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.
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Visualizing the Impact of Rising Sea Levels, by Country
Here’s a look at how people around the world could be impacted by coastal flooding by 2100, based on rising sea level projections.
Climate change is already causing sea levels to rise across the globe. In the 20th century alone, it’s estimated that the mean global sea level rose by 11-16 cm.
How much will sea levels change in the coming years, and how will it affect our population?
In the below series of visualizations by Florent Lavergne, we can see how rising sea levels could impact countries in terms of flood risk by the year 2100.
These graphics use data from a 2019 study by Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss. Their study used CoastalDEM—a 3D graphics tool used to measure a population’s potential exposure to extreme coastal water levels—and examined rising sea levels under different levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Flood Risk By Region
Which countries will be most severely affected by rising sea levels?
If things continue as they are, roughly 360 million people around the world could be at risk of annual flood events by 2100. Here’s what those figures look like across each region:
On the continent of Africa, one of the countries with the highest number of people at risk of coastal flooding is Egypt.
Over 95% of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile river, with some areas situated at extremely low elevations. The country’s lowest point is 133 m below sea level.
Asia’s population will be more heavily impacted by flooding than any other region included in the dataset.
According to the projections, 70% of the people that will be affected by rising sea levels are located in just eight Asian countries: China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan.
One of the most high-risk populations in Europe is the Netherlands. The country has a population of about 17 million, and as of 2019, about half of its population lives in areas below sea level.
The country’s lowest point, the town Nieuwekerk aan den Ijssel, is 6.8 m below sea level.
In North America, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are expected to see the highest numbers of impacted people, due to the size of their populations.
But as a percentage of population, other countries in Central America and the Caribbean are more greatly at risk, especially in high emission scenarios. One country worth highlighting is the Bahamas. Even based on moderate emission levels, the country is expected to see a significant surge in the number of people at risk of flood.
According to the World Bank, this is because land in the Bahamas is relatively flat, making the island especially vulnerable to sea level rises and flooding.
As South America’s largest country by population and with large coastal cities, Brazil‘s population is the most at risk for flood caused by rising sea levels.
Notably, thanks to a lot of mountainous terrain and municipalities situated on high elevation, no country in South America faces a flood risk impacting more than 1 million people.
By 2100, Polynesian countries like Tonga are projected to see massive increases in the number of people at risk of flooding, even at moderate GHG emissions.
According to Reuters, sea levels in Tonga have been rising by 6 mm each year, which is nearly double the average global rate. The reason for this is because the islands sit in warmer waters, where sea level changes are more noticeable than at the poles.
What’s Causing Sea Levels to Rise?
Since 1975, average temperatures around the world have risen 0.15 to 0.20°C each decade, according to research by NASA.
This global heating has caused polar ice caps to begin melting—in just over two decades, we’ve lost roughly 28 trillion tonnes of our world’s ice. Over that same timeframe, global sea levels have risen by an average of 36 mm. These rising sea levels pose a number of risks, including soil contamination, loss of habitat, and flooding.
As countries are affected by climate change in different ways, and at different levels, the question becomes how they will respond in turn.
What Are the Five Major Types of Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy is the foundation of the ongoing energy transition. What are the key types of renewable energy, and how do they work?
The Renewable Energy Age
Awareness around climate change is shaping the future of the global economy in several ways.
Governments are planning how to reduce emissions, investors are scrutinizing companies’ environmental performance, and consumers are becoming conscious of their carbon footprints. But no matter the stakeholder, energy generation and consumption from fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to emissions.
Therefore, renewable energy sources have never been more top-of-mind than they are today.
The Five Types of Renewable Energy
Renewable energy technologies harness the power of the sun, wind, and heat from the Earth’s core, and then transforms it into usable forms of energy like heat, electricity, and fuel.
|Energy Source||% of 2021 Global Electricity Generation||Avg. levelized cost of energy per MWh|
Editor’s note: We have excluded nuclear from the mix here, because although it is often defined as a sustainable energy source, it is not technically renewable (i.e. there are finite amounts of uranium).
Though often out of the limelight, hydro is the largest renewable electricity source, followed by wind and then solar.
Together, the five main sources combined for roughly 28% of global electricity generation in 2021, with wind and solar collectively breaking the 10% share barrier for the first time.
The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) measures the lifetime costs of a new utility-scale plant divided by total electricity generation. The LCOE of solar and wind is almost one-fifth that of coal ($167/MWh), meaning that new solar and wind plants are now much cheaper to build and operate than new coal plants over a longer time horizon.
With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the five types of renewable energy and how they work.
Wind turbines use large rotor blades, mounted at tall heights on both land and sea, to capture the kinetic energy created by wind.
When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases, pulling it down with a force described as the lift. The difference in air pressure across the two sides causes the blades to rotate, spinning the rotor.
The rotor is connected to a turbine generator, which spins to convert the wind’s kinetic energy into electricity.
2. Solar (Photovoltaic)
Solar technologies capture light or electromagnetic radiation from the sun and convert it into electricity.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells contain a semiconductor wafer, positive on one side and negative on the other, forming an electric field. When light hits the cell, the semiconductor absorbs the sunlight and transfers the energy in the form of electrons. These electrons are captured by the electric field in the form of an electric current.
A solar system’s ability to generate electricity depends on the semiconductor material, along with environmental conditions like heat, dirt, and shade.
Geothermal energy originates straight from the Earth’s core—heat from the core boils underground reservoirs of water, known as geothermal resources.
Geothermal plants typically use wells to pump hot water from geothermal resources and convert it into steam for a turbine generator. The extracted water and steam can then be reinjected, making it a renewable energy source.
Similar to wind turbines, hydropower plants channel the kinetic energy from flowing water into electricity by using a turbine generator.
Hydro plants are typically situated near bodies of water and use diversion structures like dams to change the flow of water. Power generation depends on the volume and change in elevation or head of the flowing water.
Greater water volumes and higher heads produce more energy and electricity, and vice versa.
Humans have likely used energy from biomass or bioenergy for heat ever since our ancestors learned how to build fires.
Biomass—organic material like wood, dry leaves, and agricultural waste—is typically burned but considered renewable because it can be regrown or replenished. Burning biomass in a boiler produces high-pressure steam, which rotates a turbine generator to produce electricity.
Biomass is also converted into liquid or gaseous fuels for transportation. However, emissions from biomass vary with the material combusted and are often higher than other clean sources.
When Will Renewable Energy Take Over?
Despite the recent growth of renewables, fossil fuels still dominate the global energy mix.
Most countries are in the early stages of the energy transition, and only a handful get significant portions of their electricity from clean sources. However, the ongoing decade might see even more growth than recent record-breaking years.
The IEA forecasts that, by 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is set to grow by 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800 gigawatts—equal to the current power output of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. So, regardless of when renewables will take over, it’s clear that the global energy economy will continue changing.
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