EUROPE - The €410m clean tech and sustainable private equity team at Robeco - the Dutch asset management division of Rabobank Group - is about to move from Rotterdam to Zurich, where it will join its fully-owned investment manager SAM.

"It was decided that the team should move because of the synergies between SAM's research in the listed equity and Robeco's research in the non-listed equity field," said Sander van Eijkern, CEO of SAM and head of Robeco's Alternative & Sustainability Investments Division.

In total, the relocation - set to take place this June and July - will see five investment professionals move, headed by Andrew Musters, managing partner for private equity at Robeco.

The clean tech and sustainable private equity team has been on quite a journey. Only five years ago, no one was interested in sustainable private equity, according to Musters. "It was only in 2005 and 2006 that interest arose," he said.

Musters now believes that clean tech in particular is a rapidly growing area.

"Around $800m (€560m) have so far been invested in Robeco's clean tech offering," he said. "Clean tech firms have been hit less hard by the financial crisis than other forms of private equity such as large buyouts, and sub-sector or clean tech returns are better than on normal private equity because of the long-term drivers behind it. Fundraising has not been easy, especially in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 although the interest is slowly coming back," added Musters.

He continued: "Pension funds are starting to recognise the merits of private equity and at the same time want to get rid of its ruthless image. Like private equity, ESG (environmental, social, governance) is a long-term concept and therefore I believe it is easier to change and influence management in private equity [than in other asset classes]."

Musters believes that clean tech linking energy to food and agriculture - such as biodegradable plastics and organic pesticides - will in the future become very attractive options for investors.

Robeco plans to launch its third clean tech fund later this year, which, unlike its two predecessors, is set to contain infrastructure and forestry.

On a different note, Robeco's Responsible Private Equity Fund II just had its first closing at €50m. The fund of funds, which includes Dutch and Italian institutional investors and has a target size of €250m, consists of private equity funds which subscribe to the Robeco Principles for Responsible Private Equity.

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