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The Most Environmentally Friendly States in the US

cleanest states in america

The issues of climate change, changing wind and precipitation patterns, and all other effects of it are becoming clear. The governments of the world have undertaken a difficult job to help mitigate and adapt to these consequences. Many US states also understand the dangers climate change poses, so they have undertaken steps to help mitigate climate change. In this article, we will be dealing with both the greenest and the least green US states, so let’s dive right in and see where your state ranks. 

The Greenest States in the US in 2024

When determining the greenest states for our list, we took a look at renewable energy and nuclear energy that is generated in the state. We also took a look at carbon emissions per capita, residential waste generated per capita, and what percentage of that waste was actually recycled. Composting residential biowaste is another thing we paid attention to. In most cases, we relied on the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and other sources to compile our list. 

Renewable energy production was one of the most important factors we took into consideration. Considering the climate change and mitigation efforts, renewable energy sources are the most important determiner of each state’s unique position on our list. The landfill waste was also important because it enables us to estimate the amount of CH4 (methane, a powerful greenhouse gas) that gets released during the decomposition of this waste. The amount of waste generated per capita is also important, as it shows the level of consumer awareness – the less aware the consumers are, the more landfill waste they are likely to generate. 

Considering that recycling programs exist on state and local levels, quantifying them was difficult, so we only took into account the largest of these programs. After all, recycling programs are available throughout the state, but we may need to pay attention only to the states with a high percentage of waste that is recycled. The total score is then presented as a position on our list, from the highest to the lowest. 

Vermont

Vermont is ranked as one of the greenest states on US soil due to several factors. It has a low nonrenewable energy generation capacity, and a lot of its electricity comes from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and hydropower. It has set a goal that 90% of its energy generation will come from renewable sources by 2050 and is one of the first states to have ever achieved a higher-than-50% energy generation from renewable sources, predominantly hydropower. 

However, Vermont cannot produce all of its energy needs. It consumes more than three times the energy it produces. The energy it imports could easily be coming from non-renewable sources, so this is a big negative point for the state. On the other hand, the state has introduced various incentives to encourage its residents to transition to renewable energy. Efficiency Vermont, Burlington Electric Department, Vermin Gas, and many more are there to help the residents switch to renewable energy sources. 

New York

New York, on the other hand, is a state that has been gaining momentum in becoming more sustainable. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) has set the most ambitious climate change targets in the US. Under the Act, the state will reach 100% no-GHG emissions by 2050 and will produce 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2040. The estate has also introduced another piece of legislation that dictates 70% of electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2030. 

When it comes to waste reduction and municipal waste generation, the state has a really bad history. Just a few decades ago, the City of New York had just a single landfill – it was the river that flowed through the city itself. However, today, the state has put a ban on single-use plastic bags in March 2020. It has also introduced a goal of diverting 90% of municipal waste from landfills by 2040. Still, the state of New York still has some of the highest waste generation per capita rates in the country. The state’s relatively large population and industrial sector contribute to these challenges, but reducing landfill waste from sources like these takes a much more detailed and long-term approach. 

Hawaii

The state of Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and pristine nature, as well as very high energy prices. However, these are not the only reasons Hawaii is considered a green state. It has introduced an ambitious climate goal of going for 100% renewable energy in the grid by 2045. In 2020, Hawaii’s renewable energy generation rate was around 32% of its total energy generation. Very high energy prices (upwards of $0.3 per kWh) have also put pressure on the residents to install more solar panels and produce the energy needed by themselves. 

Hawaii also invests efforts into energy storage. They want to ensure they have access to solar energy year-round. The state has also implemented energy efficiency programs for buildings. Transportation and agriculture are not an exception here either, and electric vehicles are easy to purchase. The state also invests heavily in exploring new tech, such as hydrogen fuel cells, which could help further decarbonize the economy of the state. 

Maryland

In 2011, only 2% of Maryland’s electricity came from renewable sources. In 2019, this percentage rose to 11%, and is expected to keep rising, especially as the state of Maryland wants to increase its renewable energy generation rate further. The state has set a goal of using 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2045. 

The state has also introduced a number of solar incentives and other programs to encourage the residential sphere to make its share of investments as well. The state provides tax credits as well for renewable investments in both residential and commercial investments. Reducing its carbon footprint and sustainable transportation investment and development are also ways in which the state hopes to reach its goals. 

California

California is one of the green leaders in the US. The state has made 100% renewable electricity in the grid by 2045 one of its goals and is committed to it. 100% clean energy on its roads is also another goal that the state has set but has gone a step further as well, making it illegal to sell gas-powered cars and light-duty trucks by 2035. 

California has also taken steps to reduce transportation and public transportation emissions and is in the process of electrifying its public transportation fleet: both buses and trains. The state invests heavily in public transportation as well, making it cheaper and more accessible and allowing people to be less reliant on their cars. In addition to this, California has implemented various policies to reduce methane emissions from landfills and dairy farms. 

Massachusetts

Massachusetts is also ranked one of the greenest states. The state has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The state is a leader in renewable energy generation, particularly offshore wind energy. With a total renewable generation capacity reaching 3.2 gigawatts of wind energy capacity by 2035, the state is likely to stay on the list of green leaders n the US. 

In 2021 alone, the state approved an offshore wind energy project that is supposed to provide clean power to more than 400,000 California homes. In addition to this, Massachusetts has a solar energy program that provides incentives for both residents and businesses to install solar panels, in addition to the Federal ITC offered by the Federal government. 

Minnesota

Minnesota is known for its natural beauty, thousands of lakes, and untouched natural areas. It also ranks high in environmental sustainability, which makes it one of the greenest states in the country. It has a long history of care for the environment. 

The state has a strong commitment to renewable energy. It has set the goal of reaching 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2040 and has made significant progress toward that goal. Minnesota currently generates more than 25% of its electricity from solar arrays, wind turbines, and other renewable energy sources. It has robust energy efficiency programs that encourage both residents and businesses to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions. 

Connecticut

Connecticut is a small state in New England. Still, it is one of the leaders in the US in the transition to green energy projects. Connecticut has set a goal of reducing its carbon and other GHG emissions by 45% compared to 2001 levels by 2030. The state plans to do so by investing in renewable energy. Furthermore, it has a goal of generating 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. 

Another factor that makes Connecticut a very green state is its waste management. By 2024, the state plans to divert 60% of its waste from landfills. The same applies to incinerators, some of which are now in charge of producing electricity and heat from municipal waste (energy recovery). The state also has recycling programs that cover many common types of waste, including paper, plastic, and metal. It has a food recycling program as well, which encourages households to compost their food residue rather than throw it away into a landfill. Connecticut has also banned some materials from their landfills, such as electronics and tires. 

South Dakota

South Dakota is one of the greenest states in the US. It has a stable commitment to clean energy and is a highly sustainable state. It has made significant progress in recent years and has set ambitious sustainability goals. Currently, the state generates most of its electricity from wind and has one of the highest wind capacities in the country. It is also investing heavily in biofuels and other zero-carbon solutions. 

Maine

Maine also has a strong commitment to sustainability. One of the most ambitious goals the state has set is to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Maine has already implemented many policies that support the growth of clean energy, including the Renewable Portfolio Standard and New Energy Billing. 

The latter enables Maine residents to cover a portion of their energy use directly from their solar systems while the rest is sent to the grid. The state then enables this energy to be returned to households when the sun does not shine, effectively turning the grid into a solar battery for all Maine homeowners with a solar system installed. 

State% of Power Produced by Renewable EnergyCarbon Emissions per Capita (Mt)
Vermont81.90%0.99
New York6.50%7.9
Hawaii18.50%12.3
Maryland49%1
Caifornia52.20%0.95
Massachusetts15%9.2
Minnesota55.70%1.69
Connecticut2.60%9.3
South Dakota85%1.81
Maine58.70%1.14

The Least Green States in the US in 2024

The same factors that we used to determine the greenest states were the factors we used to determine the least green states. Renewables’ capacity, pollution levels, carbon emissions, environmental policies, and many more are the determining factors. A trend can be noticed in which the states with industries dependent on fossil fuels underperformed compared to those with service-centered economies. The data was drawn from the EPA website. 

West Virginia

West Virginia is a state that has been ranked as one of the least green states in the US. The state has a high dependence on coal-fired power plants, a lack of clean energy options, and poor air quality. The state scores low in most of these categories. 

Louisiana

Louisiana has high carbon emissions, low use of renewable energy, and high industrial activity. The state is a major producer of oil and natural gas, and many power plants rely on these fuels to generate electricity. The limited use of renewables in the state is another reason the state ranks so low – only 1.5% of its electricity is green or clean electricity. 

Mississippi

Mississippi is one of the least green states in the country. It has a low environmental quality index, low air, and water quality, as well as high energy consumption and poor waste management practices. The percentage of waste that gets evolved is also very low, and so is the percentage of green spaces. 

Alabama

Alabama has a low level of electricity derived from renewables, at 2.2%. It also has relatively weak energy efficiency policies and programs in place. This makes it hard for both residents and businesses to adopt efficient technologies and practices. The state also has a high level of energy consumption per capita, which, combined with a low share of renewables in the electricity mix, results in high carbon emissions. 

North Dakota

North Dakota, a state in the upper Midwest region of the US, has a fossil fuel-based industry and agriculture. It has some of the highest carbon footprints of all US states and is likely one of the biggest polluters with high carbon emissions. The state also has issues with switch waste management. 

Kentucky

Kentucky scores poorly in air quality and water quality. Coal mining and manufacturing industries are a big contributor to these worrisome statistics. Most of the electricity still comes from coal-fired power plants, which makes the state has a high carbon footprint. The state also has high GHG emissions, but Kentucky is slowly getting back on track by taking steps to improve its environmental performance. 

Wyoming

Wyoming is another state that scores low in green terms. The state has many parks, wilderness areas, and forests, but the issues of being heavily dependent on fossil fuels persist. The state relies too heavily on coal and oil for electricity production. Low investment in renewables is another reason the state performs poorly in the green category. 

Alaska

Although this may sound counterintuitive, Alaska also scores poorly in green terms. The state has a high energy consumption, the highest per capita consumption in the US. The state also has high GHG emissions due to its dependence on fossil fuels. Although it could be argued there are better states for solar, considering Alaska’s northernmost position, there are still ways to implement more wind into the grid and the highest-of-all-state waste generation. 

Oklahoma

Oklahoma, on the other hand, is a mixed story. The country has the capacity of a relatively high renewable, while at the same time, it scores low on almost all other factors that were taken into consideration. Water quality, air quality, and energy consumption per capita are all very low in the state, and the sheer fact that the state has just only begun with energy efficiency legislation and clean energy technology adaptation gives it a slow start. 

Texas

Texas is also on the list of the least green states. It has a high reliance on fossil fuels and is one of the largest exporters of oil and natural gas in the country. The state has a very high carbon footprint, about 10% of the country’s total. It also has a low share of renewables in its grid. 

State% of Power Produced by Renewable EnergyCarbon Emissions per Capita (Mt)
West Virginia3.40%49.9
Louisiana2.20%48.4
Mississippi2.70%22.5
Alabama2.70%22.2
North Dakota37.20%74.2
Kentucky0.70%25.4
Wyoming23.60%104.4
Alaska2.70%46.0
Oklahoma44.50%23.5
Texas26.60%24.9

Factors Considered to Determine the Greenest State

The factors we have discussed before in light detail are the factors that have been taken into account in determining how green a state is. Although different sources may contribute higher or lower significance to each of these, it is important to consider them as a whole, and we tried to keep them all in one place. With no further ado, let’s consider the factors. 

Green Energy Produced/Consumed

The energy use per capita is not a factor to consider. The total energy that is produced vs the total energy consumed is a better way to address the issue. Some countries rely too much on imported electricity or other energy sources. This is a money outlet that can be otherwise used to increase their renewable potential and offset some of their emissions. 

Carbon Emissions

Speaking of emissions, it is necessary to recognize that the systems used to determine carbon emissions can be flawed or unfair. Some more developed states have economies that revolve around services. Their decarbonization is much easier than decarbonization in states that process fossil fuels, for example, or are exporters of energy-intensive goods such as cement, steel, oil, coal, and natural gas. 

Solid Waste Generated

The waste/solid waste generated per capita is a big factor to consider. Lower waste generation rates usually mean that the legislature prevents overt packaging and that the consumers are aware enough to know how to choose products with less packaging. This should also mean that the waste generated will take up less space in landfills and will generate less methane and other GHG gasses during decomposition/incineration. 

Percentage of Waste Recycled/Composted

The percentage of waste that is recycled or composted is also a very important factor to consider. In this case, since recycling does not generate much revenue, it is clear that states can dedicate enough funds and efforts to secure a cleaner future and landfills that are not as full. In addition to this, recycling management also reduces methane release, enables more land to be recuperated, and enables green jobs to be formed in the economy. 

FAQs

Which State has Best Water Quality?

The state of Minnesota had the cleanest water in 2021. It is followed by New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and Kansas. The state of Minnesota’s water quality has been assessed according to EPA standards and regulations. 

What City in the US has the Most Nature?

Seattle, Washington, is surrounded by national parks. In addition to this, many forests surround the city, making it one of the greenest places in the US. The city is also a dream come true for many nature lovers. 

Which State has Most Sustainable Living Life?

Vermont, New York, Oregon, Minnesota, Connecticut, and California are the states with the most sustainable living conditions in the US. All these states offer a lot of options for living according to one’s preferences and choices and provide a considerable amount of green power as well. The state of Vermont is number one on the list, in particular, because of a good public transportation scheme. 

What State is the Least Polluted?

Vermont is the state with the lowest pollution levels. It is the first on the list of the least polluted places in particular because of the very low PM2.5 particle count, pristine nature, and many forests in the state borders. According to the American Lung Association, even Vermont cities are among the cleanest in the country. 

Conclusion

The greenest US states list demonstrates how investments into renewable energy solutions and recycling can help, to a large extent, offset carbon emissions and make net-zero goals a reality. In compiling the list, we recognize that some factors may be flawed and that it can be difficult to ensure fair treatment of all states due to reasons of industrial, societal, and cultural nature. Nevertheless, the list is a good indicator of what should be focused on if the US, as a country, is to achieve its net-zero goals by 2050. 

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