The ACUPCC Summit, Risky Business & Higher Education Sustainability Leadership

IDE-Session-ACUPCC-Summit.pngLast month Second Nature hosted the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) 2014 Climate Leadership Summit. More than 200 presidents, senior administrators, and sustainability champions from colleges and universities across the country attended. 

Among the highlights was a keynote address by Kate Gordon, Executive Director of the Risky Business project, which was spearheaded by Henry Paulson, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer. She clearly articulated what made this report unique and so important.  First it was a bipartisan effort, that just focused on the facts in terms of what our best science is telling us we can expect in terms of climate impacts in various regions.  To stay out of the political fray around climate change, they did not evaluate any policy recommendations, which meant they could not approach the project as a typical 'cost-benefit' analysis (like the famous Stern Review from 2006). Instead, it is a risk assessment.  

As Henry Paulson wrote in a NY Times Op-Ed in June: "viewing climate change in terms of risk assessment and risk management makes clear to me that taking a cautiously conservative stance — that is, waiting for more information before acting — is actually taking a very radical risk. We’ll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. But we know enough to recognize that we must act now."

This message resonated with many of the ACUPCC Summit participants.  

On Friday we facilitated a session on the "Intentionally Designed Endowment" concept.  We started with a panel moderated by Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College, where we heard from:

  • Don Gould, Chair of the Investment Committee at Pitzer College,
  • Patrick Norton, VP Finance and Treasurer, Middlebury College, and
  • Susan Gary, Professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, and fiduciary responsibility scholar

Following the panel, we had engaging dialogue sessions at small tables, where participants discussed:

  • What actions they would take on their campuses to move forward conversations on intentionally designed endowments (bring in sustainable investing experts, create committees on investor responsibility, develop ESG investment policies)
  • How we might support these conversations as a network (hold regional meetings, publish details of successful approaches, engage investment managers, provide resources) 
  • What tools and resources might be needed (case studies, example policies, proxy voting guides, web portal with resources) 

Participants also indicated where they felt their institution fell on a spectrum of addressing these issues -- ranging from "barely on the radar" to "effective policy in place with a track record".  The results mirrored those from our April forum when we did a similar exercise, with some at every stage, but a concentration in the early phases of "just getting started" moving towards "constructive deliberation" regarding how to move forward: 

ACUPCC-Summit-Spectrum.png

The Intentional Endowments Network is working to support these institutions and all endowments in making progress on this spectrum, by hosting regional meetings, facilitating peer-to-peer and expert consultations, and providing venues for information exchange,  so that intentionally designed endowments -- that enhance financial performance by integrating sustainability risks and opportunities, while improving alignment with institutional mission and vision -- are the norm in higher education.