There are reasons to be optimistic about the sustainability of European business, although the year has been punctuated by some depressing headlines

2015 has been a year in which corporate commitment to corporate social responsibility has gained momentum in Europe, particularly on clean energy, and sometimes outstripping the willingness of governments to legislate.

The UN climate talks in Paris were marked not only by late-night wrangling over goals and costs but a series of high-profile announcements from companies keen to do – and be seen to do – the right thing in the eyes of consumers and other stakeholders.

On the downside, the biggest corporate villain of the year was undoubtedly German carmaker VW, which fell from grace after rigging diesel emissions tests. The spotlight shifted to other car manufacturers as trust in the sector evaporated.

The UK also came in for fierce criticism after the Conservative government ditched a raft of green policies on the grounds of the need to make financial savings. This threatened to undermine its credibility in Paris, along with future investment in UK renewables.

Ikea

Individual European companies have advanced sustainability in their own ways. Swedish giant Ikea, for instance, was aiming to source 100% sustainable cotton by the end of 2015 for all its products from lampshades to bed linen. Ikea, which uses about 0.7% of the world’s cotton, has...

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