Why Environmental Impact Bonds Are Catching On

Read the full story in Governing.

Washington, D.C., had a problem. Like many cities with antiquated sewer systems, D.C. was under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce stormwater runoff that threatened the region’s water quality. To solve the problem, the city wanted to experiment with “green infrastructure” as an alternative to building costly new pipes and pumps. But green infrastructure had not yet been tried at that scale, so how could the city finance this unproven approach?

The answer, for D.C., was to launch the nation’s first environmental impact bond in 2016. An EIB enables the city to share the risks — and the rewards — of innovative problem-solving with investors. EIBs are considered a “pay for success” strategy because investors’ returns depend on whether the project meets its goals. Because of the need for extensive measurement around those goals, the jurisdiction also learns what works best for future planning. This approach is catching on, with Baltimore and Atlanta recently announcing plans to issue EIBs.

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