Day in and day out, you likely encounter clients who question how sustainability will create value for their business. Let this video by Alexandre Magnin help you respond to their concerns so you can better work with them to incorporate sustainability into their strategy. Magnin’s video focuses on the Sustainable Value Framework (published in 2003 in the journal of the Academy of Management Executive).
It’s safe to say we all agree that green efforts in any industry should be applauded and the same is true when it comes to finance. But while a desire for green finance continues to grow worldwide, how can investors and issuers best identify and evaluate risk when the industry has no standards?
It’s clear that the industry is seeing major growth. In 2017 the issuance of labeled green bonds (PDF) jumped to nearly $160 billion and the self-labeled U.S. green bond market more than doubled, powered by a mix of municipalities, states and large corporations. But as these new and innovative financing options are being established, it seems increasingly important that some mandatory standards be created to guide those working in the industry.
Standards in the world of green finance would be beneficial for both investors and for issuers. For investors who are building their green portfolios and need assurances of best practice and reliable ways to monitor the quality of green instruments — regardless of which geographies or industries they invest in — a sense of best practices and who is meeting them would clearly help with decision making. When it comes to issuers, common standards would clarify options in terms of issuance while also ensuring that deals are being appropriately structured and reaching the right investors for each project.
Standardization also serves to enable innovation because it establishes a level playing field. While ING was first to issue a sustainability rating-linked loan, they have since observed that other banks have embraced different set-ups. Five years ago, Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) and the International Capital Markets Association (ICMA) both set out to establish a voluntary set of guiding principles for participants.
The framework from both organizations was focused on the process that needed to be followed when issuing green bonds: how issuers should describe the allocation of proceeds to investors; how a second opinion should be obtained; and how they should set about reporting in a transparent way.
And as a way to help kick-start the market, these served as helpful principles that could reassure investors and facilitate the uptake of green bonds, without being overly prescriptive about the use of the finance.
But the market has greatly expanded since 2013 and questions related to the use of green bond proceeds — their so-called "content" — have inevitably arisen: Which projects will qualify in specific sectors? Where should the boundaries be set? Where should classifications lean towards green or social bonds?
While CBI and ICMA with the input of other banks and stakeholders have continuously refined their earlier standards, the fact that the principles remain voluntary means that issuers do not need to follow them. On the flip side, if the standards around the industry become too settled, it will be difficult for the market to support the wide range of investor who would like to participate.
Who are these investors? Well the green finance industry has groups coming from varying green backgrounds, including investors with dedicated mandates for green bonds, investors with diversified portfolios that include pockets of green, and investors who find green bonds attractive but don’t have a dedicated mandate in place.
Because of their varying levels of commitment to being green, the investors might have different standards. Those with a dedicated green mandate are going to put potential issuers under much higher scrutiny than others.
And this is where there is a fine line to maintain between what investors want and expect, and what issuers want and need. It’s simply a fact that different industries are moving at different speeds when it comes to sustainability and different industries will face distinct challenges along the way. Within the investor community, there are a range of perceptions about standards and the various investment opportunities available.
Chief executive of the Loan Market Association, Clare Dawson, summed up the need for green finance standards perfectly, "With any new market, establishing a general framework for the product such as the Green Loan Principles (GLPs), which we recently launched, is beneficial as it helps create a common understanding of what people are looking at. We will be seeking to develop the GLP further to accommodate a wider range of loan structures, including revolving credit facilities, to maximize the number of borrowers able to take out green loans."
While issuers and investors have managed admirably with a voluntary patchwork of existing guidelines this far, a fresh set of commonly adopted standards will be the key to allowing green markets to expand. If these standards put the emphasis on process over content, it should create better conditions for green markets to thrive in future. And that’s great news for everyone.
When it comes to business there will probably never be an end to the discussion of return on investment talk. But it’s important to remember that while financial returns may be easier to document and demonstrate, there is a lot of "data" that's simply subjective, part of the institutional knowledge, or coming from the expert you've hired that you clearly expect to trust. When all these issues are floating around the world of statistics, here’s why going with your "gut" isn't wrong.
In the world of sustainability measuring your ROI cannot be based on stats alone. Sure, if you reduce your energy and water usage it’s great to watch your bill go down. However the bigger savings is the enormous — and less immediately clear — impact that these efforts are having on the environment. What’s more important? Saving $50 or reducing your carbon footprint? Hopefully it’s the second one.
Paul Marushka adds to the narrative by examining how a “prove it” mentality challenges the value that environmental health and safety bring to the workforce. Despite our obsession with being able to use data to prove the worth of an initiative, sometimes we simply know the intrinsic value in something. Even if there aren’t stats to back it up. Marushka uses the former CEO of Alcoa as an example of what significant results can be achieved without having data to support the efforts: After he challenged the company to become the world’s safest, Alcoa saw an increase in earnings of 600 percent with sales growing by 15 percent per year during a 5-year period. Seems pretty clear that you can prove to leadership the value of investing in environmental health and safety — even if you don’t have software to examine everything and back you up.
Because when it comes to sustainability you have to look past the simple dollar value of your business efforts. There may be other ways to measure ROI. Although these efforts may be less tangible immediately, as a business owner you should start trusting your instincts. In a piece for Inc., Peter Kozodoy brought up a unique concept: how trusting your instincts over hard data could help you make better business decisions. And science is supporting the notion that your intuition is there to help you.
In a report published in Psychological Science Joel Pearson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales, and his research team found evidence that people can use their intuition to make better, faster, more accurate and more confident decisions. Considering how much we tend to cling to data in the business world, this may seen like an unreliable option, however Pearson’s study showed that surrounding ourselves with more positive, subliminal inputs not only helps us make better choices, but it helps us to trust those choices. Engaging in this concept of picking up on other’s subconscious messages could explain why some folks get "luckier" than others — they always have the uncanny ability to spot exceptional business ideas, or seem to find the best people to work with. Individuals who are more in tune with their intuition over what statistic might tell them may be coming out ahead.
As you continue forward in your sustainability efforts, remember that your decisions shouldn’t be based on stats alone. There are a little of elements to consider and numbers don’t always tell the full story.