KPN links €1 billion credit facility to sustainability goals

KPN has secured a €1 billion credit facility that is linked to its own sustainability goals, a further sign that telcos are taking this stuff seriously.

The Netherlands-based operator said it has refinanced an existing credit line. The interest rate on the new facility is tied to KPN’s performance in three specific areas that form part of its sustainability drive: the rollout of fibre, which should help accelerate digitalisation in its home market; ongoing energy consumption reductions; and the lowering of carbon emissions in the supply chain.

The new facility was brokered with a group of 12 banks and has a maturity of five years, with two one-year extension options.

“This is an important facility for KPN which provides financial flexibility and ensures we maintain our solid liquidity position,” said the telco’s chief financial officer Chris Figee.

“By directly linking our cost of borrowing to our ambitious sustainability agenda we underline the importance and our commitment to all stakeholders,” Figee said.

KPN did not provide any further details. Admittedly, this is not a huge story at this stage, but it could well represent the beginnings of a broader industry-wide trend.

Telecom operators increasingly shoehorn the word ‘sustainability’ into their news announcements, which is not in itself especially noteworthy. If anything, it’s just a change in vocabulary; a decade or so ago terms like ‘CSR’ and ‘the green agenda’ were being bandied about all over the industry. Now, every telco public cloud announcement, every network rollout, every comment on digitalisation makes reference to sustainability somewhere. And while these types of initiatives do contribute to the sustainability agenda, it’s hard not to view the sustainability angle as some sort of box-ticking exercise.

However, some operators are making real progress in areas that are genuinely centred on sustainability. In June Vodafone announced that its operations across Europe are now powered solely by renewable energy, for example, a target it hit well ahead of its original schedule. Meanwhile, in May O2 shared details of new cooling technology that it is rolling out at its data centres to help save energy amidst soaring demand. Those are just two examples, but there are others. You could argue that there’s also a commercial aspect here too, but there always is; this is business.

Earlier this year Telia Company shared details of where it has allocated the funds from its first two so-called Green Bonds, which are focused on sustainability. The Swedish operator said it had invested in energy-saving fibre network rollout and IoT solutions that help customers save energy and reduce emissions. Similar to KPN’s first point above, in which it categorises fibre rollout as a sustainability target, both of these are areas in which the telco would doubtless have invested anyway; looking at it a bit cynically, the green credentials are something of a side issue that makes for good PR.

Nonetheless, all these initiatives demonstrate that operators are sticking to the sustainability agenda and are making it an increasingly integral part of their business strategies going forward. And lenders have similar goals. Sustainability targets are here to stay, and KPN’s sustainability-linked credit facility could well be the first of many.

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