Novo Nordisk Tops List of World's 100 Most Sustainable Firms

A triple bottom line business philosophy, a massive push to slash its carbon footprint and selling basic medicines at a discount to poor countries carried Novo Nordisk to the top of the list of the world's 100 most sustainable companies.

The Danish pharmaceutical firm was ranked No. 1 on the 2012 Corporate Knights Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World list. Natura Cosmeticos S.A., Statoil ASA, Novozymes A/S and ASML Holding NV rounded out the top five (see the Top 20 below).

By country, the U.K. snagged the most nods with 16 companies on the Global 100, followed by 11 Japanese firms, eight French and U.S. firms each, and seven Australian corporations.

The Global 100 is the brain child of Corporate Knights, a Canadian research, media and financial company which released the eighth annual list Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's conference in Davos, Switzerland.

To create the Global 100, Corporate Knights also brought to the table the Global Responsible Investment Network, which it formed with three partners, including Inflection Point Capital Management, Global Currents Investment Management, and Phoenix Global Advisors LLC.

The firms are chosen using a two-stage methodology. About 4,000 developed and emerging companies are first pared down to the Global 400 Sustainability leaders based on their sustainability performance. From there they are ranked based on 11 key performance indicators chosen by Corporate Knights Capital's research criteria, including resource productivity, leadership diversity, executive compensation in relation to the average worker and employee turnover.

If companies fail to publicly disclose the information, they are penalized.

Corporate Knights emphasized in its report announcing the Global 100 that the rankings are meant to be both product- and service-agnostic. That means that even firms in sectors few would associate with sustainability, such as tobacco companies, can make the list if they are transparent and use their resources wisely.

"If you can objectively score companies on meaningful criteria and those scores can be used to influence market forces, it will be possible to divert capital away from inefficient, irresponsible firms and toward more resource-productive and responsible ones," Corporate Knights President Toby Heaps said in the report.

It's not a perfect approach, Corporate Knights acknowledged, but it does lay down a framework by which we can measure progress.

Here are the top 20 companies on the Global 100. For more information, see the full report.

1. Novo Nordisk A/S (Denmark, Health Care)
2. Natura Cosmeticos S.A. (Brazil, Consumer Staples)
3. Statoil ASA (Norway, Energy)
4. Novozymes A/S (Denmark, Materials)
5. ASML Holding NV (Netherlands, Information Technology)
6. BG Group Plc (United Kingdom, Energy)
7. Vivendi S.A. (France, Telecommunication Services)
8. Umicore S.A./N.V. (Belgium, Materials)
9. Norsk Hydro ASA (Norway, Materials)
10. Atlas Copco AB (Sweden, Industrials)
11. Sims Metal Management Ltd (Australia, Materials)
12. Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV (Netherlands, Industrials)
13. Teliasonera AB (Sweden, Telecommunication Services)
14. Westpac Banking Corp. (Australia, Financials)
15. Life Technologies Corp. (U.S., Health Care)
16. Credit Agricole SA (France, Financials)
17. Henkel AG & Co. KGaA (Germany, Consumer Staples)
18. Intel Corp. (U.S., Information Technology)
19. Neste Oil Oyj (Finland, Energy)
20. Swisscom AG (Switzerland, Telecommunication Services)