One of the silver linings of this horrific moment is the rise of loans, bonds and other financial instruments linked to sustainability outcomes. In this sense, “sustainability” is broadly defined to include environmental issues as well as social ones. And, more recently, a new subcategory of, yes, pandemic-related issues.
Indeed, the pandemic response is being financed in part through bonds designed to fund development of vaccines or treatments, support healthcare systems fighting the outbreak or provide relief efforts, such as for cities and counties facing budgetary challenges due to lost revenues and emergency spending. As of the end of May, governments, banks, companies and others raised just over $150 billion globally from selling pandemic bonds, according to research by BNP Paribas, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
“These instruments will contribute to the economic recovery of many sectors and will emphasize socially focused measures targeting specific segments of the population,” BBVA, the Spanish multinational financial services company, wrote recently.
When the cost of money is tied to a company’s sustainability performance: Game on.
Pandemic bonds join a growing list of sustainability-linked financial instruments that have been gaining the attention of investors worldwide. The bonds alone come in a veritable rainbow of flavors: green bonds, climate bonds, sustainability bonds, social bonds, ESG bonds, blue bonds (related to oceans) and more. Last month, the German company Henkel, which specializes in chemistry for adhesives, beauty care and laundry products, issued a “plastic waste reduction bond” to fund projects related to the company’s efforts to reduce packaging waste.
There are, no doubt, other flavors, with more to come.
And yes, each of those flavors has a more-or-less specific purpose. Green bonds are used to finance projects and activities that benefit the environment. Sustainability bonds are used to finance projects that bring clear environmental and social benefits. Social bonds are aimed at achieving positive economic outcomes for an identified target population, with neutral or positive impact on the environment. (Nasdaq offers definitions and criteria for each type of bond here.)
By whatever name, money is pouring in. Last week, Moody’s Investors Service raised its forecast for 2020 sustainable bond issuance to as much as $375 billion, a category that includes green, sustainability and social bonds.