Higher Education Endowments and the Climate Crisis


By: Anthony D. Cortese, Sc.D., Co-founder of Second Nature, and Co-Founder and Senior Fellow of The Intentional Endowments Network


Humanity is at a crossroads without historical precedent. Current economic, social, and environmental trends are not sustainable.  Challenges related to climate change, water, food, economic inequality, poverty, and social unrest pose an existential threat to society. Witness the October UN Report on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment released last month. 

We need a transformative shift in the way we think and act individually and collectively and higher education must lead the way in our role to provide the knowledge and the educated citizenry for a thriving civil society for the long term. Society looks to higher education to identify solutions to major problems, anticipating future challenges, and developing innovative strategies and models that will enable progress – to be a role model for what society might look like. 

Higher Education's rapidly expanding response to this challenge over the last two decades has been one of the most positive and inspiring societal trends, e.g., the 600 colleges and universities that are part of the Second Nature Climate Leadership Network.  However, these efforts are far from sufficient given the scale of the challenge.  It is clear that today’s and tomorrow’s businesses, government and professionals will need new knowledge and skills that only Higher Education can provide on a broad scale.  It is also clear that individuals and institutions must make large investments in economic and community activities that will create a low-carbon, inclusive and sustainable economy that serves all of humanity, now and in the future. 


Endowment Action to foster a Climate Friendly and Sustainable Society

Social purpose organizations – higher education, foundations, non-profits – play a critical role in this effort.  Higher education endowments are particularly important.  Endowments make it possible for higher education to continue providing the long-term funding for its critical mission in perpetuity.  The 2,000 U.S. higher education institutions with some form of endowment totaling $550 billion in assets can play an important role in creating a low-carbon, inclusive and sustainable economy and help fulfill their societal mission.  Higher education leadership will send a strong signal for such investment in other parts of society, including by educating and shifting the perspectives of tens of thousands of influential college and university trustees.

For these reasons, we launched the peer learning Intentional Endowments Network in 2014 to encourage and support endowments to enhance financial performance by aligning investments with institutional mission, values, and sustainability goals and help move society on a more just and sustainable path.  Given the diversity in the type and size of the higher education cohort, we decided that a structured peer-to-peer network is the most efficient, effective and elegant strategy to build the capacity for endowment leaders examine the best ways for mission-aligned investing that meet their needs at their own pace and in ways that fit their culture. 

Guided by a volunteer Steering Committee, IEN provides opportunities for learning and education, peer networking, convening, thought leadership and information exchange, around a variety of sustainable investing strategies, such as ESG integration, impact investing, and shareholder engagement.  Institutional members commit to participate in a peer learning community with experts and peers, sharing knowledge and resources, and exploring opportunities for collaboration.  The network does not endorse any particular investment or divestment strategy.  We help all members and participants figure out the best strategy for their institution.  We work with a variety of other groups in order to collaborate with, avoid unnecessary duplication, tap the wealth of the larger impact investing community and build the synergy that is critical to rapid movement and action. 

The great news is that the kind of investing we believe is critical for the well-being of society is growing rapidly in a variety of institutions, including higher education.  In its latest biennial report the non-profit, U.S. Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investment Forum, found that institutional investors, money managers and community investing financial institutions consider environmental, social and governance issues in their investment research, analysis, and decision making across portfolios totaling $11.6 trillion. This is a 44 percent increase from the $8.1 trillion reported in 2016 and an 18-fold increase since 1995. and represents 24% of all institutionally invested funds in the U.S. (https://www.ussif.org/trends).

Many IEN member institutions have found that embracing this kind of investing, supported by their peers in the network have resulted in lower risk and strong financial returns as well as attracting new money and students for their institutions.  We have cataloged the latest in these trends and provide the tools and resources to help decisionmakers in this effort. Here is some information about current members and how to get involved (http://www.intentionalendowments.org/membership_and_benefits).

We look forward to seeing you at the 2019 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in February and to working together to address the climate and sustainability challenge in exciting and important ways that enhance the leadership of higher education.





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The Power & Impact Of Community Investing

“Decent affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without basic shelter, everything falls apart,” Matthew Desmond wrote in his book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Many endowments and experts focused on Community Investing would agree. While affordable housing serves as one aspect of Community Investing, such investment programs tend to catalyze local innovation and stimulate the economy by way of job creation and education. Further, for some investors, Community Investing tends to hit the bottom line twice: invigorating local economies while boosting returns.

The Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) approached specialists within the Community Investing space to get their perspectives on the value of Community Investing, understanding how to incorporate such investments in one's portfolio, and how to truly make an impact regardless of varying levels of assets under management. IEN approached:



Elyse Cherry, CEO and President, BlueHub Capital



Michael Swack, Center for Impact Finance, University of New Hampshire




Erik Gross, Treasurer, University of New Hampshire Foundation




Michael Hokenson, Partner, Community Investment Management




Read the full article here (pdf)!



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Tony Cortese Named as AASHE Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has named Dr. Tony Cortese as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his outstanding achievements and progress toward sustainability. 

With over 3 decades of leadership, Dr. Cortese played an essential role in the formation of many of the key organizations and frameworks in the higher education sustainability space - including the Talloires Declaration, Second Nature, AASHE, the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, and the Intentional Endowments Network - that have guided the evolution of the movement for sustainability by and in higher education.

“The 2018 award winners demonstrate an inspiring passion for solving some of the world’s most complex challenges. They are truly pioneering the campus sustainability movement,” said AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser.

After an early career in government that included five years as the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Dr. Cortese established himself as a pillar in the higher education sustainability community in the 1980s when, as the dean of Environmental Programs, he established the Tufts University Environmental Literacy Institute, which has trained more than 200 academic professionals on the integration of the environment and sustainability in the curriculum. While at Tufts, he also organized a meeting of higher education leaders in 1990 that resulted in the Talloires Declaration of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, a 10-point action plan for incorporating sustainability in teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities that has been signed by over 500 university leaders in over 50 countries.

Building on his experiences at Tufts, Dr. Cortese founded Second Nature in 1993 with support from Senator John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry. Among many other accomplishments while at Second Nature, Dr. Cortese catalyzed the creation of Education for Sustainability – Western Network, which, with his help and support, eventually grew to become AASHE in 2006. Another highlight of Dr. Cortese’s time as Second Nature was the creation of the American College & Universities Presidential Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), now known as the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments. Launched in partnership with AASHE and ecoAmerica, the ACUPCC demonstrated presidential support for sustainability and jump-started institutional progress toward climate neutrality. In the first five years of this commitment, nearly 700 institutions across all 50 states and the District of Columbia began the process of becoming climate neutral and integrating sustainability throughout educational programs.

After leaving Second Nature in 2012, Dr. Cortese went on to co-found the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN), which supports higher education institutions in aligning their endowment investment practices with their mission, values, and sustainability goals.

A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Cortese holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Tufts University in civil and environmental engineering and a doctorate in environmental health sciences from the Harvard School of Public Health. He has served on the boards of Tufts University, Green Mountain College, The Natural Step US, and the Environmental Business Council of New England.



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Two Recent Legal Decisions in Delaware Have the Potential to Change the Landscape for ESG Investing

In mid-July, the Delaware Senate passed a bill which, among other things, amends the code related to decedents' estates, fiduciary relations and property with a new provision that states that when making an investment decision a fiduciary may take into account the needs of the beneficiaries "as well as the beneficiaries’ personal values, including the beneficiaries’ desire to engage in sustainable investing strategies that align with the beneficiaries’ social, environmental, governance or other values or beliefs of the beneficiaries."

Additionally, the Delaware Certification of Adoption of Transparency and Sustainability Standards Act was signed by the Governor at the end of June and will become effective October 1, 2018This piece from Harvard Law School describes the act that makes it possible for companies to seek a sustainability certificate.

"In recognition of the increasing calls from investors, customers and clients for greater transparency in sustainability practices, the Act provides Delaware entities a verifiable means of demonstrating to their constituents that they are committed to sustainability.”

The certification process is completely voluntary and flexible in keeping with Delaware’s history as a business friendly state, but it is required that standards and assessments used are made publicly available and approved by the governing body of the company.

In other Delaware news, it was decided in mid-July that the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi) research will now be managed out of the University of Delaware’s Weingberg Center for Corporate Governance. From the news release:

"The Weinberg Center will receive a grant from IRRCi in excess of $1 million as part of the successor. With these funds, the Weinberg Center will materially expand its environmental, social, corporate governance and capital market research, and also maintain the full IRRCi research library so that more than 75 research reports remain publicly available at no cost. The Weinberg Center also will continue to fund and manage the annual IRRCi Investor Research Award that recognizes outstanding practitioner and academic research."

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Perspectives on Exxon Mobil Exiting Lobbying Group ALEC

Written By: Tim Smith, Walden Asset Management

To Colleagues  involved in Shareholder Advocacy on Exxon and Alec  And Lobbying:

Some of you may have seen the news released yesterday that ExxonMobil had decided to withdraw from ALEC.  I enclose three stories below capturing the key points.

There are many investors who have chosen to avoid ownership of energy or oil company stocks like Exxon. Others have chosen to use their shares to put pressure on companies on climate change. All of us are deeply concerned about the power of fossil fuel companies on public policy.

One of the focus points is how companies lobby directly or through trade associations on climate-related legislation. There have been ten years of lobbying disclosure resolutions including to Exxon, Chevron, and dozens of other companies, and each of those resolutions has focused on associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and ALEC  challenging their roles in opposing forward-looking climate legislation and regulations.

ExxonMobil has been a consistent recipient of these resolutions which receive in the 25-28% range of votes. In addition, whenever there have been meetings with management on climate (the most recent was in New Jersey in November 2017, attended by over 25 investors and relevant Exxon management staff), we made sure that once again lobbying and public policy was on the agenda. Walden presented the list of investor concerns about Exxon’s climate lobbying work focusing in part on an upcoming ALEC meeting where (can you believe it?) there was a resolution opposing the official EPA  Endangerment Finding that CO2 emissions dangerously contribute to climate change. This resolution was strongly promoted at ALEC by the climate-denying Heartland Institute.

Companies like Pfizer, UPS and Exxon publicly opposed this resolution and Exxon turned out a press release announcing their opposition. The resolution was defeated  and conservative  groups immediately attacked the companies that opposed it as caving into “green extremists.” At this time and consistently over the last decade, Walden and other investors also wrote and talked to Exxon about the reputational harm of being part of ALEC as well as the fact that their funding and reputation contributed to ALEC’s destructive work on climate and many other issues. At the November climate meeting with Exxon, this was a central theme investors aggressively pushed on.

Earlier companies like Pfizer and Exxon had agreed that each year they would review their trade associations and the value and benefits (or problems) they caused. It seems that during the Exxon review of ALEC in June they decided not to renew their membership. Over 100 companies have cut their ALEC ties including oil giants like BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Occidental and now Exxon.

News reports tell part of the story but as investors active on climate change, lobbying and many other ESG issues I thought you would be interested in additional background about how your voice and shares were involved in contributing to this specific and important shift by Exxon. Certainly, Exxon’s decision puts additional pressure on ALEC as well as the other companies that continue to actively support and defend their ALEC memberships.



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Gender Lens Investing Landscape: Barriers & Opportunities

Nearly four decades before they were even allowed to vote, women in the U.S. were placing their bets within the financial markets. In 1880 Mary Gage opened the first stock exchange in Manhattan for women – prior to this, women depended on men to invest in public equities on their behalf. Fast forward to the 21st century, the financial markets and companies more broadly only recently started to realize the value of female representation. The gender lens discussion was further fueled by the United Nations in late 2015, when it listed gender equality among its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Nevertheless, some market practitioners have long understood the importance of gender lens investing, and in particular, its impact to the bottom line. The Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) approached thought leaders within the Gender Lens Investing space to get their outlook on the associated risks and opportunities, real-life examples of such risks and opportunities and perspective on how gender lens investing relates to environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, including the gender-climate nexus. IEN approached:



Suzanne Biegel, Founder, Catalyst At Large





Natasha Lamb, Managing Partner at Arjuna Capital 





Lawler Kang, CEO and Founder, League of Allies   





Read the full article here!



IEN thanks our respondents for their insights on how gender lens investing is critical to all areas of a healthy society, from reducing poverty to promoting the health, education, protection and the well-being of girls and boys. More resources on gender lens investing are available on our site here, and if you are interested in joining IEN's new working group focused on gender lens investing, please reach out to Nicole at nicole@intentionalendowments.org.



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What We're Reading: Barron's Special Report on Sustainable Investing

This week, Barron's released a Special Report on Sustainable Investing containing 8 articles on topics ranging from how to get started in sustainable investing, the 20 most influential people in ESG investing, and a cover story on BlackRock's work in the space, highlighting CEO Larry Fink's 2018 annual letter to companies emphasizing 'positive contribution[s] to society.'

“Short-termism has been captured by the tick-tock of reporting, that’s why I’m trying to create a louder dialogue about long-termism, or the idea that a long-term Warren Buffett-like process will lead to greater sustainable returns,” Fink reports in the article. “ESG risks are going to be a formidable component of investing over a sustained period of time. We want ESG risk management to be a tool that every manager is looking at as a reference point.” 

See the links below to read each article in the Barron's Special Report:



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The Crane Institute of Sustainability - Home of the Intentional Endowments Network - Expands Board with Two Key Additions

We are pleased to announce that the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) has broadened its executive team with the addition of two new members to the Board of Directors of The Crane Institute of Sustainability (Crane), IEN's organizational home.

Both Sandra Urie, chairman emeritus of investment advisory firm Cambridge Associates, LLC, and Anthony Rust, chairman of the investment committee at the Warren Wilson College, joined Crane’s Board in June. Collectively they bring nearly six decades of investment management experience and deep experience working with endowments on sustainability, impact, and mission-related investing.

“We are delighted that Sandy and Anthony have joined the Board” said Georges Dyer, co-founder and executive director of Crane and IEN. “Both bring extensive expertise and first-hand experience in helping endowments position themselves for long-term financial success by aligning investments with mission, values, and sustainability goals. Sandy and Anthony will be valuable additions to the Board, providing strong leadership, governance, and strategic direction for Crane and IEN as we continue to grow and expand our positive impact on society.” 

For more information, read the full press release


Anthony Rust

Partner and Principal, Caribbean Private Equity Partners

Chair of the Investment Committee, Warren Wilson College

Full Bio


Sandra A. Urie

Chairman Emeritus, Cambridge Associates

Full Bio


To see a full list of Crane Board Members, visit Crane's website.


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IEN’s Community Impact Investing Roundtable

Participants_IEN_CII_Roundtable.jpgCommunity 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.


Program Agenda | Event Announcement l Relevant Resources l Videos



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).


Convening Sponsor


Supporting Sponsors



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Perspectives on DOL Field Assitance Bulletin

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.[1] 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.

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