On September 22nd at NYC’s Javits Center, IEN hosted an Institutional Investor Roundtable, a co-located event at The Nest Summit as a part of Climate Week NYC. This half-day event provided a dynamic space for over 120 trustees, endowment stakeholders, asset managers, investment consultants, faculty, and non-profit partners to discuss important topics in the field of sustainable investment, including ESG integration, JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion), and sustainable investment options in retirement plans.
Below is a summary of the day’s sessions. Recordings of the speaker presentations can be found on the event webpage.
Pictured above, Georges Dyer (left) and Derrick Johnson (right).
IEN’s Co-Founder and Executive Director Georges Dyer kicked off the event with a keynote conversation with Derrick Johnson, President & CEO of the NAACP. President Johnson’s remarks highlighted how inequality and the climate crisis are inextricably linked and interconnected. He emphasized the importance of justice and equity in the sustainable investing field, and provided an overview of the NAACP’s strong focus on climate and environmental justice. President Johnson concluded his presentation by encouraging the audience to change institutional and ideological frameworks that have created obstacles towards equitable representation and climate justice. Read more about President Johnson’s keynote in this Green Biz article.
Pictured above (left to right), Panelists Angela, Jeff, Neda, and Mike.
After a brief dialogue session in which participants in the audience introduced themselves and their organizations and shared their aspirations for the event, the first panel of the day started: “San Francisco State University - A Renewed Commitment to ESG.” The panel was led by moderator Angela Outlaw-Matheny of Crewcial Partners and included panelists Neda Nobari, Foundation Board Chair at SFSU, Jeff Jackanicz, VP of University Advancement and Foundation President at SFSU, and Mike Pearce of Cambridge Associates. The panelists shared the SFSU Foundation’s journey in developing its updated Investment Policy Statement (IPS), which includes a unique and comprehensive approach to integrating Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) factors in the investment process, alongside a commitment to a Net Zero Portfolio by 2040. SFSU’s new IPS serves as a leading example for endowments and foundations in implementing high-impact, mission-aligned investment strategies.
Pictured above (left to right), Panelists Kirsten, Mark, Miguel, and Pedro.
The second panel delved into “Climate Justice and Net Zero Portfolios - Driving the Just Transition.” It was moderated by Pedro Henrique de Silvas of Global Endowment Management, who was accompanied by panelists Miguel CuUnjieng of Federated Hermes, Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker, and Kirsten Spalding of Ceres. Panelists discussed how investors can address the outsized impacts of the climate crisis on marginalized communities through Net Zero Commitments, and next steps endowed institutions and individuals can take to achieve a just transition, including joining IEN’s Net Zero Endowment Initiative.
Pictured above, Next Level Conversation speakers and topics.
Following these panels, participants connected through a facilitated dialogue session, sharing reflections and new ideas for collaboration and action based on the panel content. After a break, participants delved more deeply into several sustainable investing topics by joining nine “Next Level Conversation” roundtables.
Tuan Toay of Bard College led conversations on the topic of “Shareholder Advocacy and Engagement.” Key takeaways included:
- Platforms for connecting experts with shareholder advocacy groups (colleges or otherwise) are desired.
- Research into companies and issues is critical and many college investment committees are not sufficiently resourced to carry this out.
Turnover in students and personnel make engagements' long timelines challenging and reinforces the importance of this work in dedicated positions but also democratized and formalized to ensure institutional memory and continuity.
Bahiyah Robinson of VC Include led conversations on “Building an Impact-Driven, Diverse Emerging Manager Ecosystem.” Key takeaways included:
- More allocators are looking for diverse managers in the climate space, but many diverse emerging managers are not pure climate firms due to lack of access to capital. This was the inspiration for the Include Climate Justice initiative.
- Consultants and OCIOs are getting more client demand for these types of products but some of the mandates are narrow and therefore prohibitive to invest, particularly in first time firms.
Diverse emerging managers are trying to meet the market demand for climate, but many companies are on the early side (pre-seed to late seed) so the market is nascent.
Jeff Gitterman of Gitterman Wealth Management led conversations on “Taking the Politics out of ESG: Risks and Opportunities From Political Attacks on ESG.” Key takeaways included:
- ESG needs more definitional or regulatory structure to keep it from being politicized.
- The difference between the process of ESG and ESG products needs to be explained more clearly.
- Climate and ESG are distinct and should be marketed differently; we should not claim ESG is impact.
Dorien Nuñez of Omni Research led conversations on “Diverse and Emerging Managers.” Key takeaways included:
- There are still many Institutional Barriers for ESG and for diverse and emerging managers (10 year track records etc.). An SEC subcommittee has documented that these are institutional barriers to inclusion.
- ESG is under attack by well funded political forces, we need to be vigilant.
Engaging with IEN is a great way to connect with a network of inclusive and committed experts on ESG, Impact Investing, DEI, and Social Justice Investing.
Marvin Owens of Impact Shares led conversations on “Every Dollar Has Impact: Sustainable ETFs & Who is at the Table.” Key takeaways included:
- The voices of key social and environmental organizations have been absent from the conversations defining the term ‘sustainable’, which may be exacerbating anti-ESG arguments.
- The strategy of excluding companies with low scores (across ESG factors and impact areas) and the role of engagement needs to be examined.
If the goal is corporate change, assessing current strategies and whether real impact is being realized must be considered.
Bob Van Heuvelen of Vogel Group led conversations on “Sustainable Investing and Federal Policy.” Key takeaways included:
- There is a need for concrete anecdotes highlighting why ESG considerations are worth including in investment decisions.
- Failure to consider material ESG risks represents liability for the fiduciary; terms must be redefined in addition to reshaping the narrative.
- The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) is developing ESG measurement standards
It is a good idea to start a coalition of funds and companies that are concerned with goals such as: developing definitions/standards, highlighting the positives of considering ESG, a public relations campaign for public education, and hiring lobbyist professionals to bring the message ‘home.’
Moya Conelly and Ian Monroe of Etho Capital led conversations on “Climate Positive Investing and DEI in Climate Investing.” Key takeaways included:
- Investors are increasingly aware that portfolios need to go beyond Net Zero to Net Climate-Positive, but the process of getting climate-positive targets into IPS planning is still just starting.
- More accessibility to Scope 1-3 GHG data to help investors with full portfolio climate footprinting and both Net Zero and Climate-Positive transition planning is needed.
- Investors are more advanced at incorporating DEI / JEDI goals into investment policies, but more data and clarified targets would be helpful — both for how managers are selected and how portfolio decisions are made.
- There is general support for the new Climate+Positive Investing Alliance (C+PIA) pledge targets including language about upholding Indigenous rights and JEDI principles.
Dinah Koehler of Ecolumix led conversations on “ESG Data and Greenwashing.” Key takeaways included:
- Verification and auditing of ESG data is key for it to be trusted; there is a need for more properly trained auditors.
- Metric relevance as science based because it is less subjective. Lack of faith in politics/regulators and stakeholder power play as main concerns with other determinants of relevance.
Transparency on measurement and estimation methods is key. Quality and objectivity of a database to determine proper estimation is important as well.
Cara Early of Breckenridge led conversations on “Net Zero Portfolios and Fixed Income.” Key takeaways included:
- More discussions (educational rather than pitches) with managers who have thoughtful approaches to Net Zero within their sector would likely be welcomed by asset owners.
- Additional resources to share with other stakeholders, board members etc, with varying degrees of investment acumen would be helpful.
- The integration of environmental/climate justice into a public markets net zero portfolio appears to be missing at this point.
- Folks spent a bit of time lamenting the lack of appeal of tax-exempt municipal bonds amongst the endowment/foundation community, who don’t benefit from the tax exempt nature of municipal bonds, given the seemingly natural alignment from a mission standpoint with many organizations.
Pictured above (left to right), Panelists Lazaro, David, Roberta, and Max.
After rotating twice through the next level conversation topics, participants reconvened to listen to the final panel of the day: “ESG in Retirement Plans — the Sustainable Retirements Pledge.” This panel was led by moderator Lazaro Tiant of Schroders, and included panelists David Finegold, President of Chatham University, Roberta Lobo of Nuveen (a TIAA company), and Max Messervey from Mercer. In addition to sharing thought provoking information in relation to the market, risk mitigation, and ESG options in retirement plans, the panelists publicly launched IEN’s Sustainable Retirements Pledge.
Signatories of the Pledge commit to evaluate the sustainable investing options in their retirement plan offerings, and work with their advisors to determine what it would take to add or expand these options. Founding signatories included Arizona State University, The Arizona State University Foundation, Chatham University, and Lewis & Clark College. Two institutions represented in the room signed the Pledge immediately after the launch. IEN, in partnership with Second Nature and AASHE,. invites you to learn more about and sign the Sustainable Retirements Pledge.
The Roundtable wrapped up with a closing dialogue in which the audience reflected on their big takeaways from the day, next steps, and collaborations, and shared ideas on how IEN can best support them in achieving their sustainable investing goals.
Reach out to [email protected] to learn more about IEN, our convenings, and other ways to get involved.