitality. That's a place below China and two below the desert state of Qatar.

Most improved: In ten years the Seychelles have turned themselves into a world leading eco-destination. Photo / V. Gianella Getty Images
Most improved: In ten years the Seychelles have turned themselves into a world leading eco-destination. Photo / V. Gianella Getty Images

Suitably, the announcement of this year's index was delivered at a summit in Davos – and it appears the epicentre of smugness has yet another reason to boast after Switzerland was placed as the world's most eco-friendly destination.

Now in its twentieth year the EPI has seen huge changes. In the past decade countries have managed to turn around their fortunes and avert economic disaster. The Seychelles, for one, ranks as the most-improved country over the last ten years, which the Index attributes "largely to its commitment to combating greenhouse gas emissions."

The establishment of biodiversity areas and its commitment to sustainability have made this East African archipelago one of the greenest places to visit.

Amongst the success stories came warnings. The huge developing nation of India fell into the bottom tier of countries, at number 177, with huge repercussions.

For New Zealand the results were also a moment of reckoning. In the two years the country appears to have fallen 6 places in the rankings. An apparent blow for a country that prides itself on its green-living reputation.

The news comes with questions. After almost twenty years, is it time to abandon the 100% Pure shtick?

Critics in the international media have long accused New Zealand's tourism board of greenwashing.

With filthy waterways and intensive agriculture transforming the vistas into a "cattle-wrecked land", columns from The Guardian to The New York Times over the past year have called out our islands for exporting 100% pure BS.

100 per cent: New Zealand's tourism slogan has been accused of 'greenwashing' the bigger picture. Photo / Tim Clayton, Getty Images
100 per cent: New Zealand's tourism slogan has been accused of 'greenwashing' the bigger picture. Photo / Tim Clayton, Getty Images

Dr Zachary Wending of Yale's Center for Environmental Law and Policy, was less pessimistic about the forecast for New Zealand.

"Scores from reports issued in different years are not directly comparable," he assured the New Zealand Herald. While Aotearoa may have slipped down the rankings this is more likely to be a sign of other countries improvement rather than a slide back on standards.
"If anything, New Zealand is trending upwards," he said.

"Over the past decade, NZ has made great gains, especially in the establishment of terrestrial and marine protected areas, achieving a perfect score on the latter."

Where New Zealand did struggle however, was in tree cover loss and agriculture, both of which he called "a global concern."

Competitiveness is perhaps another national virtue; but we can allow countries like Luxemburg and Ireland to leapfrog us, as long as long as the goal and trend is to global improvement.

Even if 100% Pure is a bit of an overestimate, the slogan can stay. At least for now.