by Peter Sopher, Policy Analyst, Clean Energy
Apple and Google have changed our lives forever, both because of their technological innovations and sheer size as global corporations. Now, they’re aiming to reshape the energy landscape.
This month, Apple announced plans to spend nearly $2 billion on European data centers set to run entirely on renewable energy and invested $848 million to secure power from 130MW of First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project under a 25-year power purchase agreement. Google also agreed to replace 370 wind turbines installed in the 1980s with 24 new, more efficient and bird-friendly turbines at the Altamont Pass in the San Francisco Bay Area. Moreover, there has been recent speculation Apple may be working on an electric vehicle to challenge Tesla’s dominance in that market.
These developments are impressive on their own, but they are also part of a new trend among major corporations – whose primary focus is not energy generation – proactively pursuing clean energy projects. So, why are they doing this?
For corporations whose businesses do not rely on fossil fuels, aligning themselves with clean power is proving a prudent move both financially and for public relations. Read more
As noted in my last post on green bonds, there has been a recent dramatic growth in green bond issuance. Supply is responding to a burgeoning demand. Quite simply, investors are snapping up these debt instruments that are linked to an environmental benefit. Three recent transactions highlight this seemingly insatiable appetite:
- Massachusetts’ sale of $350 million in green bonds in September attracted more than $1 billion in demand from retail investors and institutions. This — the state’s second green bond issuance — will fund clean water, energy efficiency, open space protection and river preservation projects.
- The order book for the Nordic Investment Bank’s $500 million green bond issue quickly climbed to $800 million, with more than a third of investors being new to NIB. This bond will funnel proceeds to climate-friendly projects in Nordic countries, such as renewables, energy efficiency, green transportation and wastewater treatment.
- In September, the World Bank tripled the size of its planned structured green bond to $30 million in response to investor demand, raising more than expected for climate projects, such as energy and forestry initiatives. Since its first green issuance in 2008, the World Bank reports raising more than $7 billion from 77 bonds in 17 currencies.
These data points back up the buzz I’ve heard among market players. At the recent Associated Grant Makers fossil fuel divestment panel, Sonia Kowal of Zevin Asset Management talked about the tremendous interest Zevin has seen from clients for buying green bonds. Read more
Directing capital toward better results for the planet requires that companies and investors have clear information about how environmental, social and governance issues translate to real business risks and opportunities. Of the many groups today that are looking to standardize how companies report on sustainability issues, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) takes a distinct approach by zeroing in on what publically traded U.S. companies should disclose in their filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). When I attended a recent workshop the organization hosted in Boston as part of Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics conference, I learned more about what SASB is up to and what impact the group’s work could have.
There is so much going on at SXSWEco this week that it would be impossible for one person to do a comprehensive wrap-up, so please take this commentary as a slice of a very big pie. And, note that my particular slice is viewed through a very marketing- and business-oriented lens. Still, as an EDF’er working with the private sector, I’m always looking to share new, pragmatic ideas and business cases for saving the environment. I think the most pleasant surprise of SXSWEco Day One was that so many others feel the same.
But first a head-scratcher. Why is it that the regions that are the most climate and socially vulnerable (Southern U.S.), are also home to some of the biggest climate science-denying politicians? Many thanks to Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University for so eloquently tying environmental justice to social justice; for me this was a necessary epiphany for how we think of building resilience in the face of climate challenges.
At EDF we believe that the corporate sector can thrive by valuing, protecting, and improving the environment, so the session on Creating Climate Wealth held a ton of appeal. Ann Davlin and Jigar Shah threw out business scenarios for environmental impact like candy from a parade float. I managed to grab a few choice nuggets: Read more
As we approach the 25-year anniversary of EDF’s work with the corporate sector, it’s an opportune time to reflect on our successes and plan for the work ahead.
Over the years we have worked with McDonalds, Walmart, FedEx, KKR and many others to integrate sustainability into their operations, strategy, and supply chain management. Together, we have kick-started market transformations in sectors including fast food, shipping, retail, private equity and commercial building energy efficiency. While we’ve made great strides, there remains a huge distance to go in order to fully protect our natural resources, clean up our dirty energy system, and turn the corner on global greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Looking ahead, the opportunity and need for more aggressive private sector leadership has never been greater. Moving from environmental progress today to full scale solutions tomorrow will require a new type of corporate leadership. This next step will require a willingness to align corporate sustainability operations, strategy AND policy.
Voluntary corporate efforts have made a difference and will continue to be a critical pathway for innovation. But this is not sufficient to meet the size and scale of the challenges we face. Businesses must take the next leadership step – helping to shape and support the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.
Simply put, the bar is now higher for companies that want to lead on sustainability.
Prior to joining EDF, I worked in a variety of finance-related roles, from building the alternative energy franchise at an investment bank to pioneering investment in rural communities in the developing world at Root Capital. As part of my work at EDF, I’m investigating what financing mechanisms can drive investment in projects with big environmental returns, as well as financial ones. This post is the start of a new series looking at the green bond market, and in the future, I’ll be delving into other areas of impact investing.
Eighteen months ago, you might have never heard of a green bond. The market averaged less than $3 billion per year, but that is quickly changing. $14 billion in green bonds were issued in 2013 and Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects as much as $45 billion to be issued this year. One expert even sees the market climbing to $100 billion in 2015.
Flexible financing for sustainability projects
So what are green bonds, and what is driving this market growth? Simply put, they’re a debt instrument that can be linked to an environmental benefit. One compelling aspect of green bonds is their flexibility. While some may be tied to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, others are used for projects around climate resiliency, water infrastructure and a growing list of other high-priority sustainability areas.
As countries experience the mounting impacts of climate change, there is an increasing global demand for capital in these critical infrastructure categories. At the same time, funds that are integrating environmental, social and governance criteria in their investment decisions are looking for these types of instruments to add to their portfolios.
Too often, environmental performance gets labeled as the responsibility of one team within a company – whether that of a dedicated sustainability staff, external or public affairs, legal or compliance, etc. As a result, a company’s staff can often think of environmental and social governance (ESG) issues as what Douglas Adams once famously termed an SEP – Somebody Else’s Problem.
With the release of its 2013 ESG and Citizenship Report, private equity firm Kravis Kohlberg & Roberts (KKR) shows it’s taking a different approach: KKR has adopted a new global policy that makes identifying and addressing ESG risks in both the pre-investment and investment phases, for its staff, everyone’s problem.
Notably, KKR’s private equity investment professionals are being integrated into the ESG risk assessment process: first, in assessing risks during the diligence phase, and second, working with portfolio companies, consultants and subject matter experts to set performance goals and measure against them during the typical five to seven years a company remains part of its portfolio.
At EDF, all our advocacy and education around climate change aims to change behaviors — of individuals, corporations, utilities, governments and communities. But in order to change behavior, we must first change their belief systems.
That point was made eloquently in last month's final episode of Years of Living Dangerously, the Showtime documentary series about the human impact of climate change. The episode featured a conversation with President Barack Obama, a report on the impact of accelerated glacier melt in the Andes and the far-reaching effects of human-induced ecosystem changes in Bangladesh on the economy and society.
For me the takeaways were:
- It's vividly clear that climate change is an issue of national security in poor countries, where extreme weather creates huge groups of impoverished, resource-strapped people who easily end up in slums and ghettos, often refugees in countries far from their homes. For instance, the incursion of ocean water in Bangladesh is disrupting rice farming.
- Abrupt climate events can destroy overnight the societies and self-sustaining lifestyles that agrarian communities have built up over many generations.
- The United States is responsible for a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and it's only a matter of time before we become a target of worldwide anger for the damage climate change is wrecking on our planet.
- We must guard against cynicism, especially among the youth. Obama's recently released energy plan paints an optimistic vision of an achievable future with reduced dependence on foreign oil, affordable clean energy technologies and improved energy efficiency.
- Putting a price on carbon is one way to change mindsets, by forcing people to recognize the true cost of a resource differently.
As I write this blog, it’s hot outside. I mean really hot. At 97 degrees today here in the North Carolina Piedmont – with a heat index of 100 degrees – it’s thirteen degrees above the average high for June.
Summers have been getting hotter here, as they have in most parts of the world, since I moved to the South from my native Michigan fifteen years ago. And the weather has gotten weirder. Way weirder. Too much rain at times, not enough at others. Hot when it should be cold, cold when it should be hot. Bigger storms. You get the picture… you’re experiencing it too.
Yet, somehow, I’m hopeful.
As the old management adage goes, “what gets measured gets managed.” Private equity firm Apax Partners took an important step toward embodying that concept this spring by releasing a sustainability report rich with key metrics from its portfolio companies' progress in environmental, social and governance (ESG) management.
As last year’s Pitchbook survey showed, ESG management is increasingly a mainstream issue for private equity firms. The detailed data that Apax portfolio companies are gathering — and reporting as a group — form the foundation for companies to manage ESG issues, as well as benchmark and then measure any advances.
This is all part of an important, ongoing shift in the private equity industry: from questioning if firms can create value through ESG management, to how can firms capture the value.