Community impact investing can be a powerful tool to redirect capital into our own backyard. Reinvesting in our communities can generate many benefits especially for anchor institutions such as foundations and endowments, including the creation of prosperous and thriving neighborhoods in which they work and the development of relationships with local communities.
IEN’s half-day roundtable on Community Impact Investing on June 11, 2018 at the Boston Foundation convened more than 70 endowment and foundation decision-makers along with other stakeholders interested in working closer with their local communities. The interactive structure of the roundtable allowed participants to learn not only from distinguished panelists but also from others in the room with years of experience in this field.
Panel 1: What is Community Investing?
In the first panel, we explored the definition of community investing with panelists Deborah Frieze (Founder and President, Boston Impact Initiative) and Elyse Cherry (Chief Executive Officer, Boston Community Capital), facilitated by Tom Mitchell (Managing Director, Cambridge Associates). Discussions centered around the power of community investing in the context of increasing wealth disparity in this country, the possibility of earning a market-rate financial return while generating positive impact in local communities, and the idea of leveraging a spectrum of asset classes to generate social and financial returns investors require.
Panel 2: What Might Community Investing Look Like for a College Endowment?
The second panel facilitated by Kate Dumas (Principal/Consultant, Prime Buchholz) invited Erik Gross (Board Treasurer, UNH Foundation) and John Hamilton (Vice President of Economic Opportunity, New Hampshire Community Loan Fund) to illustrate what community investing might look like for a college endowment. Both gave accounts on how their partnership came to be and how the two institutions are working together to create resilient communities in New Hampshire.
Fireside Chat: The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation Story
Finally, we heard from Michael Wilson, the CFO and Vice President of Finance of New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, who leads the foundation’s impact investing program. Michael Hokenson (Co-Founder and Partner, Community Investment Management) guided the discussion to delve deeper into the specifics of how the foundation has created a portfolio of local impact investments from finding deal flow to creating a model to identify attractive investments.
Each panel was followed by an opportunity for participants to react and reflect on the topic at hand in small groups with peers, experts, and other stakeholders. The program culminated with participants breaking into groups to dive deeper into topics of their choice. The participants self-organized themselves around six groups focusing on areas such as integrating impact goals in municipal bond investments, creating frameworks for assessing financial and impact returns, educating institutional gatekeepers and decision makers on impact investing, bringing more diversity and inclusion in asset management, and identifying key actors in community investment for experienced asset owners.
Some of the opportunities and barriers of community impact investing that were identified by the participants throughout the afternoon include:
- Create collaborative financial infrastructure (like a fund of community investment funds) to make community investing more feasible for institutional investing
- Create a “hypocrisy report” which is a short document that highlights traditional investments that are having negative impacts on the intuition’s impact goals.
- Spread the word when companies engage in impact investing to create a new norm. Similarly, push the idea that impact investing is just investing
- Ask foundations to act as guarantors for placed-based impact investments
- Educate decision makers and have an evolving knowledge base
- Engage the next generation of investors to increase openness to impact investing
- Getting beyond the fear of illiquidity
- Institutional gatekeepers such as trustees or older board members
- Inflexible asset allocation models
- Due diligence required on small investments and having enough deal flow
- Lack of track record and standards for data
- Perceived lack of transparency and fear of making a political statement that may upset donors
- Skepticism on concessionary returns
This event proved to be a valuable opportunity for stakeholders to connect with and learn from one another and take back actionable steps to their institutions to enhance their leadership in place-based impact investing. At IEN, we hope to continue to advance the conversation on this topic through our peer-to-peer learning activities.
We are grateful for our sponsors who made this event possible, including Community Investment Management, Prime Buchholz and Cambridge Associates, and to The Boston Foundation for providing a wonderful venue for the event.
If you would like to learn more about community investing, please take a look at our selection of helpful resources related to sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11).
By: Keith L. Johnson, Heads of Institutional Investor Legal Services, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., Member of the IEN Executive Committee, and Chair of the IEN Fiduciary Duty & Policy Working Group
April 27, 2018
Investor fiduciaries should be careful not to overreact to Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-01 on the exercise of shareholder rights and consideration of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors, which was issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) on April 23, 2018. Some are reading it as backtracking on assurance about consideration of material ESG factors and related company engagement practices contained in interpretive bulletins that were issued in 2015 and 2016.
Tone of the Bulletin is definitely harsher. However, a close reading shows it still confirms that ESG factors can present material investment considerations which fall within an investor fiduciaries' primary risk/return analysis and do not constitute collateral social policy goals. The Field Assistance Bulletin restates DOL's prior 2015 and 2016 guidance that integration of material ESG factors into investment and proxy voting policies and decisions is consistent with fiduciary duty. For example, it recognizes:
"The preamble of IB 2015-01 added: 'if a fiduciary prudently determines that an investment is appropriate based solely on economic considerations, including those that may derive from environmental, social and governance [(ESG)] factors, the fiduciary may make the investment without regard to any collateral benefits the investment may also promote.'”
"In making that observation, the Department merely recognized that there could be instances when otherwise collateral ESG issues present material business risk or opportunities to companies that company officers and directors need to manage as part of the company’s business plan and that qualified investment professionals would treat as economic considerations under generally accepted investment theories. In such situations, these ordinarily collateral issues are themselves appropriate economic considerations, and thus should be considered by a prudent fiduciary along with other relevant economic factors to evaluate the risk and return profiles of alternative investments. In other words, in these instances, the factors are more than mere tie-breakers."
However, the Field Assistance Bulletin also recognizes that there are fiduciary duty guardrails which preclude using ERISA funds to give up return or take on added risk in pursuit of collateral social policy goals.Read more
This March The Intentional Endowments Network published an article on 'Investing With Purpose' as well as two institution case studies: 'A Cooperative Path Toward Divestment' featuring IEN Member Lewis & Clark College, and 'Matching Investments to Mission' featuring IEN Member Becker College.
This article and case studies show that smaller institutions are equally equipped to assume a more intentional investment strategy that aligns with institution mission and values. And, they prove that active engagement with stakeholders across the entire campus can help expedite the time required to move boldly in this direction. Follow the links below to read each article.
Investing With Purpose l By: Anthony Cortese, Co-Founder and Principal, Intentional Endowments Network
A Cooperative Path Toward Divestment l By: Carl Vance, CIO, Lewis and Clark College
Matching Investments to Mission l By: David Ellis, CFO, Becker College
By: Anthony Cortese, Co-Founder and Principal of the Intentional Endowments Network, Georges Dyer, Co-Founder and Principal of the Intentional Endowments Network and Tim Carter, President, Second Nature
Second Nature and the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) held the 2018 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit February 4-6 in Tempe, Arizona. It was the year’s largest gathering of higher education presidents, chancellors, trustees, and other senior leaders committed to accelerating climate solutions with over 275 participants.
It came at a critical time as society deals with the ongoing and worsening impacts of climate disruption. Working together with business, state and local leaders, the higher education sector can and must shape the future of America’s global climate leadership. After the U.S. Administration’s announcement to withdraw from the international Paris Climate Agreement, hundreds of higher education leaders, many of which are part of the Climate Leadership and the Intentional Endowments Networks, joined other sector leaders to fill the void through the We Are Still In (WASI) initiative. These subnational actors, the scope of which is quantified through the work of America’s Pledge, represent $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy, including $122 in university endowments and over 4.2 million students.
Why Second Nature and IEN?
The transformation to a low carbon, circular production, and socially just economy is one of the largest and most complex societal challenges in history. For example, to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, approximately $1 Trillion per year in climate solutions investments are needed over the next 20-25 years. The necessary changes in mindset, knowledge, and action must be led by higher education because of its unique role in research, education of society’s professionals and leaders and in modeling
sustainable action in operations, community partnerships and investment of its endowments totaling over $600 billion.
Second Nature and other organizations began leading this transformation in higher education about 25 years ago, stepped up the pace in 2007 with a commitment of college and university presidents to make a publicly accountable commitment to carbon neutrality, and expanded that commitment to building resilient and sustainable campuses and communities in 2015. The Intentional Endowments Network was created in 2014 to bring endowments into the conversation of higher education’s leadership on climate and sustainability. Higher education leaders understand that mobilizing capital internally and through investments are critical for campuses to achieve their climate goals and that engagement of the private sector is crucial to mobilizing the capital needed to create a low carbon economy.
Both Second Nature and the Intentional Endowments Network are built on the belief that collaborative action and learning networks support, facilitate, generate and encourage higher education’s climate action in ways that couldn’t happen if campuses were acting in isolation.
Crossing Sectors/Driving Solutions
Building on these principles, the Summit brought together leaders in higher education, business, municipal government, non-profit organizations, and foundations to explore innovative cross-sector learning and partnerships in advancing climate solutions. A highly interactive format for learning, sharing, planning and action helped participants understand the deep systemic cultural, social, political and economic perspectives needed to develop effective solutions.
Well known businessman and author of 8 books on business and sustainability, Paul Hawken, opened the Summit with a stirring talk about his most ambitious work – Project Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.
Over the last four years, he and a large number of colleagues have developed a surprising set of over 100 solutions for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere that go well beyond conventional thinking about climate solutions. These strategies help solve some of the broadest health, social justice, economic and ecological challenges we face and go a long way toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a just and sustainable economy. It set the stage perfectly and had a big impact on the discussions and the cross-sector, interdisciplinary and practical outcomes of the Summit.
As you can see from the Summit program, there were several unique focus areas:
- Climate justice and economic revitalization was a recurring and integrated theme. Ideas for role modeling and preparing students to work towards a just and sustainable economy included moving to 100% renewable energy individually and collaboratively across campuses, campus and community resilience, internal and external carbon pricing, and new integrated learning and action strategies for students.
- A major theme throughout the event was aligning endowment investments with their mission and environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals for the benefit of their institution and society. Participants heard stories of various approaches to sustainable investing from several endowments including Pitzer, Cal State, and Barnard; as well as insights from leading investment firms, including BlackRock, Graystone, Mirova, Impax, Change Finance, and more.
- An exciting case study of cross-sector, place-based climate action in Pittsburgh was presented by the Pittsburgh Mayor, the president of a Chatham University, a foundation leader, and a social justice leader, providing a template for climate action work at a city/regional scale.
- Finally, the presidents of five of the largest public universities and systems in the country announced the formation of The University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) – 13 leading North American research universities that will prototype a collaborative model designed to help local communities achieve their climate goals and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future (UC3 Coalition).
In summary, the Summit was a watershed event in higher education leadership on climate and sustainability solutions. It emphasized unique ways of looking at the opportunities for comprehensive climate and sustainability solutions. It showed how higher education can and must be a comprehensive role model for all of society – and a catalyst, convener and collaborator with all other sectors. It explored how endowment investments can advance a just and sustainable economy while earning strong returns for the institution. In a time of some cynicism about higher education, the Summit
showed how critical and relevant the sector is to the future of society. We are pleased to report that Second Nature and IEN will continue to collaborate to accelerate these efforts and partner in hosting the Climate Leadership Summit again next year.
As we reflect on 2017, we are again overcome with a profound sense of hope and gratitude; gratitude for all of the support and engagement from participants in the Intentional Endowments Network, and hope for accelerating progress toward the tipping point for a sustainable future.
When we talk about hope, we often quote author and Oberlin professor, David Orr who is fond of pointing out that “hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” Recently our newest team member at Crane, Kristian Nammack introduced us to a similar observation on hope from author Rebecca Solnit: “Hope is not a lottery ticket you sit on the sofa and clutch. Hope is an axe you use to break down doors in an emergency.”
We are indeed in an emergency. Interconnected issues of climate change, the wealth gap, systemic racial and gender discrimination, geopolitical tensions, and resource scarcity represent unprecedented challenges for a global society of 7.6 billion.
On climate change, we’ve seen the harsh impacts here in the US this year with the hurricanes and the wildfires destroying property, value, and lives. Around the world, droughts, floods, and extreme weather events have exacerbated long-standing
challenges and devastated vulnerable populations.
As we look out 40 or 50 years into the future, and imagine the type of world we want for ourselves, for our students, our children and grandchildren, there are certain elements on which we can all agree -- healthy air, water, and soil, a safe and livable climate, opportunity for all people to meet their fundamental needs and lead meaningful, fulfilling lives. If we imagine ourselves in that successful future, looking back to the dawn of 2018, and ask ourselves what we got right, we believe the leadership of higher education, investors and the finance community will be a central component.
2017 brought great signs of hope in our work together. Colleges, universities, and investment firms joined cities, states, business and others to send a clear signal to the world that “We Are Still In” the Paris Agreement, despite the Trump administration’s announced intent to withdraw. Major climate change resolutions passed at big oil and gas companies as large investment firms began to vote against management in earnest. The World Bank and huge investors like AXA and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund announced they would continue to scale back fossil fuel investments.Read more
Natasha Lamb, Chair of the Board of The Crane Institute of Sustainability -- the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is home to the Intentional Endowments Network -- has been named one of 2017's Top 50 Most Influential People by Bloomberg Businessweek.
Visit the Bloomberg Top 50 to read more about this honor and watch a video featuring Natasha and the other changemakers helping to shape our society.
Natasha is a Managing Partner at Arjuna Capital and has served as Chair of the Board of Crane since its inception. Her shareholder activism work has covered critical business issues ranging from climate risk to gender pay equity to fake news, and has focused on ensuring that companies are taking a long view and protecting investors from risk.
You can read more about Natasha's work in this press release.
Congratulations to Natasha for this well-deserved recognition -- we are extremely proud and grateful for her leadership of Crane and the Intentional Endowments Network.
We are pleased to share our new case study on Hampshire College’s journey in considering social responsibility, sustainability, and institutional mission in its endowment investing. As many schools and nonprofits grapple with these issues, or face scrutiny from stakeholders, this case study offers details on how Hampshire College undertook ESG criteria and aligning with mission.
Written by IEN Executive Committee member, David Dinerman (Hampshire College), Tony Cortese (Green Mountain College, IEN), and Georges Dyer (IEN), this piece highlights the importance and trends of aligning endowment investing with the mission and goals of higher education institutions and considering material ESG factors. It explores some of the challenges and opportunities of doing so, provides some evidence of the benefits and ideas on how to institutionalize such investing, and helps trustees learn about the peer learning opportunities through IEN.
Read the full article here, as published in Trusteeship Magazine.
University System of Maryland (USM) students have been driving change at The USM Foundation for several years. In 2013, students circulated a petition to divest from fossil fuels with nearly 600 signatures from students at Towson University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and other colleges. In response, in 2014, along with the United Nations, the USM Foundation was a seed investor in the iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF.The ETF tracks the results of the MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target Index and addresses two dimensions of carbon exposure – carbon emissions and fossil fuel reserves. The fund was designed for individuals and institutions interested in environmental sustainability without divestment and provides transparency to the carbon footprint of their investments. On January 29th, 2015 a member of the USM Foundation investment team rang the NYSE's closing bell to officially usher in the new fund’s ticker onto the exchange.
“Being able to address socially responsible concerns while maintaining our fiduciary standards is critical to our investment approach,” said Sam Gallo, Chief Investment Officer of the University System of Maryland Foundation. “The iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF is a low-cost investment solution that allows us to maintain full exposure to global equities while incorporating a carbon exposure reduction strategy.”Read more
In this Q&A, Thomas Kuh and Paul Schutzman, Executive Directors at MSCI, discuss the significant ESG trends and developments that we should be aware of in 2017, some of the ESG concerns, demands and questions they hear most frequently from asset owners in the US, and what first steps institutions that are grappling with how to approach ESG can take.
Thomas Kuh Paul Schutzman
Executive Director, MSCI Executive Director, MSCI
1. Can you please explain your roles at MSCI for our IEN readers?
Paul: I lead our US Index Client Coverage team focusing on Asset Owners. We work with public and corporate defined benefit and defined contribution plans, endowments and foundations to help them understand and leverage MSCI Index offerings, methodologies, and use cases. The world of indexes has become more complex as we have incorporated new elements, such as risk factors and ESG data, into index construction. While benchmarks have long been essential to institutional investors’ approach to risk management and performance evaluation, the growth of passive strategies and the proliferation of index types have increased the need to keep asset owners well informed.
Tom: I work on ESG Indexes as a member of the global index product team at MSCI. This role involves supporting our Client Coverage team to help them license the indexes to clients for performance benchmarking and creation of passive products, and providing feedback on market trends to our product development team as they develop new indexes.
2. What are the significant ESG trends and developments that we should be aware of in 2017?
We are seeing strong momentum behind the ESG investing wave we have been experiencing over the past decade or so. The understanding of ESG and the implementation options are continuing to evolve. At MSCI we define the three main approaches to ESG investing as follows: 1) ESG integration; 2) values-based investing or exclusionary screening; and 3) impact investing.
Amongst our endowment and foundation clients specifically, we see increasing adoption of values-based approaches that prohibit investments in specific business-related activities that run contrary to an organization’s mission. We also see smaller sized but increasing allocations to impact investments that target market-level or concessionary returns, while supporting specific environmental and social goals. The most widespread growth has been in the area of ESG integration, in which ESG considerations and analysis are incorporated into portfolio construction with the goal of maximizing long-term risk/return objectives.
Part of what has enabled the depth of integration we are seeing is the degree to which the state of ESG research has matured. The quality and sophistication of ESG data is more advanced than ever. MSCI ESG Research’s 2017 ESG Trends to Watch paper highlights the historical relationship between ESG and risk-adjusted returns, suggesting that the conversation is shifting from “how” to use ESG to “where” to use ESG, given the diverse portfolio applications and nuances in data now available. Further, academic literature has suggested a link between material ESG factors and performance, such as this Harvard Business School study published in March 2015.
3. What are some of the ESG concerns, demands and questions you are hearing most frequently from asset owners in the US?
There are a range of questions around ESG coming from asset owners, reflecting the varying stages of ESG integration. There are still many questions that are definitional: What is ESG investing? How can we articulate and incorporate ESG beliefs into our investment policies? With the term integration, for example, many asset owners aren’t sure where to get started or how to understand if their external managers are effectively incorporating ESG factors into their portfolios.
We still have many asset owners with concerns about the potential impact on performance and their roles as fiduciaries and stewards of capital tasked with maximizing long-term returns. Often, a growing understanding of the determination of materiality, academic and practitioner research, as well as institutional support such as the DOL's Interpretive Bulletin in October 2015, is a start towards alleviating these concerns.
We now have a growing number of clients asking what their major portfolio exposures are to ESG risks. For example, are they able to measure and account for these exposures and do they have methods to manage around them? If we just think about public equity portfolios, how should ESG be combined with active or passive mandates? Should it be a separate allocation segment in the portfolio or should a standard approach be applied to all investments? These are all legitimate questions that don’t have a “one size fits all” answer but that require further exploration.
4. For institutions grappling with how to approach ESG, what do you commonly see as a first step taken and can you recommend any resources?
A common first step for institutions is to develop an ESG policy or to add a segment reflecting their philosophy on ESG within their investment policy. This exercise often leads to questions about how to align the investment policy of an organization with its mission. From this exercise we often find that asset owners would like a more holistic understanding of their existing portfolio, including a baseline view of their ESG profile versus appropriate benchmarks and their peers.
Case Study: Carbon Portfolio Footprinting
While more holistic ESG portfolio analytics are available, in this case study we focus on carbon as many investors today are looking to understand their portfolio exposure to climate change.
For the sample equity portfolio shown below, we analyze the securities in that portfolio in terms of the carbon emissions, fossil fuel reserves, and other carbon-related characteristics of the entities that issue those securities. We then compare this data to the performance of a portfolio replicating a market benchmarking (MSCI World Index) and a portfolio replicating a relevant ESG benchmark (MSCI World Low Carbon Target Index).
MSCI ESG Research defines portfolio carbon footprint as the carbon emissions of a portfolio per $ million invested. For more information on MSCI ESG Research’s carbon tools visit https://www.msci.com/carbon-solutions or inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. How does MSCI and MSCI’s role relate to other key actors in the ESG ecosystem?
MSCI, through MSCI ESG Research, is the largest ESG research provider by coverage and number of clients in the marketplace, serving asset owners, asset managers and consultants. Through MSCI ESG Ratings and research, risk analytics and indexes, MSCI provides a broad range of tools that are used to support all three approaches to ESG investing- integration, impact and values – and that are resources for trustees, investment committees, consultants and asset managers.
There is now an ecosystem that serves all sizes and types of asset owners from the largest public pension funds to modest sized endowments and foundations. MSCI provides ESG indexes that are used as benchmarks for active managers or as the basis for passive investment options. MSCI ESG Research also provides ESG research and ratings that are used by many active asset managers.
Thank you both for your time and thoughtful answers to these questions!