GLOBAL - Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the US have all failed to attain prime status in the sustainability ranking of German sustainable rating agency oekom research.

oekom research analysed the social and environmental sustainability of 51 individual countries, as well as of the EU as a whole.

The issues evaluated included freedom of speech, freedom of the press, investment in education and modern infrastructure, the energy mix and the way the country is tackling climate change.

Norway and Sweden retained their leading positions, while Denmark improved on the previous year's 9th-place ranking, taking third, mainly due to improvements in the environmental area, such as climate protection and the energy mix.

Austria came in fifth, followed by Germany in sixth place.

Together with Switzerland, the UK and France, these countries were among the 21 countries to be awarded oekom prime status.

The southern European crisis countries of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, on the other hand, failed to achieve oekom prime status.

Oliver Rüter, research director at oekom research, said: "Greece was already receiving poor ratings in our sustainability rating at a time when conventional rating agencies were still giving it scores in the A range.

"Investors who have been basing their decisions on our sustainability ratings do not have any Greek government bonds in their portfolios."

The US was ranked 44th, as many of the hopes pinned on the inauguration of US president Barack Obama have been unfulfilled.

The US, for example, continues to refuse to make a constructive contribution to global climate protection, while its consumption of energy and resources remains high.

Increasing income differentials are leading to social tensions, which are reflected in the protests by the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

Rüter added: "A country that invests in education, promotes research and development into renewable energies and energy efficiency and that provides its citizens with access to modern information and communication media is laying the foundations for that country's positive economic development."

The legal and social framework of a society is just as important, according to oekom.

In times of crisis, a pluralistic society in which citizens' and human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fully guaranteed, and in which all citizens have access to government services irrespective of their ability to pay bribes, will find mechanisms for resolving conflict that are different from those employed in countries where such rights are restricted.

These are all factors that have a positive impact on a country's performance and thus also on its creditworthiness.

oekom research's country rating, which it has published since 2001, covers the EU member states, the OECD countries and other major economies in Asia and Eastern Europe.

It comprises 150 social and environmental indicators.

oekom research country ratings [excerpt]:

1. Norway

2. Sweden

3. Denmark

4. Finland

5. Austria

6. Germany

10. Switzerland

15. European Union

17. United Kingdom

21. France

27. Italy

29. Greece

36. Brazil

44. United States

51. South Africa

52. India

On a similar note, investment-decision support tool provider MSCI has launched its ESG sovereign ratings, designed to identify a country's exposure to and management of ESG risk factors, and to explain how these factors might impact the long-term sustainability of its economy.

MSCI ESG Sovereign Ratings provide an overall sustainability assessment of 90 countries covering developed, emerging and frontier markets and contain historical time series results for more than five years.

Coverage is designed to provide ratings on 99% of sovereign bonds issued in the market, while countries that do not issue securities or whose debt is thinly traded are not rated.