Bancolombia - using green buildings for green bonds

Companies: Bancolombia, IFC

People: Franco Piza

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Green bonds typically support renewable energy projects, with energy efficiency only recently taking a wider slice of the pie. Bancolombia, which is Colombia's largest commercial bank, decided to focus its efforts on green buildings above other areas that it also finances, such as clean production and agribusiness. The bank was the first in Colombia to issue a green bond in the amount of COP 350 billion ($117 million) in 2016, when IFC was the sole investor, and has since issued a second bond in the local market for COP 300 billion ($100 million) that was oversubscribed by 2.8 times, attracting 72 new investors.

Bancolombia: A Metrics-Driven Model for Green Bonds

Here's how the Bancolombia model works. The bank provides a variable loan for green construction financing from 0.5 percent to up to 1 percent less than conventional market rates by using its own resources alongside the proceeds of its pair of green bonds. The more measurably green the project is, the better the financing rate.

Qualified projects must receive a preliminary design certificate from an approved green buildings rating system such as EDGE, with certification services offered by CAMACOL, Colombia's chamber of construction. If the building owner chooses EDGE, details of the project are entered in the EDGE software with the project required to achieve a minimum of 20 percent less energy, water and embodied energy in materials compared to a conventional building.

In less than one year's time, 25 projects have been brought forward by developers eager to secure the discounted rate, according to Franco Piza, the Corporate Director of Sustainability for Bancolombia. "Our financial services are linked to a positive transformation of society," said Piza. "Because we are financing 42 percent of market volume, it's our responsibility to offer products and services to reach new markets, lower risk and improve rates. The first order of business is profits for our clients through better assets, the second is protecting the environment."

Franco Piza, the Corporate Director of Sustainability for Bancolombia

An Incentive-based, High-Profile Strategy

To create awareness among its clients, Bancolombia held events in 17 cities around the country with 300 property developers participating, often meeting with clients one-on-one. An intensive digital marketing strategy supplemented the bank's approach, with an online knowledge platform, webinars, prime-time advertising and social media. The approach has worked for Bancolombia, sparking demand among clients to differentiate their properties while saving money through the incentive. At the same time, Bancolombia offers green mortgages to qualifying homebuyers who purchase EDGE-certified properties at a discounted rate of 65 basis points for the first seven years of the loan.

To respond to demand, Bancolombia supplements bond proceeds with its own capital, with $175 million already invested in green buildings. Bancolombia's long-term strategy is to recoup its investment by creating a better price in the market for subsequent green bonds, and to expand its program to El Salvador and Panama, where it also operates.

A More Valuable Portfolio with Less Risk

Piza predicts that demand could increase to 12 times the size of the original bond. "We're trying to structure a better portfolio while closing the loop between the use of resources and how they're obtained," said Piza. "Once we have proof that greener assets have greater value and less risk, then the cost of incentives can be assumed by the local market."

Today Bancolombia is a model for how to move towards a future with better performing buildings through green bonds. But soon, its unique approach might be the norm. "We welcome our banking colleagues in Colombia to replicate our strategy, which demonstrates our true leadership," said Piza. "It's our goal to prove our motto that 'Bancolombia makes it possible' for everyone."

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