How can treasury become a sustainable function?

There is more than green financing

How can treasury become a sustainable function?

As sustainability is gaining momentum as a business priority, numerous corporates are re-assessing their business models and strategic goals. One of the key subjects in this re-assessment is the implementation of tangible and transparent Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors into the business.

Treasury can drive sustainability throughout the company from two perspectives, namely through initiatives within the Treasury function and initiatives promoted by external stakeholders, such as banks, investors, or its clients. When considering sustainability, many treasurers first port of call is to investigate realizing sustainable financing framework. This is driven by the high supply of money earmarked for sustainable goals. However, besides this external focus, Treasury can strive to make its own operations more sustainable and, as a result, actively contribute to company-wide ESG objectives.

Figure 1: ESG initiatives in scope for Treasury

Treasury holds a unique position within the company because of the cooperation it has with business areas and the interaction with external stakeholders. Treasury can leverage this position to drive ESG developments throughout the company, stay informed of latest updates and adhere to regulatory standards. This article shows how Treasury can become a sustainable support function in its own right, highlights various initiatives within and outside the Treasury department and marks the benefits for Treasury – on top of realising ESG targets.

Internal initiatives

Automation and digitalization drive certain environmental initiatives within the Treasury department. Full digitalized records and bank statement management and the digitalization of form processes reduce the adverse environmental impact of the Treasury department. Besides reducing Treasury’s environmental footprint, digitalization improves efficiency of the Treasury team. By reducing the number of manual, cumbersome operational activities, time can be spent on value-adding activities rather than operational tasks.

Another great example of how Treasury can contribute to the ESG goals of the company, is to incorporate ESG elements in the capital allocation process. This can be done by adding ESG related risk factors to the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) or hurdle investment rates. By having an ESG linked WACC, one can evaluate projects by measuring the real impact of ESG on the required return on equity (ROE). By adjusting the WACC to, for example, the level of CO2 that is emitted by a project, the capital allocation process favours projects with low CO2 emissions.

An additional internal initiative is the design of a mobility policy with the objective to lower CO2 emissions. On one hand, this relates to decreasing the amount of business trips made by the Treasury department itself. On the other hand, it relates to the reduction of business travel by stakeholders of treasury such as bankers, advisors and system vendors. A framework that offsets the added value of a real-life meeting against the CO2 emission is an example of a measure that supports CO2 reduction on both sides. Such a framework supports determination whether the meeting takes place online or in person.

Furthermore, embedding ESG requirements into bank selection, system selection and maintenance processes is a valuable way of encouraging new and existing partners to undertake ESG related measures.

When it comes to social contributions, the focus could be on the diversity and inclusion of the Treasury department, which includes well-being, gender equality and inclusivity of the employees. Pursuing these policies can increase the attractiveness of the organization when hiring talent and make it easier to retain talent within the company, which is also beneficial to the Treasury function.

The development of a structured model that defines the building blocks for Treasury to support the achievement of companywide ESG objectives is a governance initiative that Treasury could undertake. An example of such a model is the Zanders Treasury and Risk Maturity Model, which can be integrated in any organization. This framework supports Treasury in keeping track of its ESG footprint and its contribution to company-wide sustainable objectives. In addition, the Zanders sustainability dashboard provides information on metrics and benchmarks that can be applied to track the progress of several ESG related goals for Treasury. Some examples of these are provided in our ‘Integration of ESG in treasury’ article.

External initiatives

Besides actions taken within the Treasury department, Treasury can boost company-wide ESG performance by leveraging their collaboration with external stakeholders. One of these external initiatives is sustainability linked financing, which is a great tool to encourage the setting of ambitious, company-wide ESG targets and link these to financing arrangements. Examples of sustainability linked financing products include green loans and bonds, sustainability-linked loans, and social bonds. To structure sustainability-linked financing products, corporates often benefit from the guidance of external parties when setting KPIs and ambitious targets and linking these to the existing sustainability strategy. Besides Treasury’s strong relationships with banks, retaining good relationships with (ESG) rating agencies and financial institutions is critical to stay abreast of the latest updates and adhere to regulatory standards. Additionally, investing excess cash in a sustainable manner, using green money market funds or assessing the ESG rating of counterparties, is an effective way of supporting sustainability.

Apart from financing instruments, Treasury can drive the ESG strategy throughout the organization in other ways. Treasury can seek collaborations with business partners to comply with ESG targets, which is another effective manner to achieve ESG related goals throughout the supply chain. An increasing number of corporates is looking to reduce the carbon footprint of their supply chain, for which collaboration is essential. Treasury can support this initiative by linking supplier onboarding on its supply chain finance program to the sustainability performance of suppliers.

To conclude

As developments in ESG are rapidly unfolding, Zanders has started an initiative to continuously update our clients to stay ahead of the latest trends. Through the knowledge and network that we have built over the years, we will regularly inform our clients on ESG trends via articles on the news page on our website. The first article will be devoted to the revision of the Sustainability Linked Loan Principles (SLLP) by the Loan Market Association (LMA) and its American and Asian equivalents.

We are keen to hear which topics you would like to see covered. Feel free to reach out to Joris van den Beld or Lotte Coppelmans if you have any questions or want to address ESG topics that are on your agenda.