Sustainability Investor of the Year 2019

One of the first companies in France to switch to B Corp status, Meridiam is also the first infrastructure fund manager to win this award.

There is no question that in the past year, awareness around climate change, environmental, social and governance issues and sustainability has been growing, and that trend is expected to continue intensifying in the foreseeable future. That’s why we thought it was time we added a relevant category to our annual awards.

With increased awareness comes increased activity, with Meridiam serving as an example. The Paris-based fund manager made some bold moves this past year, leading its peers to award the firm the distinction of Sustainability Investor of the Year.

Although Meridiam has been committed to ESG since its founding in 2005, in September 2019 it took that commitment a step further by switching to B Corp status, making it one of the first companies in France to do so. The change in status won’t particularly impact how it makes investment decisions or manages its portfolio, since Meridiam was already making “decisions based on carbon footprint impact, resilience and sustainability”, its founder and chief executive Thierry Déau told us at the time. “But in addition to that, we also want to see and improve the positive impacts.”

Shortly after the announcement last September, Meridiam partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to launch a fund dedicated to urban resilience infrastructure with the aim of raising more than €500 million. The New York-based foundation will be investing in The Urban Resilience Fund, which Meridiam will manage. TURF will invest in both developed and emerging markets across sectors. According to Déau, it will invest in “anything that can help urban environments”.

The two entities’ collaboration extends beyond the fund as they will also work together to develop an urban resilience screen based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The screening tool will help investors evaluate the resilience of an infrastructure project based on its ability to withstand sudden shocks, minimise negative impacts on the environment and society and provide benefits to the community it serves.

But 2019 wasn’t just about announcements and forging partnerships for Meridiam. It was also punctuated by several innovative deals underscoring the firm’s global strategy.

Last December alone, Meridiam sealed three deals on three continents. The first was through Biovea Energie – a joint venture between Meridiam, EDF and SIFCA, an agribusiness group based in Côte d’Ivoire. Biovea signed a 25-year concession agreement with the Ivorian government for the design, building, financing and operation of a 45MW biomass plant, the largest in West Africa. The plant will be fuelled with agricultural waste and will supply electricity to 1.7 million people annually.

Later that month, Meridiam was awarded another concession – this time for 50 years and in partnership with French power utility Engie – by the University of Iowa. Under the terms of that agreement, valued at around $1 billion, Meridiam and Engie will help the university transition towards a zero-carbon footprint. Defined goals include making energy production on campus coal-free by 1 January 2025, finding ways to reduce energy consumption and increasing energy efficiency.

Meridiam finished off 2019 closer to home with a deal that involved an industrial-scale clean energy project. The firm raised €3.5 million for the €100 million FICA HPCI project it is developing through crowdfunding. The capital was raised not because it was needed for the project to reach financial close but because “crowdfunding is a way for us to have local citizens participate, support and commit alongside us to an energy transition project,” a spokesman for the firm explained.

It’s also “a way to reinforce [commitment to] ESG matters and actions at [the firm] level,” the spokesman added.

With the distinction of Sustainability Investor of the Year, it seems Meridiam’s commitment to ESG is paying off in ways it might not have expected.

Second place: IFM Investors

Third place: Arcus Infrastructure Partners