Mapped: Where Are the World's Most Sustainable Companies?
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Mapped: Where Are the World’s Most Sustainable Companies?

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The Most Sustainable Companies

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.

RankCompanyIndustryCountry
#1Ørsted A/SWholesale Power🇩🇰 Denmark
#2Chr. Hansen Holding A/SFood and other chemical agents🇩🇰 Denmark
#3Neste OyjPetroleum Refineries🇫🇮 Finland
#6Novozymes A/SSpecialty and Performance Chemicals🇩🇰 Denmark
#7ING Groep NVBanks🇳🇱 Netherlands
#8Enel SpAWholesale Power🇮🇹 Italy
#11Osram Licht AGElectrical Equipment and Power Systems🇩🇪 Germany
#13Storebrand ASAInsurance🇳🇴 Norway
#14Umicore SAPrimary Metals Products🇧🇪 Belgium
#17Iberdrola SAWholesale Power🇪🇸 Spain
#18Outotec OyjMachinery Manufacturing🇫🇮 Finland
#20Accenture PLCTechnology Consulting Services🇮🇪 Ireland
#21Dassault Systemes SESoftware🇫🇷 France
#23Kering SAApparel and Accessory Products🇫🇷 France
#24UPM-Kymmene OyjForestry and Paper Products🇫🇮 Finland
#27H & M Hennes & Mauritz ABApparel and Accessories Retail🇸🇪 Sweden
#28Sanofi SABiopharmaceuticals🇫🇷 France
#29Schneider Electric SEIndustrial Conglomerates🇫🇷 France
#31BNP Paribas SABanks🇫🇷 France
#32Kone OyjMachinery Manufacturing🇫🇮 Finland
#33Verbund AGWholesale Power🇦🇹 Austria
#34Valeo SAConsumer Vehicles and Parts🇫🇷 France
#35ERG S.p.A.Wholesale Power🇮🇹 Italy
#37Vestas Wind Systems A/SElectrical Equipment and Power Systems🇩🇰 Denmark
#38bioMérieuxDiagnostics and Drug Delivery Devices🇫🇷 France
#39Intesa Sanpaolo SpABanks🇮🇹 Italy
#40Koninklijke KPN NVWireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services🇳🇱 Netherlands
#41Siemens AGIndustrial Conglomerates🇩🇪 Germany
#45Koninklijke DSM NVFood and other chemical agents🇳🇱 Netherlands
#46Unilever PLCPersonal Care and Cleaning Products🇬🇧 UK
#52EricssonCommunications Equipment🇸🇪 Sweden
#55Adidas AGApparel and Accessory Products🇩🇪 Germany
#56AstraZeneca PLCBiopharmaceuticals🇬🇧 UK
#59Commerzbank AGBanks🇩🇪 Germany
#61Abb LtdIndustrial Conglomerates🇨🇭 Switzerland
#64Pearson PLCPersonal Professional Services🇬🇧 UK
#65BT Group PLCWireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services🇬🇧 UK
#66Metso OyjMachinery Manufacturing🇫🇮 Finland
#69Assicurazioni Generali SpAInsurance🇮🇹 Italy
#70Acciona SAFacilities and Construction Services🇪🇸 Spain
#71Novo Nordisk A/SBiopharmaceuticals🇩🇰 Denmark
#73Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken ABBanks🇸🇪 Sweden
#76Ucb S.A.Biopharmaceuticals🇧🇪 Belgium
#79GlaxoSmithKline PLCBiopharmaceuticals🇬🇧 UK
#87BASF SESpecialty and Performance Chemicals🇩🇪 Germany
#94Industria de Diseno Textil SAApparel and Accessories Retail🇪🇸 Spain
#98L'Oreal SAPersonal Care and Cleaning Products🇫🇷 France
#99Kesko CorporationFood and Beverage Retail🇫🇮 Finland
#100Amundi SAInvestment 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.

RankCompanyIndustryCountry
#4Cisco Systems IncCommunications Equipment🇺🇸 U.S.
#5Autodesk IncSoftware🇺🇸 U.S.
#10Algonquin Power & Utilities CorpElectric Utilities🇨🇦 CA
#15Hewlett Packard Enterprise CoComputer Hardware🇺🇸 U.S.
#16American WaterWater Utilities🇺🇸 U.S.
#22McCormick & CompanyFood and Beverage Production🇺🇸 U.S.
#26Prologis IncReal Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)🇺🇸 U.S.
#44Bombardier IncAerospace and Defense Manufacturing🇨🇦 CA
#47Sims Metal Management LtdPrimary Metals Products🇺🇸 U.S.
#48Bank of MontrealBanks🇨🇦 CA
#49Cascades IncContainers and Packaging🇨🇦 CA
#53Danaher CorporationMedical Devices🇺🇸 U.S.
#54Canadian National Railway CoCargo Transportation and Infrastructure Services🇨🇦 CA
#57Stantec IncFacilities and Construction Services🇨🇦 CA
#58HP IncComputer Peripherals and Systems🇺🇸 U.S.
#60Sun Life Financial IncInsurance🇨🇦 CA
#62Alphabet IncInternet and Data Services🇺🇸 U.S.
#67Comerica IncorporatedBanks🇺🇸 U.S.
#74Tesla IncConsumer Vehicles and Parts🇺🇸 U.S.
#77Workday IncSoftware🇺🇸 U.S.
#78Merck & Co IncBiopharmaceuticals🇺🇸 U.S.
#81Intel CorporationSemiconductor Manufacturing🇺🇸 U.S.
#82Analog Devices IncSemiconductor Manufacturing🇺🇸 U.S.
#83IGM Financial IncInvestment Services🇨🇦 CA
#84Canadian Solar IncElectrical Equipment and Power Systems🇨🇦 CA
#88Cogeco Communications IncWireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services🇨🇦 CA
#91Teck Resources Ltd.Metal Ore Mining🇨🇦 CA
#93Campbell SoupFood and Beverage Production🇺🇸 U.S.
#96Telus 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).

RankCompanyIndustryCountry
#12Sekisui ChemicalsOther Materials🇯🇵 Japan
#25Taiwan SemiconductorSemiconductor Equipment and Services🇹🇼 Taiwan
#36City Developments LtdReal Estate Investment and Services🇸🇬 Singapore
#43Shinhan Financial GroupBanks🇰🇷 South Korea
#50AdvantechComputer Hardware🇹🇼 Taiwan
#63Capitaland LimitedReal Estate Investment and Services🇸🇬 Singapore
#68Takeda PharmaceuticalBiopharmaceuticals🇯🇵 Japan
#72Konica MinoltaComputer Peripherals and Systems🇯🇵 Japan
#80SamsungElectrical Equipment and Power Systems🇰🇷 South Korea
#85BYD Co.Consumer Vehicles and Parts🇨🇳 China
#86Kao Corp.Personal Care and Cleaning Products🇯🇵 Japan
#89Panasonic Corp.Computer Hardware🇯🇵 Japan
#90VitasoyFood and Beverage Production🇭🇰 Hong Kong
#92Toyota Motor Corp.Consumer Vehicles and Parts🇯🇵 Japan
#95SingtelWireless and Wireline Telecomm. Services🇸🇬 Singapore
#97Lenovo GroupComputer 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.

RankCompanyIndustryCountry
#9Banco do Brasil SABanks🇧🇷 Brazil
#19CEMIGElectric Utilities🇧🇷 Brazil
#30Natura Cosmeticos SAPersonal Care and Cleaning Products🇧🇷 Brazil
#42National Australia Bank LtdBanks🇦🇺 Australia
#51Standard Bank Group LtdBanks🇿🇦 South Africa
#75Westpac Banking CorpBanks🇦🇺 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):

MetricG100MSCI ACWI
Annualized Return7.3%7.0%
Average Company Age83 years49 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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Green

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.

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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:

Africa

Number of people in Africa that will be affected by rising sea levels in 2100

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

Number of people in Asia that will be affected by rising sea levels in 2100

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.

Europe

Number of people in Europe that will be affected by rising sea levels in 2100

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.

North America

Number of people in North America that will be affected by rising sea levels in 2100

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.

South America

Number of people in South America that will be affected by rising sea levels in 2100

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.

Oceania

Number of people in Oceania that will be affected by rising sea levels in 2100

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.

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Energy

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?

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The Renewable Energy Age

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

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.

The above infographic uses data from Lazard, Ember, and other sources to outline everything you need to know about the five key types of renewable energy:

Energy Source% of 2021 Global Electricity GenerationAvg. levelized cost of energy per MWh
Hydro 💧 15.3%$64
Wind 🌬 6.6%$38
Solar ☀️ 3.7%$36
Biomass 🌱 2.3%$114
Geothermal ♨️ <1%$75

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.

1. Wind

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.

3. Geothermal

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.

4. Hydropower

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.

5. Biomass

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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