Environmental Impact Bonds: Financing for wetlands restoration

EDF is looking at innovative ways to help finance coastal restoration and resilience solutions

Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary
Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary
Credit: Karen Westphal

EDF and Quantified Ventures, with support from Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), are evaluating the feasibility of an Environmental Impact Bond to support wetland restoration efforts in coastal Louisiana. This project is being funded by NatureVest, the conservation investing unit of The Nature Conservancy, through its Conservation Investment Accelerator Grant, which aims to find and support the best talent and most meaningful work in the field of conservation investment.

Project overview

Louisiana's 2017 Coastal Master Plan identifies U.S. $50 billion in coastal restoration and protection projects over the next 50 years. The master plan, based on in-depth modeling of coastal dynamics and risk assessments, seeks to reduce damages from storm surge flooding and to rebuild and sustain critical ecosystems. Wetland restoration costs easily exceed millions of dollars for a single project, and these costs could increase due to sea level rise and land subsidence.

While billions of dollars from Gulf oil spill settlements will flow to Louisiana for restoration over the next 15 years, additional funding sources need to be secured to implement the plan fully. To help close the funding gap, we will explore how an Environmental Impact Bond could be designed to simultaneously:

  • Access future funds now and save CPRA money by starting projects sooner
  • Share restoration projects' risks
  • Attract additional payors

What is an Environmental Impact Bond?

EIB infographic

Like a typical municipal bond, an Environmental Impact Bond (EIB) provides up-front capital from private investors for environmental projects. Unlike municipal bonds, it embeds a Pay-for-Success (PFS) approach that conditions payback to investors on project performance, which could be used to pilot or scale a new environmental program or intervention.

In its most basic form, investors participating in a Pay-for-Success model pay the up-front costs for implementing these environmental projects. Following construction and evaluation, the payor – the public agency or private institution that benefits from these solutions – repays investors an amount linked to achievement of agreed-upon outcomes of the program.

How EIBs address financing needs

EDF and Quantified Ventures will explore how EIBs could be designed to help CPRA achieve its restoration goals by:

  • Calculating how much money might be saved by completing a project sooner to reduce construction costs
  • Defining how to transfer project performance risk to the private sector and investors through the  Pay-for-Success mechanism
  • Evaluating the bond's attractiveness to a new investor base, called impact investors, who are interested in not just financial but also social and environmental investment outcomes
  • Identifying potential payors, in addition to CPRA, who have a vested economic interest in wetland restoration efforts

Project process and timeline

Work has begun on designing the EIB and will be completed by summer 2018. The final result will be a feasibility analysis of a possible EIB transaction. If this transaction appears workable for a Coastal Master Plan project, further work could be done to structure the deal and launch a pilot EIB.

EIB timeline

Which wetland restoration projects will be considered?

EDF and its contractor, Quantified Ventures, will be working with CPRA to define potential criteria for projects financed under an EIB. We will evaluate suitable projects based on size, cost and time of construction, potential cost savings to CPRA from earlier implementation, project risks, land permitting issues, and benefits to private industries that could become payors.

DC Water Environmental Impact Bond, 2016

In September 2016, DC Water & Sewer Authority and Quantified Ventures closed the first-ever EIB. Like many cities, DC had green infrastructure plans to meet its EPA consent decree, but lacked access to capital and was concerned about performance risk.

With its EIB, DC Water pays interest near its normal municipal bond rate, with three performance outcomes: underperform (interest rate is close to zero for DC Water), as expected (normal interest rate), and outperform (interest rate is higher than normal).