Toyota has had a bumpy ride the past couple of years, thanks in no small part to a high-profile series of safety recalls. To make matters worse, its popular Prius was recently lost its #1 spot on the EPA's list of fuel-efficient cars. But not to worry: the automaker just landed atop a different list, and it's now the greenest brand in the world.

What's a green brand anyway?

The first-ever list of "Best Global Green Brands" comes to us via the marketing and research powerhouse known as Interbrand, which publishes an annual lineup of the top 100 international brands. To compile its green rankings, Interbrand took its top 100 list and put it through the ringer, applying over 80 different metrics to evaluate companies on both "real" and "perceived" criteria.

On the "real" front, Interbrand looked at things like the companies' operations, their supply chains, transportation systems, and policies. On the "perceived" side, Interbrand relied more heavily on consumers' opinions of the companies: does the public see the companies as green? Does that green cred extend across the companies' entire product lineup? And so on. (Survey monkeys can pore over the methodological nitty-gritty here.)

In other words: to make the cut, companies had to talk the talk and walk the walk. They couldn't just tell the public that they were green; they had to prove it in practice. Interbrand's global CEO Jez Frampton summed up the firm's approach: "We believe the strongest green brands lie at the intersection of performance and perception: their ability to build stronger connections with consumers as a result of actionable and credible environmental practices."

What put Toyota on top?

One of the key factors that helped secure a #1 ranking for Toyota was the automaker's "Global Vision" plan [PDF], which was published earlier this year:

Toyota will lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people. Through our commitment to quality, constant innovation and respect for the planet, we aim to exceed expectations and be rewarded with a smile. We will meet challenging goals by engaging the talent and passion of people, who believe there is always a better way.

That's a "broad strokes" policy, of course, but Riki Inuzuka, Toyota's Managing Officer for its Corporate Planning Division and Research Division, some more concrete details

"Our aim is to reduce the output of carbon dioxide from manufacturing to sales, conserve material resources from recycling, and nurture human resources and afforestation activity in harmony with nature. This is our corporate social responsibility in manufacturing automobiles and we work toward creating “ever-better” cars through these activities. We know that profitability is the result of our efforts."

Other factors weighing in Toyota's favor were its restructuring for greater transparency after the aforementioned recall fiascoes; its partnership with EV automaker Tesla; and its laudable response to the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Other companies of note

We're happy to report that Toyota wasn't the only automaker to make the list of "Best Global Green Brands". Volkswagen and Honda came in at #6 and #7, respectively. Hyundai hit #11, BMW was #12, Mercedes-Benz was #16, and Ford rang in at #20. Click here for a look at the top 50 -- and be sure to tap the "+" symbol beside each brand to learn why each made the cut.

[Interbrand via MediaPost]