The green and sustainability loan market: ready for take-off

Channels: Debt

Companies: LMA, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, Real Impact Tracker, Royal DSM, BDO Capital & Investment Corporation, Danone, Royal Philips, Iberdrola, Avangrid, Polymetal, Wilmar, White & Case, LMA, International Capital Market Association, LSTA, ING, Sustainalytics, Vigeo Eiris, B Lab, Generali

People: Clare Dawson, Leonie Schreve, Cary Krosinsky, Cecile Moitry, Bruné Singh, Yann Gerardin, Eduardo Francisco, Tallat Hussain

Green and sustainability loans are the hot new trend in sustainable finance. Could they outgrow the booming green bond market, ask Nick Roumpis and Peter Cripps

The green loan market passed a significant milestone in its evolution in March, with the launch of the Green Loan Principles (GLPs).

These are closely modelled on the Green Bond Principles (GBPs), which were launched in 2014, and helped secure a sustained period of rapid growth for the market.

Just like the GBPs, the GLPs are designed for lending with a dedicated green use of proceeds, and they recommend transparency about how the projects were selected, the funds allocated and the impacts reported.

However, at the same time as the green loan market has taken off, another sustainability-themed loan product has emerged.

These have been issued under various labels – such as sustainability, impact, or environmental, social and governance (ESG) – and their interest rates are often contingent on the companies' ESG scores or other sustainability-linked factors.

Cecile Moitry, director of sustainable finance and investment at BNP Paribas, explains: "They are fundamentally different. Green loans are based on the Green Loan Principles (GLP) and the idea of a dedicated use of proceeds to finance a green project or capex.

"Positive incentive loans, or ESG-linked loans, do not have such a dedicated use of proceeds but include the notion of performance according to ESG criteria, with a reward in terms of pricing according to the performance."

Loans issued under the GLPs tend to be term loans, explains another market insider, because this type of loan is often used for a specific project or acquisition, whereas the sustainability loans tend to be for general corporate purposes.

However, there is no standardisation of definitions. Labels are used differently for different deals.

For example, Dutch health and nutrition company Royal DSM was a borrower on a green-labelled deal, but this did not have a designated use of proceeds.

The interest rate on its €1 billion ($1.2 billion) revolving credit facility depends on the following three elements: improving its cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) efficiency, improving its score according to an 'energy efficiency index' that measures energy intensity, and the amount of its electricity sourced from renewables.

Royal DSM's auditor will assess the progress of the company against these targets annually.

In other words, it is more like an ESG-linked or a sustainability loan than a green loan in its structure.

Looking at these various types of green or sustainability-themed loans together, they are now worth some $32 billion since the first transactions in early 2017, according to data compiled by Environmental Finance (see table for selected list of issues).

"As there are not enough green bonds to cater for demand, we are seeing green investors and larger investors that increasingly allocate part of their mandate to green finance become attracted to the green loans market" - Leonie Schreve, ING

Some market watchers believe the green loan market could become bigger than the green bond market. To put that in context, the green bond market saw about $175 billion of issues in 2017.

According to Societe Generale, the market could yet grow ten-fold.

One banker said that "probably as of today there are 40 deals that we know of, but it doesn't mean that we know of all the deals, and some of them are under discussion."

These loans have great potential in regions where the loan market dwarfs the bond market. For example, Eduardo Francisco, president at BDO Capital & Investment Corporation, told Environmental Finance's Green Bonds Asia conference that in the Philippines the local currency bond market is just a sixth the size of the loan market.

"I would not be shocked if 10 or 20% of that is green, and it's just that we are not reporting it," he added.

"The financing of green loans has so much more impact for developing countries." This rapidly growing market has attracted major corporates such as French food firm Danone (which borrowed €2 billion), Dutch health technology firm Royal Philips (€1 billion) and Spanish utility Iberdrola (€5.3 billion).

The phenomenon started in Europe but has now been adopted as far afield as Asia, Russia and the US, with companies such as Avangrid, Polymetal, and Wilmar tapping the market.

Green Loans

For corporates, green loans are a way of communicating their sustainability strategies and engaging in a conversation on sustainable finance.

Bruné Singh, group treasurer at Royal DSM, told Environmental Finance: "We concluded this revolving credit facility to underline our commitment to tackling climate change specifically.

"We also see this transaction as an opportunity to collaborate with our banking partners and lead the conversation on sustainability and climate change, and influence mindsets.

"We haven't tried to reinvent the wheel here, we are simply using this transaction to express what we are already doing.

"There is a universe of green investors, and until recently the only investments they were able to put their money into was green bonds" - Clare Dawson, LMA

We are embedding existing criteria to align with our overall approach on the topic." The creation of the GLPs is significant because it is expected to help the market for green loans scale up.

It also marks the first time that learnings from the green bond market have led to the creation of another asset class within sustainable finance.

Tallat Hussain, senior counsel at White & Case, said of the launch of the GLPs: "This new categorisation framework may inject the necessary integrity required to encourage instruments like green loans to be the new shape of green finance. It may also set the groundwork for innovative projects and financial solutions."

The GLPs were formed by the Loan Market Association (LMA), which covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and the Asia Pacific Loan Market Association, with the help of the International Capital Market Association, which administers the GBPs.

Clare Dawson, CEO of the LMA, told Environmental Finance: "We deliberately based the GLP on the GBP because we didn't want to create arbitrage between the loan and bond principles. The GBPs were well established, so there was no point in reinventing the wheel.

"Another consideration was the fact that it is also possible to securitise loans into the bond market, so you would want the underlying loans to be following the same principles as the bond resulting from the securitisation."

In this way, the creation of the GLPs is expected to help the green bond market scale up, too.

It is generally felt that the green loan market is complementary to the green bond market, rather than cannibalistic, although it could lead to double counting of green assets, which might be initially counted as part of a green loan, and then securitised as a bond.

However, there are some practical differences between the two sets of voluntary principles. For example, because loans are private, the level of reporting in the public domain may be slightly less than for bonds, Dawson explains.

"Lenders may also consider self-certification rather than external review to be appropriate," due to the close relationship between lender and borrower.

Dawson revealed that the LMA and APLMA have had discussions with the Loan Syndications & Trading Association (LSTA) based in the US, "and we will be working with them in future as we look to develop the Principles".

"The Principles currently effectively contemplate term loans and use of proceeds. We are going to be looking to develop them to be applicable to more general purpose loans – so looking at how you measure the greenness of the loan not based purely on the specific use of proceeds but looking more broadly at the company.

"That's the next stage, which will broaden the possibility of doing a loan under the Principles." She explains that this would be significant in terms of helping to expand the Principles to a wider group of borrowers.

"If you can apply green principles that allow borrowers to use a revolving credit facility under a green structure, then you are going to broaden the universe of borrowers. This is particularly the case for small-to-medium-sized borrowers because often they don't have specific projects to which they can allocate the funds, which is what is required for a green bond or a green term loan based on use of proceeds."

Sustainability loans

Sustainability loans – in the form of various labels – are typically lent for general corporate purposes.

Each deal is different, but the interest rate is often variable, according to defined sustainability factors, in order to encourage some form of improvement in the sustainability performance of the borrower.

For the lender, it can justify a slightly lower borrowing cost based on the premise that by improving its sustainability rating, the lender is at lower risk of default.

Normally companies and banks do not disclose the pricing details of their green and ESG facilities.

According to Leonie Schreve, global head of sustainable finance at ING, discounts and penalties tend to vary between 5% and 10% of the interest rate.

"As the bar for sustainability is raised all the time, companies with a very high score will find it more difficult to make significant improvements than companies with an average score," said Schreve.

However, transparency is an issue for sustainability loans.

Lenders are often happy to issue press releases announcing that they have signed such a loan, but the details on the sustainability criteria on which the interest rate hinges can be vague.

For example, Danone linked its €2 billion syndicated credit facility with ESG criteria. This transaction, which was reported in February, was hailed at the time as "the future of banking" by Yann Gerardin, head of corporate and institutional banking at BNP Paribas.

Danone's facility now includes "an innovative mechanism" of payable margin adjustment, reviewed at least once per year based on ESG scores from Sustainalytics, Vigeo Eiris and B Lab, a non-profit providing certifications to companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

"ESG can be a very generic phrase, depending on what's actually being measured" - Cary Krosinsky, Real Impact Tracker

Cary Krosinsky, a lecturer at Yale College and president of Real Impact Tracker – an organisation looking at the impact that fund managers have on ESG – told Environmental Finance at the time: "While this is great to see in general, ESG can be a very generic phrase, depending on what's actually being measured.

"For example, Danone is a company with potential future fresh water access risk. Will that be part of the assessment?"

A spokesperson for Danone told Environmental Finance that fresh water access is part of all sustainability indexes as well as B Corp assessments. It referred to Sustainalytics and Vigeo Eiris websites for more information on their ESG methodologies.

In another deal, Italian insurer Generali linked €4 billion of credit facilities with green targets and progress made on sustainability initiatives. But it declined to provide more details about the specific targets and factors that would be taken into consideration.

Schreve at ING said: "With the launch of the LMA Green Loan Principles, transparency and clarity on green loans has been achieved by standardised methods of reporting.

"I would expect more transparency and a bit more standardisation on what is green and reporting on a regular basis during the tenure of the facility to ensure those criteria and commitments are being met."

A spokesperson for LMA said: "This [transparency] will no doubt be an area for development going forward, although it should be noted that there are already well-developed standards in the market, such as those developed by the Climate Bonds Initiative, which specify clear criteria for what is required to achieve, for example, solar energy certification.

Investor diversification

One of the most exciting aspects of this fledgling green and sustainability loan market is its potential to appeal to 'non-bank investors' who are being driven by a green or sustainability mandate to diversify the assets to which they allocate their capital.

ING's Schreve said a supply shortage in the green bond market could boost the green loan market: "As there are not enough green bonds to cater for demand, we are seeing green investors and larger investors that increasingly allocate part of their mandate to green finance become attracted to the green loans market.

For green loans, there is very good potential for more parties to step in as investors besides the traditional lenders."

LMA's Dawson agrees: "There is a universe of green investors, and until recently the only investments they were able to put their money into was green bonds.

"So, to the extent that they are allowed to invest in loans – some types of nonbank financial institutions have regulatory restrictions on how much they can put into loans – the emergence of a green loan market gives them an alternative to buying bonds."

MonthYearBorrowerLoan amount$ equivalent (m)LabelCountryTypeUse of proceedsObjectives/KPIPricingDuration
January 2016 Anthony Veder Group $66m 66 Sutainabable shipping loan Netherlands Private placement To finance the building of the 18,000 cubic metre Ice Class 1A Super LNG carrier Coral EnergICE, which uses the boil off of its cargo to fuel the propulsion of the vessel The loan is fully certified according to the Clean Shipping Index Guidelines by Bureau Veritas, which also verified the sustainable credentials of this transaction   20 years
October 2016 OVG Real Estate €80m 88 Green Netherlands Bilateral real estate loan The buildings involved also meet the Climate Bond Initiative standard.      
January 2017 Mep Werke - Strasser Capital €30m 35 Green Germany Senior, secured, fixed rate Long-term financing of a solar system rental model   Fixed rate 20 years
February 2017 Iberdrola €500m 583 Green Spain Not disclosed Energy efficiency and renewable energy Vigeo Eiris certified as being in compliance with the Green Bond Principles    
April 2017 Acciona €100m 86 Green Spain Not disclosed Partially fund its photovoltaic and wind energy projects in Chile Certified to conform to the Green Bond Principles by Vigeo Eiris   "Long-term"
April 2017 Royal Philips €1bn 1170 Sustainability Netherlands Syndicated RCF General corporate purpose Philips's sustainability performance and rating provided by Sustainalytics If the rating goes up, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa. 2022
April 2017 Unibail Rodamco €650m 754 Green France RCF General corporate purpose 3 KPIs defined in the framework: Carbon intensity, Energy Intensity, BREEAM In-Use certification Margin Incentive on y-y improvements on the 3 KPI Five years, with two one-year extensions
May 2017 Quadran €45m 54 Green France Private placement Solar, wind projects     Five years
June 2017 Tradebe 265 309 Green Spain Green Syndicated Term Loan        
June 2017 Barry Callebaut €750m 870 Sustainability Switzerland Syndicated RCF General corporate purpose ESG Score from Sustainalytics If the ESG rating goes up, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa. 2022
July 2017 Gas Natural €330m 380 Sustainability Spain Bilateral RCF   Sustainability improvement Partially index-linked to the environmental, social and corporate governance impact of the company.  Over 4 years with the possibility of an additional year.
July 2017 Terna $56m 56 Green Italy Project finance For the construction of the 500 kV transmission line between the Uruguayan cities of Melo and Tacuarembó Defined as green by Vigeo Eiris Libor USD 6 month +235bps 17 years
July 2017 Terna $25m 25 Green Italy Project finance For the construction of the 500 kV transmission line between the Uruguayan cities of Melo and Tacuarembó Defined as green by Vigeo Eiris Libor USD 6 month +210bps 15 years
October 2017 Abertis €100m 118 Sustainability Spain Bilateral RCF   Sustainability improvement The loan's interest rate is benchmarked to a sustainability rating from Sustainalytics  
October 2017 SocFin €15m 18 Sustainability Belgium Bilateral term loan   Sustainability improvement    
October 2017 bPost SA €300m 354 Sustainability Belgium Syndicated RCF   Sustainability improvement ESG rating in the pricing of the loan determined by Sustainalytics  
November 2017 Wilmar $150m 150 Sustainability Singapore Bilateral RCF General corporate purpose ESG Score from Sustainalytics If the rating goes up, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa.  
November 2017 Stora Enso €600m 699 ESG Indexed loan Finland RCF General corporate purpose Science Based Targets Pricing is based on Stora Enso's ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of pulp, paper, and board produced  
December 2017 Skanska €200m 233 Green Sweden Green Multi-Currency RCF       2 years with an option for a 1-year extension.
December 2017 Red Eléctrica de España €800m 944 Sustainability Spain Syndicated loan General corporate purpose ESG Score from Vigeo Eiris If the rating goes up, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa.  
December 2017 Casino Guichard Perrachon €50m 59 Sustainability France Bilateral loan   Sustainability improvement    
  2017 LafargeHolcim Not disclosed Not disclosed Sustainability Switzerland Bilateral RCF   Sustainability improvement    
May 2017 EDF €150m 164 Sustainability France Bilateral RCF General corporate purpose ESG Score from Sustainalytics If the rating goes up, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa. NA
January 2018 Fromageries Bel €520m 640 Environmental and social France RCF General corporate purpose 3 objectives defined in the framework of their CSR strategy: Reduce Fromageries Bel's global carbon footprint, Foster healthier consumption habits and lifestyles, Accelerate the sustainable transformation of dairy upstream If the objectives are not met the Borrower pays an equivalent amount of what could be assimilated to a penalty to a NGO or for internal investments allowing to achieve the objective. Five years, with two one-year extensions
January 2018 Iberdrola €5.3bn 6519 Green Spain Syndicated credit facility General corporate purpose 1 KPI linked to green house gas emission intensity Credit margin linked to an established variation of the KPI / +/-2.5bps for a 30bps margin Maturity is five years, with the possibility of a two-year extension, until February 2025.
February 2018 Danone €2bn 2500 ESG France Syndicated credit facility General corporate purpose ESG score provided by Sustainalytics and Vigéo Eiris / KPI: Part of Sales linked to subsidiaries certified by B Corp Incentive scheme linked to the two KPIs  
February 2018 Mapfre €1bn 1250 Sustainability Spain Syndicated credit facility General corporate purpose ESG Score from Vigeo Eiris If the rating goes up, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa.  Extended its maturity period until 2023 (open to a possible extension)
March 2018 Olam $500m 500 Sustainability Singapore Loan General corporate purpose Scores granted by Sustainalytics on 50 ESG linked criteria If the targets are reached on all scores, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa. Three years
March 2018 Ivanhoe Cambridge €480m 590 green France Commercial real estate loan For DUO Towers in Paris. CBI certified via Oekom     4 years
March 2018 New World Development Co Ltd HK$3.6bn 458.8 green Hong Kong Loan For a green commercial re-development project at King's Road, North Point, Hong Kong. Targeting for completion in 2019, the project has achieved the world's first WELL Building Standard Pre-certification (Platinum), as well as BEAM Plus New Building Version 1.2 (Provisional Platinum) and LEED Building Design and Construction Core and Shell Version 2009 Pre-certification (Platinum).     Not disclosed
March 2018 Jingneng Clean Energy HK$1.72bn 220 Green Hong Kong Term loan The proceeds will be used to support the Company's wind power and solar energy projects in Australia.     3 years
April 2018 Iberdrola Mexico $400m 400 Green Mexico Term loan Refinance three of the company's wind farms in Mexico     5 years, can be extended for another 2 years
April 2018 Adecco €600m 738 ESG Switzerland Loan General corporate purpose ESG Score from Sustainalytics If the ESG rating goes up, the interest rate goes down —and vice versa.  
April 2018 Polymetal $80m 80 Sustainability Russia Bilateral RCF   Sustainability improvement  If the Sustainalitics score for Polymetal improves, the interest rate for the loan will be decreased. Conversely, if the Sustainalytics score deteriorates, the interest rate will increase.  
April 2018 Gecina €150m 185 green France Loan   Sustainability improvement Performance-linked loan with its margin depending, among others, on its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance measured by its GRESB Rating (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark).  
April 2018 sPower $175m 175 Green US RCF To support its solar, wind and storage activities      
April 2018 Terra-Gen $244m 244 Green US Term loan to fund the construction of wind farms in California and Texas      
May 2018 Hera €200m 233 ESG Indexed loan Italy RFC   progression of three sustainable indicators: reduced CO2 emissions; increased waste recycling and reduced energy consumption    
June 2018 Macquarie £250m 333 green UK Term loan Renewable energy projects initially, and energy efficiency, waste management, green buildings and clean transportation projects in the future      
June 2018 Macquarie £250m 333 green UK RCF Renewable energy projects initially, and energy efficiency, waste management, green buildings and clean transportation projects in the future      
June 2018 CMS Energy $1.4bn 1400 Sustainability US Syndicated RCF   new credit facilities allow CMS to reduce its interest rate by meeting targets related to environmental sustainability, specifically renewable energy generation    
June 2018 Avangrid $2.5bn 2500 Sustainability US Syndicated RCF   Sustainability indicator will be independently verified by the agency Vigeo Eiris.  price-adjustment mechanism based on the continuous reduction of AVANGRID's emission intensity.  2023
May 2018 Generali €2bn 2380 ESG Italy RCF General corporate purpose ESG Score The cost is linked both to targets on green investments and to progress made on sustainability initiatives. 3 years
May 2018 Generali €2bn 2380 ESG Italy RCF General corporate purpose ESG Score The cost is linked both to targets on green investments and to progress made on sustainability initiatives. 5 years
May 2018 Pennon/South West Water £30m/£20m 65 impact UK RCF General corporate purpose Pennon: ESG score / SWW: KPIs linked to the bathing water quality in its region The margin directly dependant on the company's sustainability rating  
May 2018 South West Water £30m 35 Green UK RCF General corporate purpose Pennon: ESG score / SWW: KPIs linked to the bathing water quality in its region The margin directly dependant on the company's sustainability rating  
May 2018 South West Water £30m 35 Green UK Lease To help finance the cutting edge Mayflower Water Treatment Works in Devon. Mayflower under the Green Loan Principles is an eligible green asset as the Treatment Works will be the first in the UK to use innovative 'ceramic membrane' filtration using less chemicals and energy than traditional processes to treat raw water      
May 2018 Royal DSM €1bn 1200 Green Netherlands Syndicated RCF General corporate purpose Sustainability improvement DSM has linked the interest rate of this Facility to its performance on the reduction of GHG emissions, consisting of three performance improvement elements: cumulative GHG efficiency improvement, improving the Energy Efficiency Index (EEI) and increasing the electricity sourced from renewable resources 5 years (may be extended by 2)
May 2018 Renewi €550m 655 green UK Syndicated RCF   Sustainability improvement Accordingly, Renewi will benefit from a lower margin payable on its borrowings in the event that it achieves each of five ambitious sustainability objectives. These are: • Increases in Recycling and Recovery Rates; • Growth in Carbon Avoidance; • Increase in fleet efficiency, reducing emissions; • Transition to a low polluting Euro VI fleet; and • Ongoing reduction in the 3 day accident rate. May 2023 with options to extend into 2025
July 2018 Pennon £100m 130 ESG UK Term loan   The loan requires the Pennon Group to meet ESG/Sustainability objectives and key performance indicators based on an ESG Index issued by independent ratings organisation, Sustainalytics Pennon Group receives a reduced margin on the loan if targets are achieved 5 years
July 2018 Pennon (South West Water) £30m 39 Green UK Lease Finance the state-of-the-art Mayflower Water Treatment Works in Plymouth in the UK, and other sustainable water and wastewater management assets     10 years