Green bonds – understanding the basics

Green bonds are a type of debt instrument issued by governments, organisations or corporations to raise funds specifically for projects with environmental benefits. These projects aim to address climate change, promote sustainability and contribute in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

In recent years, green bonds have gained significant traction as investors seek opportunities to align their investments with their environmental values; and companies seeking funding for eco-friendly initiatives are increasingly turning to green bonds as a viable solution. This tends to give the concept a multifaceted role.

Green bonds provide a unique avenue for financing projects with positive environmental impacts. On this note, the purpose of this article is to explore the basics of green bonds – including their nature, operational details, benefits and disadvantages, while highlighting key players in the financial market.

Green bond – the history and what it means

The concept of green bonds emerged in the early 2000s, when the need for financing sustainable projects became apparent. The first green bond was issued by the World Bank in 2008, marking a significant milestone in the market’s development. Since then, the green bond market has experienced rapid growth – driven by increasing investor demand and the rising focus on environmental sustainability.

The global green bond market has witnessed exponential growth in recent years. The total amount of money invested in green bonds has reached trillions of US dollars, with the market expanding across various sectors and geographies. China, the United States and European countries have been at the forefront of green bond issuance, with governments, municipalities, multinational corporations and financial institutions contributing to the market’s expansion.

The green bond market involves a diverse range of participants including issuers, investors, underwriters and regulatory bodies. Governments and municipalities play a crucial role in issuing green bonds to finance sustainable infrastructure projects. Multinational corporations and financial institutions also contribute significantly to green bond issuance.

Additionally, investors – including institutional investors and retail investors – are increasingly seeking opportunities in the green bond market to align their investments with sustainability goals.

The primary objective of green bonds is to mobilise capital for projects that support environmental sustainability and combat climate change. By attracting socially responsible investors, green bonds play a crucial role in financing initiatives that contribute to a more sustainable future. These bonds also provide an avenue for investors to align their investment portfolios with their environmental values, promoting the transition to a greener economy.

Green bonds fund a wide range of projects that have positive environmental impacts. These projects can include renewable energy initiatives such as solar and wind farms, energy-efficiency improvements in buildings and infrastructure, sustainable transportation projects, waste management and recycling programmes, and initiatives to protect biodiversity and natural resources. The categories of green projects are diverse and continue to expand as the market evolves.

The role of regulation and certification

  1. Green bond standards and frameworksTo promote transparency and standardisation in the green bond market, several organisations have developed guidelines and frameworks. Notable examples include the Green Bond Principles, established by the International Capital Market Association (ICMA); and the Climate Bonds Standard, developed by the Climate Bonds Initiative. These standards provide guidelines for issuers in terms of project selection, reporting and transparency.
  2. Third-party verificationThird-party verification and certification play a crucial role in ensuring the credibility of green bonds. Independent organisations assess the bonds’ environmental integrity, verifying that the proceeds are used for eligible green projects. Third-party verification adds an extra layer of assurance for investors and helps maintain the green bond market’s integrity.
  3. Regulatory initiatives and guidelinesRegulatory bodies around the world have recognised the importance of green bonds in financing sustainable projects. Governments and regulatory agencies have introduced guidelines and initiatives to support development of the green bond market. These initiatives include tax incentives, regulatory frameworks and reporting requirements, aiming to foster market growth and ensure transparency and accountability.

Types of green bonds

Green bonds encompass various types, each with its own characteristics and features. Understanding the different types of green bonds can help investors identify opportunities that align with their investment objectives. The common types of green bonds include:

  1. Standard green bondsStandard green bonds represent the most common type of green bond. They are issued to raise money for eco-friendly projects, and all the money collected is strictly used for these projects. These bonds also come with the issuer’s credit rating, which gives investors confidence in the issuer’s financial stability. In simple terms, they are like regular bonds but used specifically for environmentally-friendly initiatives; and they come with a financial safety guarantee from the issuer.
  2. Green project bondsGreen project bonds are specifically dedicated to financing a particular green project. Investors in green project bonds have recourse only to the assets and cash flows of the underlying project, providing additional security compared to bonds backed by the issuer’s entire balance sheet. This arrangement offers investors extra security because, even if the issuer (the entity behind the project) faces financial trouble, your investment is safeguarded by the project’s assets and income. In essence, an investment is solely tied to the success of that specific project.

It is quite synonymous with having a mortgage wherein the house you buy is the collateral – if you can’t pay, the lender can take the house. These bonds are often used to fund large-scale infrastructure projects such as renewable energy plants or sustainable transportation systems.

  1. Green securitised bondsGreen securitised bonds are a way of bundling multiple green projects together into one package. Instead of investing in just one project, when you buy these bonds your investment is tied to the combined success of all projects in the package. Investors have recourse to cash flows and assets of the entire portfolio rather than individual projects. This means that the failure of one project poses no challenge to the investor.

He/ she can always fall on successful projects within the package. This type of bond allows for diversification and risk-sharing among different green projects. Examples of green securitised bonds include bonds backed by portfolios of green mortgages or solar leases.

  1. Sustainability-linked bondsSustainability-linked bonds are a newer type of green bond which differ from traditional green bonds. Instead of only supporting eco-friendly projects, these bonds are issued by companies that have set sustainability goals. These goals could be things like reducing their carbon emissions, using more renewable energy or cutting down on waste.

The unique thing about these bonds is that their financial terms are connected to whether the company meets these sustainability targets. Sustainability-linked bonds are a way of encouraging companies to be more environmentally responsible by connecting their financial commitments to their sustainability performance.

The financial terms of these bonds are tied to the issuer’s achievement of predetermined sustainability performance targets, ensuring accountability and incentivising continuous improvement. If they succeed you might get a higher return; but if they fall short, your return could be lower

How do green bonds work?

Green bonds are quite similar to traditional bonds in their basic structure. Here’s how they work:

Issuance: When an entity such as a corporation, municipality or government decides to raise funds, they issue green bonds. These bonds are sold to investors who, in turn, become creditors of the issuer.

Investment: Investors who purchase green bonds essentially lend money to the issuer. In return, they receive periodic interest payments – often called coupon payments. These payments provide investors with a regular income stream.

Maturity: Green bonds have a specific term or maturity date. At the end of this period investors receive the principal amount, which is the initial investment they made when buying the bond.

Returns and Risk Factors: Green bonds offer financial returns to investors through coupon payments, which are typically fixed-interest payments made at regular intervals. The returns on green bonds are influenced by factors such as prevailing interest rates, the issuer’s creditworthiness and specific terms of the bond. As with any investment, green bonds carry risks – including credit risk, interest rate risk and liquidity risk. Investors should carefully evaluate these factors before making investment decisions.

The distinguishing feature of green bonds, however, is the explicit earmarking of funds for environmental projects. The issuer commits to using the proceeds exclusively for financing or refinancing eligible green projects. These projects are identified in the bond’s offering documents and align with internationally recognised environmental standards and guidelines.

Advantages and disadvantages of green bonds

Benefits for Investors

Investing in green bonds offers several advantages for investors. To begin with, green bonds offer investors a means to endorse eco-friendly projects and actively contribute to favourable environmental results. Through these bonds, investors can synchronise their investment portfolios with their sustainability objectives and actively champion the shift toward a more environmentally friendly, low-carbon economy.

Secondly, green bonds can diversify investment portfolios, reducing exposure to traditional sectors and potentially offering attractive risk-adjusted returns. Lastly, green bonds may provide tax incentives or favourable terms, enhancing their attractiveness to investors.

Positive environmental outcomes

Green bonds have contributed to a range of positive environmental outcomes. These outcomes include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, expansion of renewable energy capacity, promotion of energy-efficiency, and conservation of natural resources. By funding projects with measurable environmental benefits, green bonds have become a powerful tool for addressing climate change and promoting sustainability

Potential drawbacks

While green bonds have numerous benefits, they also come with potential drawbacks. One challenge is the lack of standardised definitions and criteria for green projects, which can make it difficult to assess the environmental impact of specific bonds. This lack of standardisation can lead to ‘greenwashing’, whereby issuers misrepresent the environmental benefits of their projects. Investors should conduct thorough due diligence to ensure the credibility and authenticity of green bond issuances.


In conclusion, it is highly recommended that investors pay attention to these key considerations:

Assessing green bond credibility: When investing in green bonds, it is crucial to assess credibility of the issuer and specific green project being financed. Investors should review the issuer’s Green Bond Framework, which outlines the criteria for project selection, management of proceeds and reporting mechanisms. Third-party verification and certification can provide additional assurance regarding the bonds’ environmental integrity.

Evaluating environmental impactInvestors should evaluate the environmental impact of projects funded by green bonds. This assessment can include examining the expected reduction in carbon emissions, the conservation of natural resources and overall contribution to sustainable development goals. Transparent reporting by issuers is essential for investors to track the progress and outcomes of funded projects.

Monitoring transparency and reportingTransparency and reporting are critical aspects of green bonds. Investors should ensure that issuers provide regular updates on the use of proceeds, project milestones and environmental impact assessments. Transparent reporting allows investors to hold issuers accountable and make informed decisions based on performance and outcomes of the projects.

>>>the writer is an Associate at Sustineri Attorneys PRUC (www.sustineriattorneys.com). Adwoa specialises in Banking and Finance, Green Financing, Capital Markets, Projects, Infrastructure and Construction, as well as Property and Land-related legal matters. She welcomes views on this article via birago@sustineriattorneys.com

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