We saw some major announcements from university endowments in the first few months of 2020 creating intentionally designed endowments to invest for social, environmental and economic sustainability. These include:
University of Victoria
The University of Victoria is proposing to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of its $225 million short-term investment fund, resulting in divestment from high-carbon emitting companies, and increased investment in renewable energy and other clean technologies. The goal of the new policy is to see companies in the entire portfolio reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania announced that is does not hold, and would not expect to hold going forward, any direct investments in coal and tar sands.
The Georgetown University Board of Directors adopted a policy on fossil fuel and impact investments that is part of the university’s broad commitment to sustainability. Under the new policy, the university will continue to make investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and related areas while freezing new endowment investments in companies or funds whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels. Georgetown will divest from public securities of fossil fuel companies within the next five years and divest from existing private investments in those companies over the next 10 years.
Wesleyan University trustees have agreed the institution should stop investing in fossil fuels.The University plans to be divested from direct fossil fuel investments by the end of the decade.
Nearly two years ago, the university decided to sell its entire exposure to fossil fuels and to date, 90% of investments in companies that extract fossil fuels have been sold, and the remainder is being liquidated as it becomes possible to do so. No new investments are being made in this area.
University of California
In a report to the California State Legislature on the Office of the Chief Investment Officer Diversity, the university described the progress that UC Investments has made in 2019 to further diversity and inclusion as one of the eight pillars of UC Investments’ Framework for Sustainable Investing, which was adopted in 2015. Beginning in 2020, UC Investments will prepare an annual report on their diversity and inclusion (“D&I”) strategy and progress and share it with the University of California Board of Regents and interested members of the public.
Harvard University is setting a goal to have the endowment reflect “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Harvard Management Company (HMC), which administers the endowment, plans to reach that goal through a process involving collaboration with faculty and other experts to calculate emissions, and careful work with asset managers to examine their portfolio’s transparency and emission levels.
University of New Hampshire
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, President James Dean has joined 26 colleges and universities in signing the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) and Second Nature's Call to Action for Higher Education Leadership which aims to accelerate climate solutions in higher education institutions.
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford has agreed to divest from fossil fuels and commit to a net-zero investment strategy following extensive student-led campaigns and protests. In addition to divestment, Oxford University Endowment Management (OUem) will engage with fund managers to request evidence of net zero carbon business plans across their portfolios and there will also be a new member of the Investment Committee, with experience of both endowment management, but with an additional focus on climate-conscious investment.
American University has fully divested all of its public fossil fuel investments from the endowment. The Board of Trustees has sold off the final $12.9 million of fossil fuel exposure within the University’s public endowment portfolio. This was done by selling $350 million in commingled and index funds, where the indirect investments were located, and using the proceeds to invest in non-fossil fuel holdings.
U of Illinois System System
The University of Illinois System has invested nearly $160 million of the system endowment into its commitment to sustainability, becoming the first investor in a new environmentally and socially focused strategy launched by BlackRock.
University of California
The University of California Office of the Chief Investment Officer of the Regents announced in May that its investment portfolios are fossil free after the sale of more than $1 billion in assets from its pension, endowment and working capital pools. At the same time, the office has surpassed its five-year goal of investing $1 billion in promising clean energy projects.
The Board’s Investment Committee made the decision in early May to institute a moratorium on new private investments focused on fossil fuels and grow investments in alternative and renewable energy. However, the new policy does not apply to indexed and other public equity mandates, such as the S&P 500. The committee’s vote came after reviewing Cornell’s $6.9 billion endowment — in which it also considered the future of the coal, oil and gas industries and the threat of climate change, according to the resolution approved by trustees.
University of Manchester
The University of Manchester has announced that it will end investments in fossil fuel reserve and extraction companies by 2022, and ‘decarbonize’ all investments by 2038. The changes to the University’s Socially Responsible Investment Policy go further than other fossil fuel divestment programs as they include a commitment to reduce the carbon intensity of the overall investment portfolio by 30% by 2022, and then to move as quickly as possible to net zero by, at latest, 2038.
Stanford’s active investment holdings in fossil fuels have declined more than 90% to now represent less than 1.5% of the university’s Merged Pool, the Board reported as it outlined further efforts in support of the clean-energy transition.
George Washington University
The George Washington University Board of Trustees pledged to not make any new investments in businesses that derive the majority of their revenue from the extraction of fossil fuels and agreed to eliminate 100 percent of all such investments from its endowment over the next five years.
McGill and Other Canadian Universities
A group of 15 leading universities across Canada, spearheaded by McGill University and the University of Toronto, are uniting to tackle the global challenge of climate change by pledging to follow responsible investment practices.
University of Vermont
The university will immediately end new direct investment in fossil fuels, will fully divest from public investments in fossil fuels by July 2023 and will allow pre-existing multi-year private investments, which it stopped acquiring in 2017, to lapse without renewal. UVM will continue investing in opportunities that focus on sustainability, climate change mitigation, and other Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG, issues. And it will accelerate an engagement campaign with managers of its commingled funds, asking that they factor the financial risks of climate change into their investment decision-making process and share their framework for doing so with UVM.
David Rockefeller Fund
The David Rockefeller Fund Joins the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance