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What Should You Expect from a Green Bond?

Here at Arthur we're always looking for interesting bonds with good yields. This week, we're going green.

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) is the latest buzzword in investing. It's a set of criteria to determine how well the company is behaving as a corporate citizen.

It looks at environmental concerns, such as compliance with environmental regulations; social criteria, such as how well does it treat its employees; and governance concerns, such as are shareholders allowed to vote on important measures?

Wall Street has made ESG into a score. However, the numbers don’t mean anything. It’s all marketing. Most ESG funds are old funds with new branding. At Arthur, we think people need to see real tangible results.

So, what should we expect from a green bond? Alphabet offers a prime example.

A year ago Alphabet, the parent of Google, made headlines when it issued $5.75 billion in sustainability bonds as part of a $10 billion debt offering. Alphabet claimed it was the largest sustainability, or green, bond offering in history.

The search giant said, "Sustainability bonds differ in that their proceeds support investment in both environmental and social initiatives." It said these bonds would fund existing projects that are environmentally or socially responsible and focus on energy efficiency, clean energy, and green buildings.


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Alphabet presents a good example of what investors should want in a green bond issuer. The Mountain View, CA-based company raised capital for ESG issues then recently released a report to show where it's been spending the money.

In the category Energy Efficiency, Google made commitments to invest $3.3 billion in renewable energy projects. The bond proceeds helped make Google's data centers twice as energy efficient as traditional data centers. Compared to five years ago, Google is able to extract seven times more computing power for the same amount of electrical power. And 90% of the waste from global data center operations is diverted away from landfills.

In the Renewable Energy category, Alphabet matched 100% of the electricity consumption of its operations with renewable energy purchases for the third consecutive year. It did this by signing over the past ten years 52 agreements for 5.5 gigawatts of renewable energy. This amount of energy can power 5.5 million homes, or basically the entire city of Los Angeles. This represents a commitment of approximately $4 billion through 2034.

In the category of Green Buildings, Google made 15 million square feet of office space, an amount equivalent to 260 football fields, LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.) As a comparison, the retailer T.J. Maxx has 22 million square feet of space among all its stores.

This kind of information is what we look for in issues of green/ESG bonds, not just the coupon payments. The yield, 2.65%, is in the range of other high-quality bonds. But, we want accountability and transparency. We want to expose green washing, which Investopedia calls "an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly."

With Alphabet's annual reports, investors can see the progress being made and hold them accountable. Bond investors can raise their voices and make comments on public forms. And if investors don't like what they see, they can boycott the bond and tell their bond managers to boycott it as well.


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