The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact that was introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in July 2006. The index is weighted to give progressively higher scores to nations with lower ecological footprints.
The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI), which are seen as not taking sustainability into account. In particular, GDP is seen as inappropriate, as the usual ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy. Furthermore, it is believed that the notion of sustainable development requires a measure of the environmental costs of pursuing those goals.
Out of the 178 countries surveyed in 2006, the best scoring countries were Vanuatu, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, and Panama. In 2009, Costa Rica was the best scoring country among the 143 analyzed, followed by the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala and Vietnam. Tanzania, Botswana and Zimbabwe were featured at the bottom of the list.
For the 2012 ranking, 151 countries were compared, and the best scoring country for the second time in a row was Costa Rica, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Belize and El Salvador. The lowest ranking countries in 2012 were Botswana, Chad and Qatar. In 2016, out of 140 countries, Costa Rica topped the index for the third time in a row. It was followed by Mexico, Colombia, Vanuatu and Vietnam. At the bottom were Chad, Luxembourg and Togo.
The HPI is based on general utilitarian principles – that most people want to live long and fulfilling lives, and the country which is doing the best is the one that allows its citizens to do so, whilst avoiding infringing on the opportunity of future people and people in other countries to do the same. In effect it operationalises the IUCN's (World Conservation Union) call for a metric capable of measuring 'the production of human well-being (not necessarily material goods) per unit of extraction of or imposition upon nature'. The IUCN is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources. And everything else remains the same. It measures what matters, a sustainable well being for all.
Human well-being is conceptualized as happy life expectancy. Extraction of or imposition upon nature is evaluated by using the ecological footprint per capita, which attempts to estimate the amount of natural resources required to sustain a given country's lifestyle. A country with a large per capita ecological footprint uses more than its fair share of resources, both by drawing resources from other countries, and also by causing permanent damage to the planet which will affect future generations.
As such, the HPI is not a measure of which are the happiest countries in the world. Countries with relatively high levels of life satisfaction, as measured in surveys, are found from the very top (Colombia in 3rd place) to the very bottom (the US in 108th place) of the rank order. The HPI is best conceived as a measure of the environmental efficiency of supporting well-being in a given country. Such efficiency could emerge in a country with a medium environmental impact (e.g. Costa Rica) and very high well-being, but it could also emerge in a country with only mediocre well-being, but very minimal environmental impact (e.g. Vietnam).
Each country's HPI value is a function of its average subjective life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth, and ecological footprint per capita. The exact function is a little more complex, but conceptually it approximates multiplying life satisfaction and life expectancy, and dividing that by the ecological footprint.
Much criticism of the index has been due to commentators incorrectly understanding it to be a measure of personal happiness, when it is in fact a measure of the "happiness" of the planet. In other words, it is a measure of the ecological efficiency of supporting well-being.
Aside from that, criticism has focused on the following:
The index has been criticised for weighting the carbon footprint too heavily, to the point that the US would have had to be universally happy and would have had to have a life expectancy of 439 years to equal Vanuatu's score in the 2006 index.
Nevertheless, the HPI and its components have been considered in political circles. The ecological footprint, championed by the WWF, is widely used by both local and national governments, as well as supranational organisations such as the European Commission. The HPI itself was cited in 2007, in the British Conservative Party as a possible substitute for GDP. A 2007 review of progress indicators produced by the European Parliament lists the following pros and cons to using the HPI as a measure of national progress:
For the 2012 ranking, 151 countries were compared and nine out of the ten top countries were located in the Caribbean Basin, despite high levels of poverty. The ranking was led by Costa Rica for the second time in a row, with its lead considered to be due to its very high life expectancy which is second highest in the Americas, and higher than the US. Citizens of Costa Rica were found to experience well-being higher than many richer nations and the country had a per capita footprint one third the size of the US. The second happiest country was Vietnam. Among the top 40 countries by overall HPI score, only four countries have a GDP per capita of over US$15,000. The highest ranking OECD country is Israel in 15th place, and the top Western European nation is Norway in 29th place, just behind New Zealand in 28th. Among the top five world's biggest economies in terms of GDP, Japan has the highest ranking in 45th place, followed by Germany in 46th, France is placed 50th, China 60, and the US is ranked 105, mainly due to its very high environmental footprint, the seventh highest of all countries rated for the 2012 index.