Impact Update: Announcing Commitments and Reporting on Progress

Impact Update - May 2020

Intentionally Designed Endowments Making a Difference

In addition to our regular news updates, IEN periodically highlights specific examples of concrete impact. These "Impact Updates" showcase the difference that intentionally designed endowments are making in the world.


We saw some major announcements from university and foundation endowments in the first few months of 2020, with more institutions creating intentionally designed endowments to invest for social, environmental and economic sustainability and several reporting publicly on the progress they have already made.

As a result of their decisions, endowments are contributing to greater diversity in asset management, greater demand for and offerings of sustainable investing strategies, and a growing body of evidence on what is possible in fossil fuel-free portfolios that are investing in a clean energy future.

Endowments Taking Action

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.

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 Illinois
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 IEN member BlackRock, a global asset manager and leader in sustainable investing. The new strategy aligns with the University's own Guiding Principles, as well as the newly enacted Illinois Sustainable Investing Act.

Georgetown University
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.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund
A new case study details how the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's investment returns beat market benchmarks since divesting from fossil fuels five years ago. Financial data included in the study shows the RBF posted an average annual net return of 7.76 percent over the five-year period that ended December 31, 2019. Over the same period, an index portfolio made up of 70 percent stocks and 30 percent bonds—including coal, oil, and gas holdings—returned 6.71 percent annually.

Wesleyan University
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. 

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. 

Harvard University
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.

Brown University
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.

American University
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. 

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.

How Progress Was Made

None of this progress was achieved overnight. As many of these announcements show, it can take years to fully implement a change in investment policy or strategy. In addition, it takes time to see how a new strategy will perform - which is why it is so powerful to see multi-year data like that in the newly released Rockefeller Brothers Fund case study as well as the endowment case studies in IEN's recent report, Financial Performance of Sustainable Investing: The State of the Field and Case Studies for Endowments.

What’s Next?

This summer, we will be updating IEN's compendium of Endowment Snapshots, a member-only resource that highlights examples of the progress peers are making along the Intentionally Designed Endowment Roadmap. Please share your updates for inclusion in this database of endowment experiences!


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