Research Updates

Best Performance Award: the DNA of sustainable development of Italian companies

This award, now in its 6th year, was created to demonstrate that high levels of ESG activities go hand in hand with consistent, long-lasting, sustainable financial performanceWhat is clear from analyzing the latest sample of companies is that they have achieved better results compared to their peers in the same industry. 

The questions

In today’s far from ordinary macro-economic context, environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) are emerging as an inescapable priority for companies that want to compete on a global level. A hefty number of businesses have already made considerable headway in handling the social and environmental consequences of their actions. And more and more organizations are deploying strategies designed to limit their impact on the community and the environment, or going even further, to generate a positive impact in their field of business.


This is what inspired SDA Bocconi to launch the Best Performance Award beginning in 2017. The initiative was founded in collaboration with consultants and other partners in the world of finance: PwC, EQT, Banca Mediolanum, and Fondazione Veronesi, along with two technical partners, Havas PR and Bureau Van Dijk.
The Best Performance Award is an annual prize recognizing Italian companies that have excelled in sustainable development, ensuring viability for their business while respecting the human and environmental dimensions as well as technological innovation, without jeopardizing their operating and financial results.
The search for candidates for this year’s award, the 6th edition, wrapped up in early 2023.
Three pillars are evaluated:

  • Green & Social.
  • Innovation & Technology.
  • Value Added.

The project targets Italian companies and the prizes they can win are five, three of which are tiered based on company size.
Best Performing Small Company, for companies with revenues between 15 and 50 million euro.
Best Performing Medium Company, for companies with revenues between 51 and 100 euro.
Best Performing Large Company, for companies with revenues between 101 million and 5 billion euro.
Best Performer of the Year, the top company in the entire sample regardless of size.
Special Prize: for action on a “Hot topic” that the project partners decide on, which differs year by year.
The research takes place in several stages to limit the pool of candidates. In addition to including companies with revenues from 15 million to 5 billion euro, the aim of the selection process is to identify champions of Italian industry by factoring in certain operating variables and financial parameters from the two-year period prior to each award.
EBITDA margin above average for the industry in question.
Growth in revenues above average for the industry.
Capex/Total Assets ratio (Capital Expenditure) above average for the industry.
PFN/EBITDA ratio less than three.
This round of analysis sharply reduces the number of contenders. In fact, for the 2022/2023 edition, starting from a field of 600,000 active Italian businesses, by applying the above criteria the resulting shortlist counted around 1,400 firms.
Once the sample is compiled, the shortlisted companies get a self-assessment questionnaire asking them to indicate their chief sustainability initiatives (and when possible, the resulting outcomes). Next, respondents access structured interviews with project partners and dedicated focus group sessions. The idea here is to incorporate qualitative elements in the evaluation process. After these steps are completed, the Awarding Committee, made up of SDA Bocconi faculty and sponsor representatives, votes on the winners in the five categories.
The evaluation process is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - The evaluation process is illustrated in Figure 1.


Since the first edition, around 500 companies have been in the running for the Best Performance Award; in the latest edition the number of participants hit an all-time high of almost 100 (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 - Number of participating companies, by edition


The award aims to demonstrate how high levels of ESG activity – as well as innovative activity – can be associated with consistent, long-lasting, sustainable operating results and financial performance. The 2022 edition offers a clear example: the participating companies outperformed the competition in their respective industries (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 - Operating results and financial performance relative to industry


Analyzing the organizations in the sample over the same two-year time span, Figure 4 shows that individual companies have also improved their own performance after upgrading their ESG activities.

Figure 4 - Trends in operating results and financial performance of sample companies

Looking ahead

Since its inception, the BPA team has made process changes to the research phase, from the selection criteria to methods for collecting information, with an eye to improving and consolidating the evaluation process. That said, there are some limitations, the most relevant being inherently exogenous. In fact, despite the intense interest shown in financial markets and among investors regarding ESG issues, to date there is no universal framework for measuring the effect or the effectiveness of ESG strategies. What’s more, there is no unequivocal list of activities that taken together defines what ESG actually is. In lieu of a universal system of measurement, the goal – and the responsibility – of our team is to constantly work to finetune our analysis, not just to keep the study up to date, but to ensure it is cutting edge.