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.
Mapped: The World’s Nuclear Reactor Landscape
Which countries are turning to nuclear energy, and which are turning away? Mapping and breaking down the world’s nuclear reactor landscape.
The World’s Changing Nuclear Reactor Landscape
View a more detailed version of the above map by clicking here
Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl, many nations reiterated their intent to wean off the energy source.
However, this sentiment is anything but universal—in many other regions of the world, nuclear power is still ramping up, and it’s expected to be a key energy source for decades to come.
Using data from the Power Reactor Information System, maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the map above gives a comprehensive look at where nuclear reactors are subsiding, and where future capacity will reside.
Increasing Global Nuclear Use
Despite a dip in total capacity and active reactors last year, nuclear power still generated around 10% of the world’s electricity in 2019.
Part of the increased capacity came as Japan restarted some plants and European countries looked to replace aging reactors. But most of the growth is driven by new reactors coming online in Asia and the Middle East.
China is soon to have more than 50 nuclear reactors, while India is set to become a top-ten producer once construction on new reactors is complete.
Decreasing Use in Western Europe and North America
The slight downtrend from 450 operating reactors in 2018 to 443 in 2019 was the result of continued shutdowns in Europe and North America. Home to the majority of the world’s reactors, the two continents also have the oldest reactors, with many being retired.
At the same time, European countries are leading the charge in reducing dependency on the energy source. Germany has pledged to close all nuclear plants by 2022, and Italy has already become the first country to completely shut down their plants.
Despite leading in shutdowns, Europe still emerges as the most nuclear-reliant region for a majority of electricity production and consumption.
In addition, some countries are starting to reassess nuclear energy as a means of fighting climate change. Reactors don’t produce greenhouse gases during operation, and are more efficient (and safer) than wind and solar per unit of electricity.
Facing steep emission reduction requirements, a variety of countries are looking to expand nuclear capacity or to begin planning for their first reactors.
A New Generation of Nuclear Reactors?
For those parties interested in the benefits of nuclear power, past accidents have also led towards a push for innovation in the field. That includes studies of miniature nuclear reactors that are easier to manage, as well as full-size reactors with robust redundancy measures that won’t physically melt down.
Additionally, some reactors are being designed with the intention of utilizing accumulated nuclear waste—a byproduct of nuclear energy and weapon production that often had to be stored indefinitely—as a fuel source.
With some regions aiming to reduce reliance on nuclear power, and others starting to embrace it, the landscape is certain to change.
How China’s Plastics Ban Threw Global Recycling into Disarray
For decades, developed countries outsourced their recyclables to China. Now, they’re on their own, and a multi-billion dollar opportunity has emerged.
Global Recycling: Reinventing a Broken System
First developed in the 20th century, plastics have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. Found in everything from food packaging to medical devices, this extremely versatile and cost-effective material has undoubtedly made our lives more convenient.
This convenience comes at a cost, however, and experts warn that plastics’ inability to biodegrade is taking a toll on the planet. To make matters worse, recycling infrastructure around the world is severely underdeveloped.
In this infographic from Swissquote, we recount the end of “easy” recycling, and examine the struggles that many countries are facing as they scale up their domestic capabilities.
The Single-Supplier Global Recycling Model
Since the early 1990s, developed countries have avoided the environmental costs of plastic by outsourcing their recycling to the developing world—more specifically, China.
At the time, this arrangement benefited both parties. On one hand, it was cheaper for developed countries to export their plastic waste rather than process it domestically. China, on the other hand, needed vast amounts of raw materials to fuel its burgeoning manufacturing industries. It also meant that Chinese container ships, which regularly delivered goods to countries like the U.S., would no longer return home empty-handed.
A system that relies heavily on one country can only handle so much, however, and by 2016 China was importing 7 million tonnes of recyclables and waste per year. To make matters worse, plastics production kept growing at a faster rate than the global population:
|Year||Growth in Global Plastics Production (%)||Growth in World Population (%)|
Source: PlasticsEurope, Worldometer
It was clear that this system would soon reach its tipping point, especially with the Chinese government largely committed to going green.
National Sword Policy
China’s solution to cutting down plastic imports was the National Sword policy, which at the start of 2018, implemented an import ban on 24 types of recyclables. The ban was extremely effective—plastic exports to China fell from 581,000 tonnes in February of 2017 to just 23,900 tonnes a year later.
All of this plastic did not simply disappear, though. Plastic-exporting countries scrambled for alternatives, and in some cases, diverted their shipments to nearby countries in Southeast Asia. Governments in the region were quick to respond, either refusing shipments or implementing bans of their own.
Richer countries are taking advantage of the looser regulations in poorer countries. They export the trash here because it’s more expensive for them to process [it] themselves back home due to the tighter laws.
—Lea Guerrero, Greenpeace Philippines
In one noteworthy case, Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines, threatened to wage war on Canada if it did not take back its shipments of waste. An official later clarified this threat was not to be taken literally.
The End of “Easy” Recycling
Western countries tend to produce more plastics per capita than other countries, but are ill-prepared to begin processing their own plastic waste in a sustainable manner. One critical issue arises from their predominant method of recycling known as single-stream recycling.
Under this method, consumers place all of their recyclables into a single bin. This mixture of cardboard, plastics, and glass is then brought to a material recovery facility (MRF) to be sorted and processed. While this method makes it easier for consumers to recycle, it suffers from two weaknesses:
- Contamination: Mixing plastics, chemicals, and food waste adds extra costs to the recycling process. On average, one in four items that arrive at an MRF are too contaminated to be recycled.
- Sorting inefficiency: MRFs have a difficult time sorting through the wide variety of materials being placed into bins. Approximately one in six bottles and one in three cans are sorted incorrectly.
With outsourcing no longer an option, MRFs across the U.S. are now dealing with significantly larger volumes. To boost their capacity, some facilities have implemented artificial intelligence (AI) empowered robots that can sort items significantly faster than humans. An added bonus to reducing the human workforce is safety—MRFs frequently have some of the industry’s highest injury and illness incidence rates.
Investing in Domestic Solutions
China’s ban on foreign plastics has exposed the frailty of a single-supplier global recycling model, and is forcing many countries to begin developing their domestic infrastructure.
One emerging leader in this space is the EU, which has passed ambitious legislation to promote recycling industry investment. Recognizing the unsustainability of single-use plastics, the EU has mandated its member states to achieve a 90% collection rate for plastic bottles by 2029. It’s also set a target for all plastic packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030, an initiative that could create up to 200,000 new jobs.
Aside from the environmental benefits, the global recycling industry could also be a source of economic growth. It’s estimated that between 2018 and 2024 that it will grow at a CAGR of 8.6% to reach $63 billion.
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