• Heinz-Joachim Imlau

How to identify hidden ESG-Champions

The ongoing public discussion on climate change is bringing one thing in particular to the fore time and again: sustainable management by companies. But how sustainable are they really in comparison to how they are presented and perceived? "Greenwashing", which leads to an excessive perception of sustainability, appears to be a major problem in this context. A recently presented study on this topic shows surprising results from the evaluation of company patents.


In the study of InTraCoM GmbH in collaboration with Dr. Wolfgang Engshuber – co-founder and formerchairman of the UN Principles for Responsible Investments -, the patents of all listed companies with an annual turnover of more than one billion euros, at least 20 active patent families and a patent portfolio value of at least two million euros were analysed and evaluated.

InTraCoM CEO Dr. Dierk-Oliver Kiehne explains: "As it is known from previous studies that the purely statistical or purely qualitative evaluation of patents - for example the counting of patent applications - leads to incorrect and distorted results, we chose an approach that considered the monetary market value of the patents. i.e. the intangible asset growth of the respective company." According to Kiehne, those patents that describe or enable sustainable technologies or processes were then extracted from these evaluated patents and their value was put in relation to the overall portfolio value.

Patents as a blueprint for R&D

As a result, among the largest industries (industries with the most market participants), those companies were identified which, according to their patent portfolios, have the highest potential for future sustainable products, technologies and processes. Kiehne: "If one considers patents as a blueprint for R&D expenditure, this presentation also reflects a company's investment intentions in sustainability. What is surprising is that certain companies have significantly more valuable sustainable patents than one would expect.

Many companies are more sustainable than their reputation - and vice versa

The results were compared with the results of a study of "Corporate Knights". The Canadian company publishes an annual ranking of the most sustainable companies. "What is particularly surprising is that particularly sustainable companies were in some cases even below the industry average based on their patent activity," says Kiehne. Positive surprises were reported by some car manufacturers, for example. "Toyota, for example, surprised with the greatest controversy: at Corporate Knights, the manufacturer was only in 95th place out of 100," says Kiehne. "According to the analysis of patents described above, however, the company would be much more sustainable and would be in 11th place in the ranking - well above the average compared to the industry with a rising trend. This means: "The share of sustainable patent values even increased compared to the previous year. BMW, too - only 99th in the ranking - has an above-average sustainable patent portfolio and has moved up to 15th place in the InTraCoM ranking, however with a slightly falling trend. Read the sudy...

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