2020 Higher Ed Climate Leadership Summit: Celebrating Growing Momentum

The 2020 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit, co-hosted by Second Nature and the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN), was the largest yet with just under 400 participants, including over 50 college and university presidents, provosts, and trustees in attendance. There were signs of new momentum at the Summit, where peers shared how they are advancing climate action alongside the efforts for social and economic equity that must underpin that action, including through teaching, research, campus operations, and endowment investing.

Watch recorded sessions from the Summit:

Celebrating New Evidence on Sustainable Investing

IEN released a new report at the Summit, showcasing new evidence and experience from higher ed endowments that shows how investors have been able to incorporate strategies that align with their institutional mission – including alignment with carbon neutrality goals – without sacrificing financial returns.

The report, Financial Performance of Sustainable Investing: The State of the Field and Case Studies for Endowments, was just one example of the shift in momentum around sustainable investing.


participant interacting with poster of a spectrum of investing strategies

(Photo: View from behind an IEN forum participant as they add a sticker to a poster on the wall of the meeting room, marking their institution's location on a spectrum of action on sustainable investing)


Building Momentum for Sustainable Finance

Panelists present onstage at Summit

(Photo: Four women sit onstage during a panel presentation - l-r Jochebed Bogunjoko of J Aduke Consulting, Sasha Brown of Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Kelly Green of Graystone Consulting, and Meredith Heimburger of Global Endowment Management)

Panelists present onstage at Summit(Photo: Three people sit onstage during a panel presentation - l-r Bob Litterman of Kepos Capital, Laurie Patton of Middlebury College, David Provost of Middlebury College)


Panelists present onstage at Summit

(Photo: Four men sit onstage during a panel presentation - l-r Aaron Moore of The California State University, Robert Johnson of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Erik Gross of the University of New Hampshire, and Jake Barnett of Wespath Investments)

Panelists present onstage at Summit

(Photo: View of two people sitting onstage during a keynote conversation, seen at a distance from the back of a full room of forum participants - l-r Matt Orsagh of the CFA Institute and Katherine Collins of Putnam Investments)


In a plenary panel, all Summit participants had the opportunity to learn directly from both the President and the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration of Middlebury College, alongside Natasha Lamb from Arjuna Capital, Bob Litterman from Kepos Capital, and Ben Harper from Zurich Insurance, about the fossil fuel-free and other sustainable investing strategies they are implementing. Participants said this discussion was relevant to conversations they are having on their own campuses, and helpful in figuring out approaches to move those conversations forward.

During the dedicated Endowment Investing Forum within the Summit, leaders from the University of New Hampshire, Becker College, the California State University, Arizona State University, North Carolina State University, and Concordia University discussed their unique journeys along the Intentionally Designed Endowment Roadmap.

Onstage, leaders in the investment industry, including from Putnam Investments, the CFA Institute, Wespath Investments, J Aduke Consulting, EcoSystem Integrity Fund, Graystone Consulting, and Global Endowment Management, shared how their firms work with endowment clients to clarify and implement their sustainability goals. In small group conversations organized by theme and stage of the Roadmap, "conversation catalyst" experts from a variety of other firms walked through concrete options and strategies. By opening a conversation between endowment fiduciaries, consultants, and investment managers from a variety of asset classes, the Forum helped participants both envision what is possible, and make concrete plans to collaborate on how to make that vision a reality.

participants discuss investing topics at a table        participants discuss investing topics at a table

(Two photos side by side: Groups of forum participants sit around round tables in the meeting room, engaged in animated discussions)

Advancing Equity Is Acting on Climate

Panelists present onstage at Summit  Panelists present onstage at Summit

Panelists present onstage at Summit  Panelists present onstage at Summit

(Four photos, arranged in a square, of individuals speaking on the main stage: clockwise from upper left, Nathaniel Smith of the Partnership for Southern Equity, Katharine Wilkinson of Project Drawdown, Gina McCarthy of NRDC, Varshini Prakash of Sunrise Movement)


Inspiring keynote addresses by Katharine Wilkinson of Project Drawdown, Nathaniel Smith of the Partnership for Southern Equity, Gina McCarthy of NRDC, and Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement drove home the central message that the path to climate solutions starts with addressing social and economic inequity.

The timing of Katharine Wilkinson's address was particularly exciting, just three days before her team released Drawdown Review 2020. Summit participants got a preview of the key findings of this first major update to the project's analysis of climate solutions since 2017 - including 10 key lessons for future action.

Attendees also participated in a breakfast discussion guided by Kelly Green, a Financial Advisor and Institutional Consultant at Graystone Consulting, and Eriqah Vincent, a Just Energy Manager at Partnership for Southern Equity. The discussion centered on what can be done on an individual, institutional, and field-wide level to make more inclusive work environments that support new models of leadership and the long-term career aspirations of people of color, women, and members of other historically marginalized groups.

Participants carried the theme of equity and climate justice into small group action planning, so that coordinated action across campuses can generate new progress to celebrate by 2021. We remain committed to improving the ways that the experiences of communities traditionally excluded from higher education and from some environmental movements are central to future Summits. Early feedback has included suggesting that we find ways to elevate the voices and experiences of students and representatives of campuses' neighboring communities in climate leadership conversations as well.

Developing Innovative Solutions and Investment Strategies

Throughout the Summit, participants broke into in-depth conversations on specific focus areas including breakfast discussions on social equity and faith-based investing; workshops on diversity and inclusion in sustainability careers and aligning incentives for professionals and firms in economic, social, and governance (ESG) investing; campus tours; and Next Level Conversations on new areas of sustainable investing (see the full list of topics and conversation hosts here). These interactive, action-oriented sessions are one of the ways participants in the Summit are further developing new elements of this field. 

Read more here about a workshop led by Graham Richard and Ruben Hernandez on accelerating community development and clean energy in Opportunity Zones.

Participants explored ways to collaborate with the supporting partners of IEN’s new Sustainable Retirements Initiative: Integrating ESG Options into Retirement Plans, Natixis Investment Managers and Schroders, during a workshop that included preliminary findings from IEN's recently closed survey of higher education stakeholders on sustainable retirement options.


(Photo: Two women sit onstage to facilitate discussion among participants - l-r Kelly Green of Graystone Consulting, Eriqah Vincent of the Partnership for Southern Equity)

participants discuss investing topics at a table

(Photo: Groups of Summit participants sit around round tables in a meeting room, engaged in animated discussions)

Celebrating Campus-Wide Achievements

group photo of 50 college and university leaders

(Photo: A posed group photo in a Summit meeting room, showing approximately 50 participants in the closed session for college and university Presidents, Chancellors, Provosts, and Trustees)


Presidents, Chancellors, Provosts, and Trustees from over 40 institutions joined a closed session to discuss campus-wide efforts that cut across traditional silos to advance climate action. 

Four campuses were recognized at the Summit for achieving carbon neutrality by 2020: Allegheny College, Colgate University, University of San Francisco, and Colorado College. Past and present leaders from Allegheny College shared in a plenary panel discussion how they maintained progress toward that goal through leadership transitions. In addition, four independent higher ed institutions in Pennsylvania announced a partnership to purchase renewable energy as a collective – contributing to all four institutions’ ability to mitigate 100 percent of their emissions associated with electricity usage.

To support other campuses to reach their carbon neutrality goals, Second Nature announced a new small grant mechanism, the Climate Solutions Acceleration Fund. Colleges and universities who are Climate Leadership Network signatories (have signed at least one of The Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments) and/or members of the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), are eligible to apply for small-grant funding ($5,000-$10,000) through the Climate Solutions Acceleration Fund through April 3, 2020. For this round, 5-10 proposals will be chosen to receive funding. 



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