NEW YORK: Munich Re, IBM and the National Australia Bank are the major brand owners boasting the strongest green credentials around the world, a new study has argued.

Newsweek, the magazine, Trucost, the consultancy and Sustainalytics, the insights provider, assessed the 500 largest global and US firms in terms of their environmental disclosure, management and impact.

Munich Re led on 83.6%. The German finance group's Geo Risks Research Department was created in 1974, and it more recently co-founded Dii, a start-up hoping to supply energy to Europe via solar and wind power from the African desert.

The Munich Climate Insurance Initiative also seeks to ensure its policies meet the challenges posed by climate change. Looking in-house, Munich Re recycled 65% of paper used in 2010, and has set the goal of making all facilities carbon neutral by 2015.

IBM, the services specialist, was second on 82.5%. It first outlined a desire to press into the eco-friendly space in 1971, began publishing environmental reports in 1990, and has continued to innovate in this arena through the Smarter Planet programme.

The National Australia Bank, which became carbon neutral in 2010, was third on 82.2%. Bradesco, a Brazilian bank, logged the same total, praised for offering funding to eco-friendly entrepreneurs and issuing cards made from recycled materials.

Next on the list were the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group on 80.9%, BT, the UK telecoms company, on 80.4%, and Tata Consultancy Services, a unit of the Indian conglomerate, on 79.1%.

Completing the top ten were Infosys, the Indian IT firm, on 77.3% Philips, the Dutch capital goods manufacturer, on 77.2%, and Swisscom, the telco, on 77%. As such, only one American operator, IBM, featured in this elite cohort, Newsweek observed.

It also revealed the leading 100 green corporations from 2009 had out-performed the S&P500, an index covering the stock prices of the world's most valuable enterprises, by 4.8% in the last two years.

"Big companies have decided that this is a long-term play," Thomas Lyon, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, said.

General Electric is an example of this: it fell just outside the top 60 in Newsweek's rankings, but is placing a heavy emphasis on this area, such as with the Ecomagination open innovation scheme.

"We've been presented with a false choice: either great economic performance or great environmental performance," said Mark Vachon, VP, Ecomagination at GE. "But through innovation, we can solve both challenges."

Data sourced from Newsweek; additional content by Warc staff