Canada is the seventh-most socially advanced nation in the world and leads G8 countries in terms of social and environmental progress, a new global ranking shows.

The “social progress index” was created by a team led by Harvard University professor Michael Porter, and aims to be a complement to traditional economic measures such as GDP in assessing how countries are faring. It shows a mixed performance for Canada, which earned high grades for access to advanced education but poor ones for environmental sustainability.

New Zealand sits at the top of this year’s 132-country list. It’s followed by Switzerland, the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway. The U.S. lies in a distant 16th position.

Canada stood in fourth place last year, though changes in methodology and an expanded country list mean this year’s rankings shouldn’t be directly compared to 2013. The index was produced by the U.S.-based non-profit, the Social Progress Imperative, and released at the Skoll World Forum.

This isn’t the only measure that aims to track quality of life. The United Nations produces the annual human development index, while some surveys and studies track happiness and life satisfaction. The social progress indicator differs from the UN’s measure because it includes environmental and personal rights indicators, nor does it purport to track happiness.

While these measures have faced criticism for being subjective, the idea of a broader approach of tracking well-being is garnering interest in countries from the U.K. to South Korea. Last summer, Paraguay became the world’s first country to officially adopt the social progress index as a metric of national performance.

Here are some details on how Canada fares:

7th: Overall ranking in terms of social and environmental progress.

1st: Among G8 countries.

1st: Low homicide rates.

2nd: Access to advanced education.

2nd: Tolerance and inclusion, with the highest degree of religious tolerance and tolerance for immigrants in the world.

3rd: Number of high-quality universities.

51st: Ecosystem sustainability.

99th: Mobile subscriptions.

100th: Obesity.

The index also track measures such as life expectancy, literacy and freedom of personal choice.

It is “our hope that just as GDP per capita is the de facto measure of economic success, so too will the social progress index become a widely accepted measure of social and environmental success,” Mr. Porter said in a release.

The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 03 2014, 5:35 AM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Apr. 03 2014, 5:51 AM EDT