Clean tech ventures can look forward to a funding infusion from Westpac, which plans to lend $150 million to the sector over the next two years.

Renewable energy, green building, forestry and waste reduction enterprises are potential targets of the new loans, says Westpac head of sustainability Grant Fleming.

"We see green buildings being a big growth area," says Fleming. "What we're excited about is moving into the smaller company space. The raw numbers might not be large but there are good growth opportunities."

The bank has "a couple of things in the pipeline" related to improving businesses' energy efficiency, which it sees as another growth area.

Advertisement

"You'll hear more from us about how we can come up with solutions for our commercial clients in the next year. We think there is a big market for retrofitting existing buildings for energy efficiency."

The bank's retail customers, who account for two-thirds of lending, won't be left out. "We're doing things particularly around how people can make their existing home more efficient. But again, it's watch this space. If you're serious about driving environmental products into the market and changing people's attitudes, then a bank has to have retail products."

Fleming concedes renewable energy probably has less potential because of the country's plentiful electricity supply. But he says a "solar shed" initiative with Meridian Energy to encourage dairy farmers to use solar power has been making headway since it was launched late last year.

The bank has given more than a dozen farmers loans for fitting solar panels to milking sheds, which once costs are recouped in seven or eight years are projected to save them $3000 a year.

As part of its new lending commitment, Westpac will work with the clean tech sector to develop a certification programme that will help it target the loans.

The first step is to survey the sector in collaboration with specialist consultancy Greenhouse and the New Zealand Clean Tech and Environment Network (NZCEN).

The survey, of up to 500 NZCEN members, is designed to find out how they define themselves as clean tech and the measures and processes they base that on.

"If we're measuring and benchmarking our lending to clean tech, we have to have a robust definition of what that is," Fleming says.

Advertisement

Certification will assure Westpac as a business fits the definition.

Greenhouse director Duncan Stewart says the joint aim is to expand the sector by giving home, farm and business owners access to finance they can use to buy clean tech goods and services from certified providers.

"This is an exciting market-led approach that will help to grow an innovative New Zealand sector while making businesses and households more sustainable and efficient," says Stewart.

For Westpac, it's not a case of leaping on the clean tech bandwagon, Fleming says. The bank's New Zealand operation has had a sustainability policy for six years, initially focused on reducing its carbon footprint, which it has done by almost a third.

At a group level, Westpac was named the world's most sustainable company in January, topping a "global 100" list published by Corporate Knights.

But Fleming admits saving the planet is not entirely what drives Westpac.

"Contributing to better outcomes in that area for society and helping society make that transition is important, but it is also a business opportunity," he says.

"One of our roles as a financial institution is using our core expertise to try to help get some of those outcomes. By working with the sector to come up with innovative products or tailored approaches to lending, we hope we can achieve some of those outcomes."

The $150 million of new lending is not just words, he says. "It is a measurable commitment. We have a public target and we're putting in place practical steps to achieve it. We're entering into partnerships. We're trying to take the industry forward a little."

And, he adds, the clean tech sector has some exciting emerging companies and a growing need to be met.

Like what you see? For weekly Element news sign up to our newsletter.
We're also on Facebook and Twitter.