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.
The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side
This unique map graphic uses the Great Lakes region as a point of comparison for the top 25 largest lakes in the world.
The World’s 25 Largest Lakes, Side by Side
In many parts of the world, you don’t have to look very far to find a lake.
According to satellite data, there are roughly 100 million lakes larger than one hectare (2.47 acres) to be found globally. The largest lakes, which rival the size of entire nations, are more of a rarity.
One might expect the world’s largest lakes to be very alike, but from depth to saline content, their properties can be quite different. As well, the ranking of the world’s largest lakes is far from static, as human activity can turn a massive body of water into a desert within a single generation.
Today’s graphic – created using the fantastic online tool, Slap It On A Map! – uses the Great Lakes region as a point of comparison for the largest 25 lakes, by area. This is particularly useful in comparing the scale of lakes that are located in disparate parts of the globe.
The Greatest Lakes
The largest lake in the world by a long shot is the Caspian Sea – a name that hints at a past when it was contiguous with the ocean around 11 million years ago. This massive saline lake, which is nearly the same size as Japan, borders five countries: Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. An estimated 48 billion barrels of oil lay beneath the surface of the basin.
The five Great Lakes, which run along the Canada–U.S. border, form one of the largest collections of fresh water on Earth. This interconnected series of lakes represents around 20% of the world’s fresh water and the region supports over 100 million people, roughly equal to one-third of the Canada–U.S. population.
Amazingly, a single lake holds as much fresh water as all the Great Lakes combined – Lake Baikal. This rift lake in Siberia has a maximum depth of 5,371ft (1,637m). For comparison, the largest of the Great Lakes (Lake Superior) is only 25% as deep, with a maximum depth of 1,333ft (406m). Lake Baikal is unique in a number of other ways too. It is the world’s oldest, coldest lake, and around 80% of its animal species are endemic (not found anywhere else).
Here’s a full run-down of the top 25 lakes by area:
|Rank||Lake Name||Surface Area||Type||Countries on shoreline|
|1||Caspian Sea||143,000 sq mi|
|2||Superior||31,700 sq mi|
|3||Victoria||26,590 sq mi|
|4||Huron||23,000 sq mi|
|5||Michigan||22,000 sq mi|
|6||Tanganyika||12,600 sq mi|
|7||Baikal||12,200 sq mi|
|8||Great Bear Lake||12,000 sq mi|
|9||Malawi||11,400 sq mi|
|10||Great Slave Lake||10,000 sq mi|
|11||Erie||9,900 sq mi|
|12||Winnipeg||9,465 sq mi|
|13||Ontario||7,320 sq mi|
|14||Ladoga||7,000 sq mi|
|15||Balkhash||6,300 sq mi|
|16||Vostok||4,800 sq mi|
|17||Onega||3,700 sq mi|
|18||Titicaca||3,232 sq mi|
|19||Nicaragua||3,191 sq mi|
|20||Athabasca||3,030 sq mi|
|21||Taymyr||2,700 sq mi|
|22||Turkana||2,473 sq mi|
|23||Reindeer Lake||2,440 sq mi|
|24||Issyk-Kul||2,400 sq mi|
|25||Urmia||2,317 sq mi|
The Great Lakes World Tour
For people living in Canada and the U.S., the shape and relative size of the Great Lakes system may be quite familiar. This makes the Great Lakes a fantastic point of comparison to help put the size of other world locations into perspective. To this end, we begin our Great Lakes World Tour.
First, the image below shows how the Great Lakes system would look if it was located in India.
Distortions on commonly used maps can downplay the size of India compared to more northern nations. This view of the Great Lakes can help put India’s true size into perspective.
Next, we look at the Great Lakes overlaid within Central Europe.
In the context of Europe, the lakes are so large that they extend from the Netherlands over to Slovakia. Lake Superior’s surface area of 31,700 mi2 (82,000 km2), is similar in size to Austria. Here’s are the five Great Lakes and European countries of equivalent size:
|Great Lakes||Surface Area||Equivalent Country||Area|
|Lake Superior||82,000 km2 (31,700 sq mi)||🇦🇹 Austria||83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi)|
|Lake Huron||60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi)||🇱🇻 Latvia||64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi)|
|Lake Michigan||58,000 km2 (22,300 sq mi)||🇭🇷 Croatia||56,594 km2 (21,851 sq mi)|
|Lake Erie||25,700 km2 (9,910 sq mi)||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||25,713 km2 (9,928 sq mi)|
|Lake Ontario||19,000 km2 (7,340 sq mi)||🇸🇮 Slovenia||20,271 km2 (7,827 sq mi)|
Lastly, here is a look at the Great Lakes in Southern Australia. Australia is the world’s 6th largest country, so the Great Lakes only occupy one corner of its land mass.
Australia’s lack of glacial history means that there are few permanent freshwater lakes in the country. Many of the country’s largest lakes only fill up during periods of excessive rainfall.
Shrinking out of the rankings
Not far from the world’s largest lake, straddling the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, lay the sand dunes of the Aralkum Desert. In the not so distant past, this harsh environment was actually the bed of one of the largest lakes in the world – the Aral Sea.
For reasons both climatic and anthropogenic, the Aral Sea began receding in the 1960s. This dramatic change in surface area took the Aral Sea from the fourth largest lake on Earth to not even ranking in the top 50. Researchers note that the size of the lake has fluctuated a lot over history, but through the lens of modern history these recent changes happened rapidly, leaving local economies devastated and former shoreside towns landlocked.
Lake Chad, in Saharan Africa, and Lake Urmia, in Iran, both face similar challenges, shrinking dramatically in recent decades.
How we work to reverse damage and avoid ecosystem collapse in vulnerable lakes will have a big influence on how the top 25 list may look in future years.
All the Biomass of Earth, in One Graphic
Our planet supports nearly 8.7 million species. We break down the total composition of the living world in terms of its biomass.
All the Biomass of Earth, in One Graphic
Our planet supports approximately 8.7 million species, of which over a quarter live in water.
But humans can have a hard time comprehending numbers this big, so it can be difficult to really appreciate the breadth of this incredible diversity of life on Earth.
In order to fully grasp this scale, we draw from research by Bar-On et al. to break down the total composition of the living world, in terms of its biomass, and where we fit into this picture.
A “carbon-based life form” might sound like something out of science fiction, but that’s what we and all other living things are.
Carbon is used in complex molecules and compounds—making it an essential part of our biology. That’s why biomass, or the mass of organisms, is typically measured in terms of carbon makeup.
In our visualization, one cube represents 1 million metric tons of carbon, and every thousand of these cubes is equal to 1 Gigaton (Gt C).
Here’s how the numbers stack up in terms of biomass of life on Earth:
|Taxon||Mass (Gt C)||% of total|
Plants make up the overwhelming majority of biomass on Earth. There are 320,000 species of plants, and their vital photosynthetic processes keep entire ecosystems from falling apart.
Fungi is the third most abundant type of life—and although 148,000 species of fungi have been identified by scientists, it’s estimated there may be millions more.
Animals: A Drop in the Biomass Ocean
Although animals make up only 0.47% of all biomass, there are many sub-categories within them that are worth exploring further.
|Taxon||Mass (Gt C)||% of Animal Biomass|
Arthropods are the largest group of invertebrates, and include up to 10 million species across insects, arachnids, and crustaceans.
The category of chordates includes wild mammals, wild birds, livestock, humans, and fish. Across 65,000 living species in total, nearly half are bony fish like piranhas, salmon, or seahorses.
Surprisingly, humans contribute a relatively small mass compared to the rest of the Animal Kingdom. People make up only 0.01% of all the biomass on the planet.
Annelids, Mollusks, Cnidarians, and Nematodes
Annelids are segmented worms like earthworms or leeches, with over 22,000 living species on this planet. After arthropods, mollusks are the second-largest group of invertebrates with over 85,000 living species. Of these, 80% are snails and slugs.
Cnidarians are a taxon of aquatic invertebrates covering 11,000 species across various marine environments. These include jellyfish, sea anemone, and even corals.
Nematodes are commonly referred to as roundworms. These sturdy critters have successfully adapted to virtually every kind of ecosystem, from polar regions to oceanic trenches. They’ve even survived traveling into space and back.
The Microscopic Rest
Beyond these animals, plants, and fungi, there are an estimated trillion species of microbes invisible to the naked eye—and we’ve probably only discovered 0.001% of them so far.
Bacteria were one of the first life forms to appear on Earth, and classified as prokaryotes (nucleus-less). Today, they’re the second-largest composition of biomass behind plants. Perhaps this is because these organisms can be found living literally everywhere—from your gut to deep in the Earth’s crust.
Researchers at the University of Georgia estimate that there are 5 nonillion bacteria on the planet—that’s a five with 30 zeros after it.
Protists and Archaea
Protists are mostly unicellular, but are more complex than bacteria as they contain a nucleus. They’re also essential components of the food chain.
Archaea are single-celled microorganisms that are similar to bacteria but differ in compositions. They thrive in extreme environments too, from high temperatures above 100°C (212°F) in geysers to extremely saline, acidic, or alkaline conditions.
Viruses are the most fascinating category of biomass. They have been described as “organisms at the edge of life,” as they are not technically living things. They’re much smaller than bacteria—however, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, their microscopic effects cannot be understated.
The Earth’s Biomass, Under Threat
Human activities are having an ongoing impact on Earth’s biomass.
For example, we’ve lost significant forest cover in the past decades, to make room for agricultural land use and livestock production. One result of this is that biodiversity in virtually every region is on the decline.
Will we be able to reverse this trajectory and preserve the diversity of all the biomass on Earth, before it’s too late?
Editor’s note: This visualization was inspired by the work of Javier Zarracina for Vox from a few years ago. Our aim with the above piece was to recognize that while great communication needs no reinvention, it can be enhanced and reimagined to increase editorial impact and help spread knowledge to an even greater share of the population.
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