Maybe it's because they spend more talking up their green credentials than other brands. Or because they invest more money in innovative, and risky product designs. Or because they managed to integrate their supply chains more tightly into collaborative sustainability initiatives. Or maybe it's all of these things.
Whatever the specific reason, for the fourth year running, automotive, technology and electronics companies claimed almost half the spots on Interbrand's annual ranking of the top 50 global brands when it comes to environmental action and credibility. Only this time, it is Ford in the No. 1 position, followed by Toyota, which held that spot for the past three years.
"Ford embodies everything the business of the future most be: efficient, visionary, flexible, adept at problem-solving, cooperative, and focused on creating shared value," writes Interbrand in the introduction to the 2014 Best Global Green Brands report. "From unveiling a first-of-its kind solar vehicle, the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, to partnering with peers across sectors to do the seemingly impossible — like creating bioplastic out of tomato fiber with Heinz — Ford is showing what's possible."
Ford actually sells five electric vehicles and is investing serious in hydrogen and fuel cell research, as well as sustainable materials such as soybean-based foam cushions.
Rounding out the top five were Honda (No. 3), Nissan (No. 4), and Panasonic (No. 5), which all held the same positions last year. As in past years, automotive, electronic and technology brands dominate the ranking, stealing 24 spots (if you include IBM and Xerox, classified as "business services" companies).
To be included on the list in the first place, companies must first make the cut in Interbrand's annual Global Best Brands report, which ranks the 100 "most valuable" brands when it comes to delivering value to stakeholders. To come up with the green ranking, two grades are generated for each brand: a performance score and a perception score. Those metrics, and the gap between them, are used to rank the list. If the gap is a positive number, it mean the brand is actually performing better than consumers think. If the number is negative, it means public attitudes are ahead of what the company actually is doing.
To build the performance metric, Deloitte analyzes publicly available CSR and environmental initiative data across six pillars: governance, stakeholder engagement, operations, supply chain, transportation and logistics.
To calculate perception score, Interbrand interviews more than 10,000 consumer in the biggest global economies (1,250 for each brand). Respondents are asked to assess authenticity, relevance, differentiation, consistency, presence and their understanding of the company's environmental claims. (More about the methodology.)
Most companies on the 2014 list have a positive gap. But here are the ones that get a halo effect from public perception about their green performance (ranked by the size of the gap): McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Shell, Microsoft, Disney, Colgate, Kellogg's, IKEA, Chevrolet, Pepsi, Starbucks, Heineken, GE, Danone, Apple, Santander and Nike.
"An effective way to close the gap is for companies to invest in sustainability initiatives and programs that become inextricably a part of their brands' DNA," noted Will Sarni, director of Deloitte Consulting, and leader of the firm's U.S. sustainability and enterprise water strategy.
A common thread among the companies on this year's list is their focus on collaboration across multiple stakeholders. "The report suggests that every constituency — businesses, consumers, employees, suppliers, governments and investors — will need to be engaged and willing to collaborate in order to take corporate citizenship and sustainability initiatives to the next level," said Jez Frampton, global chief executive officer for Interbrand.
Scrappy newcomers and fast-rising brands
There were three new companies on this year's ranking: Chevrolet, Disney and Heineken (in that order). Interbrand suggests that Chevrolet's work on reducing its carbon emissions — it reached 7 million metric tons this year — and its efforts to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency research at the collegiate level were a big part of this. Disney's recognition is tied to growing transparency about its long-term programs, such as its carbon offsets initiative, carbon-pricing policies, and efforts to fight deforestation. Heineken, meanwhile, is making progress on four fronts: water conservation, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reductions, sourcing and responsible consumption.
Four companies jumped appreciably on the ranking: adidas and Zara, both of which are working hard on eliminating toxic chemicals and waste across their supply chains; Philips, driving serious innovation and energy consumption reductions across its products through the EcoVision strategy; and IKEA, a big on-site solar investor which stands out as the first major retailer to offer electrical vehicle charging points across a substantial portion of its store portfolio.
Top image from Interbrand's Global Green Brands 2014 website