How green funding can support your ESG agenda

    Good ESG practices are good business, and smart lighting can help


    We’re in a new corporate age: one in which companies are expected to do right by the full range of economic and social stakeholders. As a result, the environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, agenda has assumed a new prominence in boardrooms.


    Organizations will have different priorities when it comes to tackling the agenda, of course. Large food retailers, with their reliance on plastic packaging that has a way of ending up in our oceans, might be especially concerned with the environmental component, while manufacturers with workforces in developing countries might concentrate more on the social component, and so on.


    Whatever the differences, carbon neutrality is the common underlying commitment that many enterprises and governments are now making. These organizations now recognize that they have responsibilities to more than just their shareholders and their bottom lines.


    Why has this new ethic spread so fast? Part of the reason is because good ESG practices are good business. Energy-efficient operations quite often prove to be cash positive, which means that a company’s annual savings may exceed the service fee incurred by adopting more efficient solutions. Additionally, customers in the developed world increasingly consider the size of a corporation’s carbon footprint as a factor in their purchasing decisions.


    Raising money the ESG way


    In this new environment, even raising capital has taken on a distinctly green color.


    Witness the rise of green bonds, offered by green investment funds and other investment bodies. The World Bank issued the first such bonds in 2009, and they have gained popularity over the last five years. Green bonds, $157 billion worth of which were issued in 2019, raise money earmarked for green projects, whether in renewable energy, pollution prevention, biodiversity preservation, transportation, or anything else. What makes them attractive for issuers is the tax incentives they bring.

    Many green investors direct their funds into sustainable projects at smaller scale, for example by offering lighting retrofits, building retrofits, and other energy efficiency initiatives as a service. Organizations benefit from the energy-efficiency savings as well as from the green financing without the hassle of having to issue their own bonds.”

    Green loans support the same sorts of green projects their bond cousins do. Borrowers benefit from interest rates that might fall as green projects are implemented and sustainability goals are met.


    Then there are sustainability-linked bonds and sustainability-linked loans. Capital raised using these instruments isn’t as narrowly targeted as the proceeds of green loans and green bonds are. That characteristic makes them better for organizations that want more leeway in what they do with their money—so long as that money works toward sustainability-related goals in a general way.


    Finally, there are sustainability—as opposed to sustainability-linked—loans and bonds. These finance projects with a mixture of environmental and social goals.


    Meeting the new benchmarks


    Success with debt instruments like these can do wonders for a company, even beyond the benefits associated with the particular debt instrument itself.


    For example, it can translate into higher company sustainability ratings from ratings firms. That high rating will in turn attract investment, whether from big institutions or from private investors who are increasingly interested in “investing their values.” In fact, research indicates that 85% of retail investors are intrigued by sustainable investing. In a great example of a virtuous circle, a higher sustainability rating will make it easier for a company to borrow money or issue debt on a green basis in the future.


    There are other ways to boost a sustainability rating. As documented in the corporate social responsibility reports that have become standard annual publications in the business world, companies are cutting carbon emissions, teaming up to remove plastic from ocean waters, working to improve work conditions, boosting transparency along their supply chains, tackling representation and inclusion issues, helping reduce the carbon footprints of their commuting employees, offering sustainable choices in their on-site dining options, and so on down an increasingly long line.


    They’re also investing in smart technologies that make their operations and facilities greener, more efficient, and more comfortable for employees.

    How green funding can support your ESG agenda

    Cutting edge office buildings, for example, are integrating transformative technologies. An LED-based smart lighting platform, outfitted with sensors beaming data back to analytical engines, can have a big effect on a company’s sustainability profile. The LED luminaires themselves can significantly reduce lighting-related energy consumption. Smart control can maximize those savings, with a smart lighting platform dimming luminaires in response to bright noontime light or in areas of an office that are currently unoccupied.


    Sustainability profile aside, such innovations also have a big positive financial impact. Lighting that dims itself in response to the presence of intense sunlight will cut operational costs dramatically.


    Nor is it all about light, either. A smart irrigation system will water plants and other greenery in and around an office building when watering is required, doing the job with optimal efficiency and saving on personnel costs. A smart HVAC system that uses motion sensors (perhaps embedded in lighting apparatus) toward appropriately adjusting the temperatures of meeting rooms when they empty is a boon not only for sustainability, but for the company budget.


    Sustainability and social responsibility will become even more important as the world attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and respond to the recent calls for social and economic justice. Organizations that want to prosper in this new environment need smart solutions to do so. And as they put solutions in place, they’ll be helping themselves as well.

    About the author:

    Slawomir Huss

    Slawomir Huss

    Head of Signify Capital Europe

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