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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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Energy

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.

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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.

Global Nuclear Reactors and Electrical Capacity

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.

Asia's Growing Nuclear Footprint

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.

world-nuclear-landscape-supplemental-3

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.

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Green

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.

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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:

YearGrowth in Global Plastics Production (%)Growth in World Population (%)
20133.821.19
20144.011.17
20153.541.16
20164.041.14
20173.881.12
20183.161.1

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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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