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HerbertSmithFreehills, along with the Association of Corporate Treasurers, published the Corporate Debt and Treasury Report 2024. The report gives new perspectives on demand for ESG attributes in debt instruments and sustainability-linked loans (SLLs) in the UK. It begins by noting that demand for corporate debt in general “is muted,” and the picture concerning sustainable finance in UK corporate treasuries is murky:

“There is greater evidence of a bifurcation of approaches on ESG in debt finance, in particular for sustainability linked loans. Whilst those who have sustainability linked finance in place look likely to continue to do so, for others it has fallen considerably down the treasury agenda. For many, the benefit of establishing an SLL does not justify the time and cost of doing so nor does it meaningfully move forwards a corporate’s ESG agenda. Some respondents query whether SLLs have had their day as a company’s ESG strategy becomes part of a lender’s binary lending decision rather than a minor margin adjustment…

  • The commentary suggested that there are some corporates who would see entry into new debt arrangements without specific sustainability features (whether larger syndicated loans or bonds) as inconceivable, which demonstrates that there is still a degree of variation in the market. Much of this divergence seemed to depend on whether a corporate already had sustainable finance in place or not. Those who are able to grandfather existing terms typically have a much easier time negotiating terms than those starting afresh due to the continued evolution in approach and terms.
  • The commentary overall reinforces the view of sustainability-linked loans, in particular, as a transition product and that SLLs may soon become the first (relatively short) stage to have passed in the evolution of how debt providers drive sustainability.”

This graph shows year-over-year trends:

Source: HerbertSmithFreehills and The Association of Corporate Treasurers, Corporate Debt and Treasury Report 2024.

Tomorrow, I will explore some of the reasons why survey respondents feel corporate treasuries are at least partially moving away from sustainable finance.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile