Despite Germany appearing to have failed to live up to its reputation as a green economy, the country's car industry is finally starting to take ecological sustainability seriously.
Germany has a largely undeserved reputation of being the world's top green economy, according to the results of the Global Green Economy report, which is produced by Dual Citizen, a US-based consultancy.
"Experts credit Germany's political leadership with notable international advocacy for green issues and for implementing successful domestic policies in a consistent manner," the report says.
But in terms of actual performance, Germany occupies 10th position on the index, with New Zealand in the top slot. However, despite growing doubts concerning the country's green credentials, some German companies are rapidly establishing an international reputation for ecologically sustainable strategies.
The BMW group, for instance, tops the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI). In the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Global 500 ranking, the BMW Group is also the number one automaker and ranks in the Top 10 of all participating international companies. Scoring 96 out of a possible 100 points, the company is listed in both the CDLI and the Carbon Performance Leadership Index. The Carbon Disclosure Project, which produced the report, is a non-profit organisation that claims to have the largest database of corporate climate change information in the world.
The BMW Group was also this month designated the industry leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), making it the world's most sustainable automobile manufacturer for the seventh year running.
"Our corporate sustainability strategy is based on three pillars: economics, environment, corporate social responsibility," says Norbert Reithofer, the chairman of BMW.
"Climate protection serves an important role in this strategy. As part of our focus on climate protection, we continue reducing vehicle and production facility emissions around the world. By protecting the climate, society as a whole also benefits and it just makes good business sense for the BMW Group."
The company says its rating further acknowledges its long-running accomplishments in climate protection along the entire value chain. It believes this also reinforces the company's decision to embed sustainability into its long-term corporate strategy.
However, the green movement has long accused the automotive industry of developing green credentials while continuing to produce millions of fossil-fuel burning vehicles.
But at this month's Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW said it had made a clear strategic shift towards sustainable energy through its "Concept e" series of vehicles. These included the BMW i3 Concept and the BMW i8 Concept. According to BMW, the cars have a new "LifeDrive architecture" specially developed for electronic vehicles.
BMW Motorrad, part of the BMW group, has also developed an electronically powered scooter that the car maker says will help to solve the growing problem of traffic density.
BMW also published its 2010 sustainability report at the Frankfurt Motor Show. In early 2009, sustainability was established across the group as a corporate target, measured by a balanced scorecard. Detailed strategy guidelines were developed for all of the group's divisions to help the company measure and manage its own sustainability performance more precisely. All new business proposals are measured against the corporate goal of maximum sustainability. Each project submitted to the BMW Group's board of management for approval must first be evaluated according to sustainability criteria.
But, despite its recent conversion to ecological sustainability, there is little reason to suppose that big western economies, such as Germany's, will take the ecological lead.
"New Zealand's best green performance in 2011 suggests that prioritising green in the political and economic spheres can transform smaller nations into global sector leaders," the Global Green Economy report says.
According to Dual Citizen, highly developed European economies dominate the top of the clean-tech investment index because their green sectors are relatively evolved, well financed and linked to fast-growing international markets. But countries such as the UAE, while not in the top group, are still winning a great many environmental merits.
Although the UAE, for instance, is judged to have a low ranking as far as inward investment into the country goes, it scored highly in terms of leadership and domestic policy. According to the Global Green Economy report, there is also much that the country can carry out that would have long-term ecological benefits.
But, just as in the case of Germany, a disappointing current performance can hide growing green commitment from major industries. Countries such as New Zealand have showed that, in ecological terms, countries outside Europe and the US can leapfrog western states.