Where Are the World’s Most Sustainable Companies?
Everywhere you look, sustainability is permeating social, political, and business agendas.
In recent years, an impressive number of companies have stepped up to take a more active role in shaping a more sustainable future—not just in the environmental sense, but also by taking social and governance factors into consideration.
Today’s chart draws from the Corporate Knights Global 100, an annual ranking of the 100 most sustainable companies, to visualize exactly how many are located in each corner of the world. The companies on the list are clear winners not only because they aim to leave the world a better place, but because their stocks have also outperformed the market on average.
How is Corporate Sustainability Measured?
The researchers rely on readily available data for all publicly-listed companies with at least $1 billion in gross revenue (in PPP), as of the financial year 2018.
Companies are then screened for several key performance indicators (KPIs), including but not limited to the following categories and examples:
- Resource management
Example: GHGs and other emissions such as NOx and SOx emissions
- Financial management
Example: Innovation capacity, or the percentage of R&D spending against total revenue
- Employee management
Example: Women in executive management and/or on boards
- Clean revenue
Example: The percentage of total revenue derived from “clean” products and services
The concentration of the most sustainable companies also varies greatly depending on where you look. Here’s a closer view of every region.
Europe: 49/100 Sustainable Companies
Europe is front-and-center in the tidal shift towards more sustainable business, driven by far-reaching regulations. With this in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising to see that Europe is a hotbed of activity.
Nearly half the world’s most sustainable companies are located in Europe. France paves the way with nine sustainable companies in the ranking, followed by Finland with six companies of 100.
|#1||Ørsted A/S||Wholesale Power||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|#2||Chr. Hansen Holding A/S||Food and other chemical agents||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|#3||Neste Oyj||Petroleum Refineries||🇫🇮 Finland|
|#6||Novozymes A/S||Specialty and Performance Chemicals||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|#7||ING Groep NV||Banks||🇳🇱 Netherlands|
|#8||Enel SpA||Wholesale Power||🇮🇹 Italy|
|#11||Osram Licht AG||Electrical Equipment and Power Systems||🇩🇪 Germany|
|#13||Storebrand ASA||Insurance||🇳🇴 Norway|
|#14||Umicore SA||Primary Metals Products||🇧🇪 Belgium|
|#17||Iberdrola SA||Wholesale Power||🇪🇸 Spain|
|#18||Outotec Oyj||Machinery Manufacturing||🇫🇮 Finland|
|#20||Accenture PLC||Technology Consulting Services||🇮🇪 Ireland|
|#21||Dassault Systemes SE||Software||🇫🇷 France|
|#23||Kering SA||Apparel and Accessory Products||🇫🇷 France|
|#24||UPM-Kymmene Oyj||Forestry and Paper Products||🇫🇮 Finland|
|#27||H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB||Apparel and Accessories Retail||🇸🇪 Sweden|
|#28||Sanofi SA||Biopharmaceuticals||🇫🇷 France|
|#29||Schneider Electric SE||Industrial Conglomerates||🇫🇷 France|
|#31||BNP Paribas SA||Banks||🇫🇷 France|
|#32||Kone Oyj||Machinery Manufacturing||🇫🇮 Finland|
|#33||Verbund AG||Wholesale Power||🇦🇹 Austria|
|#34||Valeo SA||Consumer Vehicles and Parts||🇫🇷 France|
|#35||ERG S.p.A.||Wholesale Power||🇮🇹 Italy|
|#37||Vestas Wind Systems A/S||Electrical Equipment and Power Systems||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|#38||bioMérieux||Diagnostics and Drug Delivery Devices||🇫🇷 France|
|#39||Intesa Sanpaolo SpA||Banks||🇮🇹 Italy|
|#40||Koninklijke KPN NV||Wireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services||🇳🇱 Netherlands|
|#41||Siemens AG||Industrial Conglomerates||🇩🇪 Germany|
|#45||Koninklijke DSM NV||Food and other chemical agents||🇳🇱 Netherlands|
|#46||Unilever PLC||Personal Care and Cleaning Products||🇬🇧 UK|
|#52||Ericsson||Communications Equipment||🇸🇪 Sweden|
|#55||Adidas AG||Apparel and Accessory Products||🇩🇪 Germany|
|#56||AstraZeneca PLC||Biopharmaceuticals||🇬🇧 UK|
|#59||Commerzbank AG||Banks||🇩🇪 Germany|
|#61||Abb Ltd||Industrial Conglomerates||🇨🇭 Switzerland|
|#64||Pearson PLC||Personal Professional Services||🇬🇧 UK|
|#65||BT Group PLC||Wireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services||🇬🇧 UK|
|#66||Metso Oyj||Machinery Manufacturing||🇫🇮 Finland|
|#69||Assicurazioni Generali SpA||Insurance||🇮🇹 Italy|
|#70||Acciona SA||Facilities and Construction Services||🇪🇸 Spain|
|#71||Novo Nordisk A/S||Biopharmaceuticals||🇩🇰 Denmark|
|#73||Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB||Banks||🇸🇪 Sweden|
|#76||Ucb S.A.||Biopharmaceuticals||🇧🇪 Belgium|
|#79||GlaxoSmithKline PLC||Biopharmaceuticals||🇬🇧 UK|
|#87||BASF SE||Specialty and Performance Chemicals||🇩🇪 Germany|
|#94||Industria de Diseno Textil SA||Apparel and Accessories Retail||🇪🇸 Spain|
|#98||L'Oreal SA||Personal Care and Cleaning Products||🇫🇷 France|
|#99||Kesko Corporation||Food and Beverage Retail||🇫🇮 Finland|
|#100||Amundi SA||Investment Services||🇫🇷 France|
Denmark’s Ørsted A/S claims the top of the leaderboard in 2020. Within a decade, the company has completely transformed its business model—shifting away from the Danish Oil and Natural Gas (DONG) company into a pure play renewable energy company. The company recognized the importance of this transition:
Running the company just for profit doesn’t make sense, but running it just for a bigger purpose is also not sustainable in the long term. Doing good and doing well must go together.
—Henrik Poulsen, CEO
Just 10 years ago, DONG was 85%-fossil fuel based, and only 15%-renewables based. Today, Ørsted has flipped these proportions. The company attributes its dramatic transformation to the societal demand for green energy, and aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
North America: 29/100 Sustainable Companies
In this region, the U.S. alone is responsible for 17 of the top 100 sustainable companies in the world. What’s more, of the 28 new companies to the 2020 Ranking, Canada is the homebase for nine of these entrants.
|#4||Cisco Systems Inc||Communications Equipment||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#5||Autodesk Inc||Software||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#10||Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp||Electric Utilities||🇨🇦 CA|
|#15||Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co||Computer Hardware||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#16||American Water||Water Utilities||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#22||McCormick & Company||Food and Beverage Production||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#26||Prologis Inc||Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#44||Bombardier Inc||Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing||🇨🇦 CA|
|#47||Sims Metal Management Ltd||Primary Metals Products||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#48||Bank of Montreal||Banks||🇨🇦 CA|
|#49||Cascades Inc||Containers and Packaging||🇨🇦 CA|
|#53||Danaher Corporation||Medical Devices||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#54||Canadian National Railway Co||Cargo Transportation and Infrastructure Services||🇨🇦 CA|
|#57||Stantec Inc||Facilities and Construction Services||🇨🇦 CA|
|#58||HP Inc||Computer Peripherals and Systems||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#60||Sun Life Financial Inc||Insurance||🇨🇦 CA|
|#62||Alphabet Inc||Internet and Data Services||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#67||Comerica Incorporated||Banks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#74||Tesla Inc||Consumer Vehicles and Parts||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#77||Workday Inc||Software||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#78||Merck & Co Inc||Biopharmaceuticals||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#81||Intel Corporation||Semiconductor Manufacturing||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#82||Analog Devices Inc||Semiconductor Manufacturing||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#83||IGM Financial Inc||Investment Services||🇨🇦 CA|
|#84||Canadian Solar Inc||Electrical Equipment and Power Systems||🇨🇦 CA|
|#88||Cogeco Communications Inc||Wireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services||🇨🇦 CA|
|#91||Teck Resources Ltd.||Metal Ore Mining||🇨🇦 CA|
|#93||Campbell Soup||Food and Beverage Production||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#96||Telus Corp.||Wireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services||🇨🇦 CA|
Cisco Systems comes in fourth worldwide, partly as a result of its clean revenues worth a stunning $25 billion. Not far behind is Autodesk, which rose an impressive 43 places since 2019. The main factor behind this leap? The software corporation now operates its cloud platforms using 99% renewable energy.
Asia: 16/100 Sustainable Companies
Over in Asia, Japan is a clear leader, boasting six sustainable companies in the list. Interestingly, the companies are from a wide range of industries, from computers (Panasonic) to cars (Toyota).
|#12||Sekisui Chemicals||Other Materials||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#25||Taiwan Semiconductor||Semiconductor Equipment and Services||🇹🇼 Taiwan|
|#36||City Developments Ltd||Real Estate Investment and Services||🇸🇬 Singapore|
|#43||Shinhan Financial Group||Banks||🇰🇷 South Korea|
|#50||Advantech||Computer Hardware||🇹🇼 Taiwan|
|#63||Capitaland Limited||Real Estate Investment and Services||🇸🇬 Singapore|
|#68||Takeda Pharmaceutical||Biopharmaceuticals||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#72||Konica Minolta||Computer Peripherals and Systems||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#80||Samsung||Electrical Equipment and Power Systems||🇰🇷 South Korea|
|#85||BYD Co.||Consumer Vehicles and Parts||🇨🇳 China|
|#86||Kao Corp.||Personal Care and Cleaning Products||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#89||Panasonic Corp.||Computer Hardware||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#90||Vitasoy||Food and Beverage Production||🇭🇰 Hong Kong|
|#92||Toyota Motor Corp.||Consumer Vehicles and Parts||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#95||Singtel||Wireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services||🇸🇬 Singapore|
|#97||Lenovo Group||Computer Peripherals and Systems||🇨🇳 China|
Japanese plastics manufacturer Sekisui Chemicals comes in first in Asia, after an immense improvement of 77 positions in just one year. The company builds environmentally-friendly housing, and 28% of its revenue aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Rest of the World: 6/100 Sustainable Companies
There are a few notable mentions in other regions, too. Brazil’s Banco do Brasil remains in the top ten list, and is one of the three most sustainable companies in all of South America.
|#9||Banco do Brasil SA||Banks||🇧🇷 Brazil|
|#19||CEMIG||Electric Utilities||🇧🇷 Brazil|
|#30||Natura Cosmeticos SA||Personal Care and Cleaning Products||🇧🇷 Brazil|
|#42||National Australia Bank Ltd||Banks||🇦🇺 Australia|
|#51||Standard Bank Group Ltd||Banks||🇿🇦 South Africa|
|#75||Westpac Banking Corp||Banks||🇦🇺 Australia|
More than half of the companies in these remaining regions are banks. Incidentally, financial services are the biggest group in the Global 100 overall.
The Best of Both Worlds
As it turns out, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Altogether, the Global 100 most sustainable companies have consistently outperformed*, and outlasted the average company in the MSCI ACWI (All Country World Index):
|Average Company Age||83 years||49 years|
*Between 2005-Dec. 31 2019
Corporate sustainability is a significant driving force for urgent climate action, and the sustainable companies on this list acknowledge the triple bottom line of not just making profit, but also creating a lasting impact on people and the planet.
UN Sustainable Development Goals: How Companies Stack Up
Are companies making progress in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals? This tracker shows how companies are measuring up.
The UN SDGs: How Companies Stack Up
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing witnessed a breakthrough year in 2020 with the most fund inflows on record.
Importantly, for companies that are judged according to ESG metrics, one way to track their progress is through their alignment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Established in 2012, the UN SDGs are a blueprint for creating a more sustainable future by 2030 that have been adopted by 193 countries worldwide.
As investors and stakeholders pay closer attention to sustainability concerns, this graphic from MSCI breaks down how companies stack up according to their alignment to the UN SDGs.
How Were Companies Measured?
To track companies net contribution to the UN SDGs, companies were scored by their positive or negative contribution to each of the 17 goals.
The 17 UN SDGs are designed to achieve three primary objectives by 2030:
- Protect the planet
- End poverty
- Create prosperity and peace for all
Specifically, the framework centers on a discussion paper that was developed in partnership with the OECD in 2018. Company policies, operations, products and services, and practices are analyzed according to reported and publicly available information.
Tracking the Alignment of Companies
Across a universe of 8,550 companies in the MSCI All Country World Index, constituents were measured from strongly aligned to strongly misaligned to the UN SDGs.
|3||Good Health and Well-being||0||315||141||29|
|6||Clean Water and Sanitation||17||325||36||10|
|7||Affordable and Clean Energy||43||639||109||587|
|8||Decent Work and Economic Growth||25||1269||52||17|
|9||Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure||68||844||137||9|
|11||Sustainable Cities and Communities||0||0||167||19|
|12||Responsible Consumption and Production||115||855||150||598|
|14||Life Below Water||0||36||151||92|
|15||Life on Land||0||0||128||17|
|16||Peace and Justice Strong Institutions||0||135||241||27|
|17||Partnerships to Achieve the Goal||0||401||152||22|
Source: MSCI ESG Research LLC as of August 11, 2020
Broadly speaking, companies fell mostly in the middle—roughly 38% were aligned while almost 55% were misaligned or neutral. Meanwhile, just 0.2% of companies were strongly aligned to the UN SDGs.
Overall, one of the most strongly aligned goals was Responsible Production and Consumption, with 115 companies meeting this criteria. Specifically, these include companies that are building sustainable infrastructure, energy efficiency, or creating green jobs.
Interestingly, the worst performing goal was also Responsible Production and Consumption, with over five times as many companies (598) strongly misaligned. Along with this goal, both Climate Action and Affordable and Clean Energy each had over 500 companies strongly misaligned.
UN SDGs: A Sector Focus
Unsurprisingly, SDG-alignment varied widely according to company sectors.
Educational companies, for instance, represented the highest level of alignment to Gender Equality. Meanwhile, 18% of 425 utilities companies assessed ended up aligning with Clean and Affordable Energy goals.
As one would expect, the energy sector lagged behind. In 2020, fossil fuels were a key source of revenue for 91% of the companies in the energy business. In fact, just three companies derived over 50% of their revenues from green alternatives: REX American Resources, Renewable Energy Group, and Verbio.
A Call to Action?
Despite the growing wave of interest in ESG investing, the reality is that progress to meet the UN SDGs has been slower going than expected.
However, a greater number of individuals, stakeholders, and activists are sounding the alarm. Today, over 3,000 signatories representing trillions in assets under management have committed to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment, which has established six key actions for ESG investing. Now, many companies are required to report their ESG disclosures in Europe.
Along with these key markers of progress, investors can move the dial by tracking a company’s alignment to sustainable development goals.
Mapped: The Greenest Countries in the World
The world’s growing focus on sustainability is a clear sign of the times. This map ranks the 40 greenest countries in the world.
Mapped: The Greenest Countries in the World
From widening wealth disparity to the environmental ramifications of economic development—the growing focus on global sustainability is a clear sign of the times.
Research reveals that when a sustainable ethos is applied to policy and business, it typically bodes well for economies and people alike. By providing benchmarks for those decisions, indexes like Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) can be critical to measuring national sustainability efforts.
The above map interprets the EPI ranking of 180 economies across 32 environmental health indicators by narrowing in on the top 40 greenest countries.
Who’s the Greenest of them All?
Despite the decades-long trend of globalization, national environmental policies have proved to be widely divergent. The EPI report confirms that those policies—and their positive results—are highly correlated with national wealth.
This is evidenced in the global EPI distributions, seen below:
|OVERALL RANK||COUNTRY||SCORE||REGIONAL RANK|
|24||United States of America||69.3||21|
|42||United Arab Emirates||55.6||2|
|63||Antigua and Barbuda||48.5||10|
|65||St. Vincent and Grenadines||48.4||11|
|69||Trinidad and Tobago||47.5||14|
|78||Bosnia and Herzegovina||45.4||18|
|119||São Tomé and Príncipe||37.6||10|
|124||Central African Republic||36.9||12|
|125||Dem. Rep. Congo||36.4||13|
|146||Papua New Guinea||32.4||20|
|154||Republic of Congo||30.8||26|
Regional grouping in the report include: Global West, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Former Soviet States, Greater Middle East, Latin America & Caribbean, Southern Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa
Scandinavian countries, which tend to have a high GDP per capita, show strong and consistent results across EPI parameters. Denmark for instance—which ranks first overall—leads the world in slowing its growth in CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, neighbor Sweden leads in landfill and recycling treatment, while wastewater treatment is led by a handful of countries within and beyond Scandinavia including Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Sweden.
In North America, Canada claims top spot in the biodiversity and habitat category, while the U.S. ranks sixth in agricultural diversity globally. In Asia, Singapore leads the world in fishery health and sustainability.
Ultimately, it appears the world’s greenest countries tend to focus on all areas of sustainability, while laggard countries show more uneven performance across categories.
What Does “Green” Mean?
Each high-level performance indicator with the EPI, like “environmental health”, is broken into subsections. Nations are scored on each subsector on a scale up to 100. As a result, multiple countries can rank first in any given category.
By evaluating national sustainability on a scale that is unrelated to other nations, we get a clearer idea of comparative national progress, beyond a basic ranking.
For instance, 30 countries tie for first in marine protection, all with scores of 100. This shows that many economies are prioritizing this area of sustainability.
The EPI categories and subsectors are shown in the diagram below:
Each section is weighted differently, and is reflected as a percentage within the index. For example, Ecosystem Vitality accounts for 60% of the EPI, Climate Change makes up 24% of a country’s score, and CO2 emission reduction is weighted at 13.2%.
The Cost of Being Green
Infrastructure costs are one reason why wealthier nations tend to fare better across sustainability measures. Everything from air pollution reduction and water treatment, to hazardous waste control and mitigation of public health crises are especially expensive—but have a huge potential impact on citizens.
This trend can be seen the scatterplot, which demonstrates the distribution of economies evaluated by the EPI:
For a more detailed look, the table below highlights the GDP per capita of each of the top 40 greenest countries, based on data from the World Bank and Statista:
|COUNTRY||EPI SCORE||GDP Per Capita||RANK|
|United States of America||69.3||65,298||24|
Despite the strong correlation between GDP per capita and EPI score, developing countries do not have to abandon sustainability efforts. China for instance leads the world in the adoption of electric vehicle technology.
Although some rankings can seem prosaic, indexes like the EPI provide a helpful benchmark for economies to compare efforts. It also allows governments to iterate and build upon environmental strategies and investments by highlighting what is and isn’t working.
CO2 emissions, for instance, are a major driver of climate change. Although the global economic stall has led to a temporary dip of CO2 emissions in early 2020 (a slower growth rate than the 11% expected rise), global emissions still continue.
However, the EPI shows that investments have impact. High-level sustainability efforts—political commitment, media coverage, regulations—can deliver results, even at the grassroots level.
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