2024 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit Summary

The annual Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit was hosted by the Intentional Endowments Network and Second Nature hosted their annual Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit  in Long Beach, CA from February 11-13th, 2024.

The Intentional Endowments Network and Second Nature hosted their annual Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit  in Long Beach, CA from February 11-13th, 2024. Over 450 changemakers dedicated to advancing sustainability through higher education gathered to learn and exchange ideas over the course of this three-day conference. University presidents, sustainability directors, students, endowment decision makers, were among those  engaged in the Summit’s 35 total sessions and  numerous networking opportunities. Below is a summary of the critical conversations facilitated at the Summit with a community of attendees advancing a just transition to a regenerative economy and sustainable world.


Day One - Sunday

The Summit kicked off with IEN’s HBCU Endowment Growth Workshop, which featured:

  • Ed Smith Lewis - Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Institutional Programs. United Negro College Fund Institute for Capacity Building (UNCF ICB)
  • Obie McKenzie - Trustee, Tennessee State University
  • Randall Strickland - Director, Client Portfolio Manager, Westfuller Advisors
  • Angela Outlaw-Matheny -  Director of Diverse Manager Equity, Crewcial Partners
  • Enyi Kanu - Founder & CEO, Endowment Enhancement Program | kANU Asset Management 
  • Darren Sugiyama - CEO of Lionsmark Capital & Co-Founder of the Endowment Enhancement Program
  • Himalaya Rao-Potlapally - Managing Director, The BFM Fund




A key takeaway from these conversations was the remarkable disparity between the endowment sizes of HBCUs and PWIs, largely due to limited opportunities to grow the endowment and limited capacity for endowment management. A collaborative effort is needed from the investment community  – while keeping local communities in mind and including HBCUs in conversations –  in order to advance justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion by closing this gap.

Photo: HBCU Workshop attendees








Afterward, HBCU workshop attendees and members of Second Nature’s Intersectional Climate Action Leaders working group enjoyed lunch at Parker’s Lighthouse. Second Nature hosted two workshops on Sunday, one on evaluating high-quality carbon offsets and another on community resilience building. IEN discussed network updates, such as plans to continue the new Endowment Impact Benchmark, in a Steering Committee meeting before Summit attendees gathered to watch the rest of the Superbowl at the Summit reception.







Photo: Welcome reception


Day Two - Monday

On Monday, the Summit opened up with a plenary panel focused on the successes and future opportunities, both internally and externally, for system offices to drive climate action at scale within New York and California. Second Nature and IEN leadership gave opening remarks, followed by a conversation with Lande Ajose (Managing Director & Chief of Staff), Nancy Sutley (Deputy Mayor of Energy & Sustainability, City of Los Angeles), Sonya Christian (Chancellor, California Community College System), John King (Chancellor, State University of New York), Nathan Brostrom (Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, University of California), and Mildred García (Chancellor, California State University). 


After this session, Summit attendees remained in the room for a “speed connect” activity in which they paired up with random peers and answered prompts about their interests and goals.


IEN programming continued throughout the day in the form of concurrent sessions. One of the Monday morning IEN concurrent sessions was focused on sustainable retirement plans. Ali Khawar, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of Labor, moderated the panel, which included Marina Severinovsky (Head of Sustainability - North America, Schroders), Liana Magner (Executive Vice President & Head of Retirement and Institutional US, Natixis Investment Managers) and Karen Manczko (Director of Institutional Partnerships, Wespath Benefits & Investments). Key takeaways from this session include:

  • The history of conversations around sustainable retirement plans, which started in the 80s. 
  • Background on the DOL’s ESG rule, which began with a more prohibitive ruling issued by the Trump administration. A later ruling under the Biden administration overturned restrictions on sustainable retirement plans - allowing fiduciaries to consider ESG factors.
  • A recent survey from Schroders revealed 79% of plan participants say they might increase their contributions if ESG options were offered. 
  • Tips on making participants feel more comfortable considering ESG, including providing context for a better understanding of the reason behind and impacts of ESG. 


The other Monday morning IEN concurrent, titled “Moonshot Mindset - Endowment Investing for Climate and Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI),” was moderated by Tom Soto (Founder & Managing Partner, Latimer Partners LLC). Tom conversed with Felicia Davis (Co-Founder of the HBCU Green Fund & Coordinator at Clark Atlanta University), Leandro Davis (President & Co-Founder, Primestor Development), and Maria Lettini (CEO, US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable Investment). Key takeaways from this session include:

  • A moonshot mindset is: “Placing purpose at the core of corporate governance and considering the needs of all stakeholders, including workers and community institutions, as opposed to sole shareholders. In this context, we are setting targets that are ambitious but also inspirational, able to catalyze innovation across multiple sectors and actors in the economy. " [from Mariana Mazzucato's Moonshot Economy]
  • Past examples of “moonshot mindset” events are Brown v BOE, the Manhattan Project, and the 1969 moon landing.
  • We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a great leap in progress, sparked by market dynamics in climate solutions and accelerated by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.


The day progressed filled with meaningful discussions, including those led by moderator
Lisa P. Jackson (Vice President of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives at Apple) with speakers Heather McTeer Toney (Executive Director, Beyond Petrochemicals) and Katharine Wilkinson (Co-Founder & Executive Director, All We Can Save Project) during a lunch keynote conversation. 

From left to right: Lisa Jackson, Katharine Wilkinson & Heather McTeer Toney


IEN’s last Monday concurrent session was focused on the topic of “Diversifying Fund Teams as a Fiduciary Duty: The Evidence of Outperformance.”
Aaron Moore (CFO of the California State University Foundation) moderated the conversation with Ruth Shaber (Founder & President, Tara Health Foundation), Christine Cappabianca (Portfolio Manager, Impax Asset Management), and Regina Cho (Investment Director, Crewcial Partners). Together, they demonstrated why it is important to diversify fund teams and how this is not only beneficial socially but also financially. Key takeaways include:

  • Reminders that diverse fund teams, namely with respect to race and gender, consistently drive social impact and financial outperformance
  • The Tara Health Foundation’s Diverse Investing Collective has set a goal to have 33% of assets managed by gender and racially-diverse fund teams by 2033 (“33 by 33”).

After this session, IEN and Second Nature joined together for Next Level Conversation Roundtables. Attendees gathered at roundtables for brief presentations from table hosts, and spent 20 minutes discussing the topic before going to another table. There were three rounds of rotations and 24 roundtables focused on either sustainable investing or advancing climate action through campus operations and research. IEN-related Next Level Conversation topics are listed below:

  1. Reducing Emissions or Reducing Fossil Fuels: What's Next in the Energy Transition - Charlie Donovan, Impax Asset Management & University of Washington 
  2. Measuring and Enhancing Endowment Sustainable Investing Performance: An Overview of the Endowment Impact Benchmark - Sarah Gelfand, BlueMark
  3. Case Study: Sustainable Investing at ASU & The Endowment Impact Benchmark - Jeff Mindlin, Arizona State University
  4. Bridging Gaps: Strategies for Collaborative Sustainable Investing - Kelly Mahoney, Ethic
  5. Designing a Climate and DEI-focused Investment Policy Statement - Jeff Jackanicz, San Francisco State University Foundation 
  6. Light at the end of the tunnel: How carbon tunnel vision undermines net zero goals and how to avoid it - Pablo Berrutti, Stewart Investors 
  7. Student Run Sustainable and Climate Funds - Megan Morrice, Berkeley Haas 
  8. Investing in the Transition to a Truly Sustainable Economy - Tim Dunn, Terra Alpha Investors  
  9. Portfolio Construction Effectiveness in a Full Intentionality Context - Marc Gauthier, Concordia University 
  10. Financial Sustainability of HBCUs: Priorities, Partnerships, and Pitfalls - Charles Prince, Dillard
  11. Protecting Higher Education’s Freedom to Consider Sustainability Metrics When Investing - Todd Miller, Ceres
  12. Investing in Compliance Carbon Markets - Nik Mittal, Molecular Ventures 
  13. Innovative Approaches to Enhance and Diversify Endowments - Enyi Kanu & Darren Sugiyama, Endowment Enhancement Program
  14. Amplify Your Endowment’s Power: An Easy, Cost Effective Way to Vote Your Corporate Proxies - Andrew Behar & Rohan Brown, As You Sow
  15. Emissions versus Avoided Emissions: Taking the Lead - Ariane Mahler, Veridien Global Investors  

Day 2 of the Summit concluded with a reception and dinners.

Day Three - Tuesday


Photo: Charlie Donovan making opening remarks


The last day of the Summit kicked off continuing the exciting momentum around action planning! Charlie Donovan (Senior Economic Advisor at Impax Asset Management & Chairman of the Climate Risk Lab, University of Washington) made opening remarks before giving the floor to plenary panel moderator Meghan Chapple (Vice President of Sustainability, Georgetown University). 


This panel focused on how different academic roles at higher education institutions work together with the president to accomplish goals related to climate, equity, and sustainability. Dr. Charles Monte Roessel (President of Diné College) and Dr. Andrea Christelle (Vice Provost for Research at Diné College) shared their perspectives as representatives of a tribal college investing in the research enterprise while Dr. Jane Conoley (President of California State University, Long Beach) and Dr. Karyn Scissum Gunn (Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of California State University, Long Beach) shared their observations from the standpoint of a regional comprehensive university with a university-wide climate and resilience commitment.


One of the panelists for IEN’s “Climate Aligned Public Equities” panel, Andrew Behar


After the plenary, Summit programming continued through concurrent sessions. One of IEN’s concurrent sessions, titled “Climate Aligned Public Equities,” was moderated by Jeff Jackanicz (Vice President of University Advancement at San Francisco State University). Jeff engaged in an insightful discussion with Machel Allen (Founder, President & CIO of Metis Global Partners), Mike Pearce (Managing Director, Endowments & Foundations at Cambridge Associates), and Andrew Behar (CEO, As You Sow). Key takeaways from this session include:

  • There has been a significant increase in assets put into sustainable investing funds, from $496bn in Q3 of 2017 to $2.8 Trillion in Q4 of 2023. 
  • The ability to align a large portion of a portfolio in a consistent way through public equities; foundations, endowments, healthcare, and family offices are making big shifts in their beta exposure to climate alignments. 
  • Proxy voting and engagement as necessary parts of a complete asset management offering. 




Photo: Net Zero panelists - from left to right: Charlie Donovan, Pablo Berrutti, Kirsten Spalding & Tamara Larsen


At the same time, other attendees were learning more about net zero in the IEN session “Net Zero Portfolios - A Guide on How Your Endowment Can Start & Implement a Commitment.” Panelists Tamara Larsen (Partner, Mercer), Kirsten Spalding (Vice President, Investor Network at Ceres), Pablo Berrutti (Senior Investment Specialist, Stewart Investors), and Charlie Donovan shared tips on how to not only start a new zero commitment but also how to drive impact through a successful commitment. Key takeaways from this session include:

  • Collaborative effort can be a transformative source of aid, information and support found through networks like NZAMI, NZAOI, and Ceres for investors on their net zero journeys
  • It’s important to strike a balance between collective progress & fiduciary duty (real economy policies) because, as Charlie Donovan pointed out in his panelist remarks “you can’t have a net zero portfolio without a net zero economy.” 
  • There is immense value in taking a holistic & solutions oriented approach throughout the net zero commitment journey and prioritizing a just transition by avoiding carbon tunnel vision.


Following morning concurrent sessions and a brief break, Summit attendees then heard enlightening and empowering remarks from plenary panelists Joely Proudfit (Chair of the American Indian Studies Department & Director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at California State University) and Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Author & Lecturer of American Indian Studies, California State University - San Marcos). Together, they emphasized the importance of empowerment in community engagement (especially with tribal communities) while respecting tribal sovereignty. Key takeaways and examples from the discussion include:

  • The need to specify “what Indigenous population” we are referring to conversations about reparative justice, out of respect for and in acknowledgment of the diversity of Indigenous communities. 
  • An impactful way to support Indigenous communities is to decolonize ourselves. This can be done in various ways, such as supporting the reclaiming of lands through Indigenous names.


From left to right: Dianne Dillon Ridgley (IEN Board Chair), Dorien Nunez (IEN’s Senior Fellow & JEDI Initiative Co-chair), Felicia Davis (Co-Founder of the HBCU Green Fund & Coordinator at Clark Atlanta University), Paris Prince (IEN’s Senior Director for Partnerships & Strategic Initiatives), Pedro Henriques da Silva, and Georges Dyer (IEN’s Co-Founder & Executive Director) 


Then, during lunch, IEN gave awards to Pedro Henriques da Silva (Director of Shifting Trillions at the Sierra Club Foundation), Bob Litterman (Founding Partner & Risk Committee Chairman, Kepos Capital LP), and Bhakti Mirchandani (Director of Responsible Investing, Trinity Wall Street) in recognition of their outstanding efforts and contributions to advancing just, sustainable investing. Pedro, Bob & Bhakti are valued members of the IEN community whose dedication, energy, and resources have been essential in driving the impactful work of IEN.




After the awards, Summit attendees continued to enjoy lunch and learned more about UNCF’s groundbreaking new report, “The HBCU Climate Action Blueprint: Sustainable Campuses, Empowered Communities,” through a keynote conversation between Dr. Michael L. Lomax (President & CEO, UNCF) & W. Kamau Bell (comedian, director & producer). Then, attendees had a break before going to the Summit’s final concurrent sessions.


IEN’s last concurrent session of the Summit was “Action Planning for the Network.” In this session, attendees connected at roundtables and built on the action planning and lessons they gained throughout the Summit in relation to IEN’s following focus areas: sustainable retirements, the Endowment Impact Benchmark (EIB), Net Zero Portfolios & Commitments, Investment Governance, and Shareholder Engagement. Roundtable discussion leads can be found below:

  • Net Zero - Led by IEN Net Zero Initiative co-chairs Timothy Coffin (Director of Sustainability at Breckinridge) and Delicia Nahman (Director of Sustainability, Lafayette College)
  • EIB - Sarah Gelfand (President, Bluemark)
  • Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) - Dorien Nuñez (Senior Fellow, IEN)
  • Investment Governance - Georges Suttles (Executive Director, Commofund)
  • Shareholder Engagement - Rebecca Hu (Director of Sustainability & Product, Ethic)
  • Sustainable Retirement Plans - Tiffany Pomfret (Managing Regional Director of Consultant Relations, Natixis Investment Managers)


Closing keynote speaker Nalleli Cobo

To conclude the Summit, attendees gathered together to hear Nalleli Cobo’s moving keynote speech. Nalleli, who is the co-founder of People Not Pozos & South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, shared her journey as a lifelong activist in Southern California fighting against environmental injustice. She observed and experienced the negative impacts of pollution firsthand as a girl who grew up in a sacrifice zone, collaborating with her peers and family to ensure their voices were heard and would inspire legislative reform to benefit public health. In 2022, the CA legislature passed Senate Bill 1137 - which bans the construction of new oil wells within 3,200 of residential areas or schools.


Before being met with a standing ovation, Nalleli asked Summit participants to spread the word about SB1137 and support Californians in making sure the bill doesn’t get overturned due to increasing pushback from fossil fuel companies. She emphasized the power of community, and how every person has a voice that can help spark positive change, which they can and should put to use so future generations can enjoy the good quality of life on a healthy planet everyone deserves.


The Summit was an engaging, meaningful event full of action-oriented discussions and peer connections. Learn more about actions IEN and Second Nature took to advance sustainability and climate justice through 10 ways we centered justice at the Summit. We welcome any feedback as we continue this ongoing mission and start to design our next Summit - scheduled for February 2025 with more details coming soon!


Please reach out to Aicha Ly, IEN’s Program Manager for Climate Justice & Events with any questions at [email protected]

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