From incentives including talent and customer acquisition, to long-term viability, around 90% of startups now consider sustainability in their practices. But don’t be fooled, this doesn’t mean that every startup is genuinely meeting any of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

As a sustainable startup and B-corp, we are members of a global community of businesses and innovators who are genuinely doing their bit to make the world a cleaner, greener place.

To celebrate and delve deeper into this complex network of green game-changers, we have created a tool which ranks and compares European countries’ based on their green innovation. We consider which countries have the most green startups, are registering the most green technology patents and investing the most money into green businesses, to celebrate and recognise the achievements of European innovators and leaders.

Overall Winners

We didn’t award the title of top Green Innovator lightly. To find the overall winner, we considered three key indicators. First, the startup score (both the outright number of green startups, and the percentage of all startups which are green). Next, the green tech score (the number of issued green technology patents, and percentage of all technology patents which are green). Finally, we considered the funding score (how much funding green startups have, and the five-year increase) and crunched the numbers.

Topping the list for four of six factors, and ranking as overall winner, is Germany. Germany has 364 listed green startups—more than anybody else, with a particular incentive in affordable and clean energy and climate action startups. Examples include Berlin-based carbon-tracker app Klima, and the largest sustainable energy community in the world sonnen

In 2nd position, with the most investment in green funding and growth in investment over the five years, is Sweden. Over the past five years, €7,625,000,000 has been injected into Swedish sustainable startups, more than any other European nation.

Performing equally well, the Netherlands and France complete the top three. The Netherlands has one of the highest volume of green startups, and France scored highly for the number of issued green technology patents, with 1,445 listed over the last three years.

Top 10 European Countries in the Green Innovation Index

Green Startups Score

The average number of green startups listed with sustainable development goals in the study was 67. But which countries are the green unicorn hubs?

As mentioned, Germany is churning out more green startups than any European nation. It has the most startups which meet four of the six climate orientated UN sustainable development goals. 

But not far behind Germany’s 364 startups is the Netherlands, with 336 listed corporations. The Netherlands has an equal number to Germany of sustainable cities and communities startups, and the most zero hunger startups and startups tackling responsible consumption and production. Even Dutch royalty is taking part, as His Royal Highness Prince Constantijn van Oranje has made it his mission to promote the Netherland’s green ‘unicorns’ internationally. 

Completing the top three in this category is Denmark. Denmark has 210 listed green startups, including the 2nd most sustainable cities and communities startups and the 2nd most responsible consumption and production startups. 

However, not to overlook the achievements of smaller countries, we also considered the percentage of all startups in each country which are green. On average, the study found that nearly one in ten startups meets one or several of the sustainable development goals. 

But this score is dramatically higher for some nations. The UK ranked top with more than half (55%) of all registered startups contributing to sustainable development goals. Norway ranked second, with 43% and Denmark third with 20%.

Winners by green development sustainable goal

Green Tech Patents Score 

Green patents are any patents for new technology which reduces human impacts on the natural environment. According to the most recently released patent data, in 2019, on average, each nation had secured 355 green tech patents. 

Germany had registered an impressive 3,995 green technology patents — miles ahead of France, which placed second with 1,445. The UK came third with 1,066 listed patents. 

But proportionally, by considering the total of all technology patents issued in each country which are green, Denmark is steaming ahead in the green tech race. Around 21% of all technology patents in the country are ‘green’, ahead of Austria (14%) and Norway (14%) all considerably higher than the study average of 10%.

Funding score 

We assessed the amount of funding from a variety of sources (including pre-seed, seed, series A, Series B and Series C funding) to see which countries are injecting the most money into green innovation. On average, a country in the study recorded nearly €1.3 billion euros worth of investment since 2018. 

Since 2017, Sweden has had the most funding, with a staggering total of €7,625,000,000. Germany was not far behind with €7,286,000,000 and France came third with €5,311,000,000.

The ranking remains the same when considering the five-year change in annual green startup funding, with Sweden investing €4,271,000,000 more than in 2017, Germany €3,670,000,000 more, and France €1,678,000,000 more.

Within the next two decades, the earth’s temperature is set to rise by 1.5 degrees celsius, the world’s sea-level is expected to have risen six inches and there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. 

In this race against time, the world needs as many entrepreneurs and innovators to step up to the plate to enact change before it’s too late. But don’t forget, startups would be nowhere without consumers. We hope this study encourages you to learn more about this thriving economy, and to support small and growing sustainable businesses and initiatives - like us!