Homeowners relocate for various reasons, like finding better job opportunities, being closer to family, or achieving greater comfort. While less common, some homeowners relocate for environmental reasons like air, soil, and water quality or state policies related to solar power. Up-to-date information on environmentally friendly states can be challenging to find, so to aid homeowners, we’ve compiled this list of the greenest states in the U.S.
The Criteria for a Green State
“Eco-friendliness” or “greenness” are broad terms with no strictly defined criteria. But, some agencies have established several key factors for determining a state’s general greenness, including:
- Air quality
- Soil quality
- Water quality
- State policies
- Eco-friendly initiatives
- Eco-friendly activities like the use of renewable energy
Using metrics like these, several studies have come out in the last few years and have helped establish a loose ranking of green states. Two of the most well-researched pieces include those from WalletHub and Consumer Affairs. These studies were our primary sources of information for this article. We also utilized independent data from various environmental agencies, such as the Solar Energy Industries Association and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
What Are the Greenest States in the U.S.?
The Greenest States By Policy
Vermont boasts some of the most impressive environmental achievements in the entire country. It has some of the most aggressive environmental policies, including the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, which aims to increase the state’s renewable energy consumption by 90% by 2050. Vermont lives up to these lofty expectations and has the largest in-state net electricity generation from renewable energy sources. Almost 100% of its electricity came from renewable energy in 2020, with 47% from hydroelectric power, 15% from wind, 14% from solar, and 17% from biomass recycling.
Oregon, alongside Vermont, is one of the powerhouses of renewable energy in the United States. Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard requires the state to obtain 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2040, which it is on its way to achieving. As of 2020, 68% of Oregon’s in-state electricity came from renewable energy sources, with hydroelectric power leading the pack at over 50%. Oregon also has several incentive programs encouraging residents to go green, namely its Oregon Solar + Storage Rebate Program.
Washington ranks highly due to its total production of renewable energy and impressive eco-friendly policies. Washington currently aims for a 95% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2050 with its Climate Commitment Act. This act sets emission limits, creates incentive programs, and funds investment in renewable energy technology. Under this program, in 2020, Washington had 90% of its electricity come from renewable energy sources, the chief of which was hydroelectric power at 66%. Washington also has numerous state incentive programs, including the Zero-Emission Vehicle Grant and Washington State Production Incentive Program.
New York is one of the most environmentally active states in the Northeastern portion of the U.S. Nuclear, wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources account for over 60% of New York’s in-state electricity. Unfortunately, the remaining 40% comes from fossil fuels, namely natural gas, as New York has phased out coal power completely. Its long-term goals are achieving 100% clean electricity for city government operations by 2025 and 100% for the entire city by 2040.
Even with lower-than-average renewable energy numbers, New York is impressive due to its low gas consumption and energy use per capita. New York has the lowest gasoline consumption rate in the nation and is ranked No. 3 for lowest energy consumption per capita. These impressive numbers are due to New York’s robust electric rail and public transportation system.
Finding California’s proper place on this list was challenging. On the one hand, it’s one of the country’s top renewable energy producers, ranking as the fourth largest energy-producing state in the U.S. California’s energy production accounted for 5% of the entire U.S.’s utility-scale electricity net generation in 2021. California is also the leading state in solar power, with over 28,000 megawatts of solar capacity in 2021, producing 32% of the nation’s total solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation. But, even with these impressive numbers, only 59% of California’s power comes from renewables. The rest of California comes from fossil fuels, with natural gas-powered plants holding the majority. This discrepancy is because California’s size, population density, lower energy efficiency, and its industry’s energy consumption far outweigh the clean power it produces.
California has some of the strongest incentive programs, especially in the solar industry, and is continuously a leader in environmental policy. However, it’s seriously lacking in other environmental factors, most notably air pollution. It has one of the lowest air quality ratings and was ranked the worst state for air pollution in 2021.
Greenest States by Air Quality
For this section, we used data provided by WalletHub, and information gathered from America’s Health Rankings platform. The following states are ranked by their air pollutant score, a metric that measures the total fine pollutant particles (in micrograms) per cubic meter of air.
|Rank||State||2021 Air Pollutant Score|
Greenest States by Soil Quality
If you’re a gardener, you may want to consider some of the following states, as they have the healthiest soils in the entire nation. WalletHub found these results by comparing the median pH of each state to optimal soil pH.
|5||Tie between New York and South Dakota|
Greenest States by Water Quality
Good quality water affects almost every aspect of our home lives. Tasks like brushing our teeth, taking showers, and cleaning dishes become more difficult if we have bad quality water. Thankfully, each of the following states ranks the best for overall water quality in the U.S.
Greenest States by Solar Power
Solar power is a rapidly growing green energy with high sustainability that many states have begun incentivizing. These incentive programs often take the form of cash rebates, tax reductions, or the ability to resell your excess electricity to utility companies (a process called net metering). If you’re interested in lowering your home’s carbon dioxide emissions by installing at-home solar panels, you can consider states that prioritize and fund solar power.
We used information from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) for this list. Each state is ranked by the combined total score of its solar power capacity (measured in megawatts) and the equivalent number of homes powered by this electricity.
|Rank||State||Solar Power in Megawatts||Homes Powered|
Unfortunately, not every state places environmental protections at the top of its to-do list. To help you avoid moving to a less than environmentally friendly location, here is a quick list of the least green states in the U.S:
- West Virginia
- North Dakota
Worst for Air Quality
Worst for Water Quality
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
Worst for Soil Quality
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
Worst for Solar Power
- North & South Dakota
- West Virginia
It can be difficult to pin down one exact metric for a state’s climate change contributions. You can judge a state’s environmental quality by many metrics, like LEED-certified buildings or air, soil, and water quality levels. But, we find the most important factors to be renewable energy programs, pollution levels, eco-friendly behaviors, and environmental protection policies. Overall, any of the states mentioned above are an excellent choice for any homeowner looking to move to a green state.