Each year since 2005, Corporate Knights Capital, a Canadian financial research and information company, has released the Global 100 list of most sustainable companies. These companies span every industry from pharmaceutical to financial to retail but they are tied together by a common set of characteristics identified by CK Capital to be indicative of stability and long-term viability.
CK Capital concedes that “determining which companies are ‘sustainable’ and which are not is a challenging enterprise,” but it’s not impossible. In fact, Vice President of Research Doug Morrow would argue that sustainability can be quantifiably measured, which establishes a data-driven framework on which to build more qualitative insights about what a sustainable corporation looks like and why sustainability matters.
Speaking to Forbes, Morrow offered this definition of sustainability: “On the one hand, it means doing more with less; squeezing more output out of every capital input, including financial, human and natural capital. But the hallmark of a sustainable enterprise is not just efficiency, but also mechanisms to encourage meritocracy, diversity, innovation and long-term planning. Management teams at sustainable corporations are afforded room to think and plan beyond the next financial quarter.”
CK Capital is also quick to point out that highly sustainable companies are often highly valuable companies — an idea that Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett appears to agree with. In his 2013 letter to shareholders, Buffett reflected that “We completed two large acquisitions, spending almost $18 billion to purchase all of NV Energy and a major interest in H. J. Heinz. Both companies fit us well and will be prospering a century from now.” What better investment, after all, than one that lasts a lifetime?
Here are a couple of the world’s most sustainable companies — businesses that are highly likely to be around 100 years from now — according to CK Capital’s 2014 Global 100.
1. Biogen Idec Inc.
The Biogen Idec we know and love today began its life in 2003, when Biogen Inc. merged with IDEC Pharmaceuticals. Biogen, which was born in 1978 in Geneva, Switzerland, was the brainchild of a team of biologists who were responsible for the development of AVONEX (interferon beta-1a), one of the first therapies for multiple sclerosis and the leading therapy in both the U.S. and Europe. IDEC Pharmaceuticals, a marriage of venture capitalists and research scientists, was established in 1985 in Silicon Valley, and helped pioneer methods of research and commercialization that are part of what have made the combined entity so successful.
In 2014, Biogen Idec ranked second in Corporate Knights Capital’s Global 100 report with an overall score of 75.3 percent. The company did particularly well in Innovation Capacity, scoring 25 percent, second-highest overall. Innovation capacity, one of CK Capital’s twelve key performance indicators (KPIs), measures how much money a company is spending on research and development relative to revenues (R&D expenses over revenue).
Although it’s not a given that pumping money into R&D will afford a company a lasting competitive edge, it’s certainly a good start. In the three-month period ended March 31, Biogen Idec spent $528.9 million on R&D, about 30 percent of total revenue of $1.74 billion.
(Fun fact: Biogen founder Walter Gilbert, Ph.D., shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980.)
2. Monsanto Co.
The inclusion of Monsanto on this list is bound to stir controversy, but just because the company has a bad wrap doesn’t mean it’s a bad business, at least from an operational perspective. Monsanto placed thirty-seventh in CK Capital’s Global 100 list with an overall score of 59.2 percent.
Monsanto, which produces agricultural products, bills itself directly as a “sustainable agriculture company.” The company’s major products are seeds (including genetically modified seeds) for commodity crops such as corn, soybean, cotton, wheat, canola, sorghum and sugar cane, as well as herbicides and pesticides such as those sold under the Roundup brand.
That Monsanto is a company at the beating heart of the agricultural economy is undeniable, and its position as a leading distributor of seeds and complimentary chemical products makes it about is critical as your right ventricle. Analysts at Credit Suisse have described Monsanto’s seed portfolio as “best in class,” and, when placing the stock on their 2014 conviction list, highlighted the company’s R&D pipeline. Although the company scores just 11 percent on CK Capitals innovation capacity KPI, the company still spent $404 million (7 percent of net sales) on R&D in its most-recent quarter.
3. The Coca-Cola Company
Coca-Cola, as a product, has already been around for more than 100 years. The beverage was first introduced to the world as early as 1886, and the company that grew around it has since come to own one of the world’s most-valuable brands. InterBrand valued the Coca-Cola brand at $79.2 billion in 2013.
Coca-Cola placed forty-third on CK Capital’s Global 100 list. Unlike Biogen Idec and Monsanto, Coca-Cola’s long-term viability is not entirely tied up in its R&D pipeline. While innovation is systemically important, much of the value of Coca-Cola’s core product is derived from its consistency across time and space. And although the company has introduced tons of new products and various iterations of the classic recipe, it’s the classic recipe that still serves as the company’s flagship product with an estimated 26 percent soft drink market share.
From an investment standpoint, Coca-Cola is also the kind of company that could stick around for 100 years in the most dividend stock portfolios. Currently with a 2.9 percent yield, Coca-Cola has increased its dividend for fifty consecutive years.
4. Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson is a pharmaceutical and consumer health company at the top of its industry. The company dominates the global consumer health industry with a 4 percent share, a leading position supported by both strong pharmaceutical sales and by relatively strong sales of medical and diagnostic devices. GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical and healthcare giant, claims about a 2 percent share, as does Novartis and Pfizer. These companies have all reportedly been eyeing Merck’s consumer healthcare business, which holds about 1 percent of the market.
Johnson & Johnson ranks fifty-seventh overall in CK Capital’s Global 100 with a 54.6 percent. Because of its involvement in more mass-market goods, Johnson & Johnson’s overall innovation capacity KPI is relatively low at 11 percent. However, like Coca-Cola, part of Johnson & Johnson’s long-term value is a function of its brand, which was worth $4.8 billion in 2013, according to Interbrand.
Johnson & Johnson is also a staple in many equity portfolios because of its long and upwardly sloping price line and its 2.7 percent dividend yield.
(Fun fact: Johnson & Johnson ranked second in Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s fifteenth annual top U.S. corporate citizens list.)
5. General Electric Co.
It’s hard to imagine a world without GE. The company has roots so broad and deep it acts as a bellwether for a significant slice of overall economic activity. And the company is embedded deeply not just in the business economy, but in the consumer economy as well. According to Interbrand, GE is the sixth most-valuable brand in the world, worth an estimated $46.9 billion in 2013.
One of the best embodiments of GE’s commitment to innovation and sustainability is tied up in its “ecomagination” project. The program was announced in 2005 by CEO Jeff Immelt. The initiative is set “to aggressively bring to market new technologies that will help customers meet pressing environmental challenges.”
Through the initiative, GE has doubled research and development spending on cleaner technologies to $1.5 billion annually, developed a thick portfolio of cleaner energy products, and achieved a goal of doubling revenues from cleaner energy products to more than $20 billion a year.
A cocktail of regulatory and consumer pressure and the development of new drilling technology (some of which General Electric helped pioneer) has fueled a fairly rapid evolution in the energy market, and Ecomagination reflects GE’s adaptations to the changes. The program has made GE not just a competitor but a leader in the cleaner-energy revolution, an enormously powerful and profitable position that allows the company to service both the oil and gas industry and the renewable energy industry. This position gives GE an enormously broad revenue base that captures both ends of an extremely large and diverse market.
GE scored an overall 54.3 percent on GK Capital’s Global 100 list, putting it in fifty-ninth place.