The Good Country Index placed the UK above France and Germany because Britain does more “good” and less harm than more than 150 countries around the world.
Using 35 separate indicators – sourced from the United Nations, World Bank and other international organisations – the survey examined the good each country does for humanity as well as what it takes away.
Britain came top of the index for its global contribution to science and technology, thanks to the high number of journal exports, Nobel prizes and international publications that the country has produced.
But it slipped behind Sweden – which came first overall – as well as Denmark and the Netherlands.
The UK scored poorly on international security and peace, coming 64th out of 163 countries, yet was ranked second on its global contribution to health and wellbeing.
Libya came last in the table.
Simon Anholt, the creator of the Good Country Index, said that while countries must serve the interests of its own people, that should not be at the expense of other populations.
“This is the new law of human survival, and it’s a balance which is far more easily maintained than many people imagine. Working together makes for better policy than working alone.
“Most of our problems are rapidly and dangerously multiplying because of globalisation.”
He said: “We need our governments to understand that they’re not just responsible for their own voters and taxpayers, but for every living thing on the planet.
“They must collaborate and cooperate more, not less; the UK, for example, isn’t just an island unconnected to the rest of Europe or to the rest of the world. Just like every other country on Earth, it is part of one system. If it fails, we all fail.”
Mr Anholt added that the performance of smaller countries in the index was more “volatile” because events in those countries have a bigger impact.
“This partly explains why Ireland, Kenya, Iceland and Costa Rica have experienced significant drops in ranking,” he said.