Spring 2021 Newsletter


With spring in the air (at least here in the Boston area) and vaccines in circulation (at least here in the US), we are marking Earth Day this week with optimism. We’re also still holding space for the deep pain across our communities and the important work of justice and accountability.

In this quarter’s newsletter, we share tools to hold companies accountable through proxy voting, peer learning from members making their retirement plan offerings more sustainable, peer pressure to join the growing wave of Net Zero Endowment announcements, lessons on supporting the next generation of sustainable investors, and an invitation to gather as a network in June.

Warm Regards,

The IEN Team

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IEN Q&A: Defined Contribution Plans with an ESG Overlay - The Hurdles & Untapped Investment Opportunities

Amrita Sareen, Senior Advisor at IEN in this post interviews five investment experts on the challenges of ESG focused retirement plans:

  • Erik Gross: Treasurer, University of New Hampshire Foundation
  • Mike Fiorio: Trustee, Northland College
  • Tiffany McGhee: CEO, CIO, Pivotal Advisors
  • Sarah Bratton Hughes: Head of Sustainability, North America, Schroders
  • Jim Roach: Senior Vice President, Retirement Strategies, Natixis Investment Managers
While many institutional investors are taking steps forward to confront ESG related risks in their portfolios, the defined contribution industry may be lagging behind. IEN is collaborating with market experts on creating a toolkit for sustainable retirement plans to help steer plan sponsors on how to navigate the challenges in offering ESG investment products. This guide is expected to be rolled out by the summer. In this vein, IEN approached various experts within the defined contribution landscape to understand the challenges regarding ESG focused offerings to plan participants. Read the full Q&A article here. To learn more about and join IEN’s Sustainable Retirements Initiative, visit this page.
Spotlight: Climate Action Pursuit

The Climate Action Pursuit is underway! Over 600 participants come together online for inspiration, information, and connection in the February milestone. You can review brief summaries of all of the February sessions in the event platform here, and registered participants can log in to view recordings there as well.

It’s not too late to register! If you register between now and June 10th, you will gain access to the February session recordings and have full access to programming in the upcoming June, October, and December milestones.

What can you expect in the June milestone? Over the course of 2 days, you’ll be able to build a personalized agenda from sessions designed to meet the need we’ve heard for programming the breaks across silos, directly connects participants to each other, and deepens the peer learning and action agenda we started in February. Keep an eye out in May for speaker and session announcements and save the dates for June 10-11, 2021 (and/or this milestone’s meeting of the Presidents & Trustees Cohort, which will take place on June 23rd). Learn more about the Climate Action Pursuit here.
Updates from the Network
New IEN Members

We are pleased to welcome David Carris, The Forestland Group, University of Illinois System, Scherman Foundation, University of San Diego, and University of Washington to the Network! To learn more about the leadership opportunities and benefits of IEN membership, click here.

IEN Team News

At the end of March, Alice DonnaSelva transitioned out of her role as Managing Director of IEN in order to spend more time on other passions. We are happy to report that she hasn’t gone far - you can stay in touch with Alice at her IEN email address this year, as she continues in a consultant capacity on shareholder engagement initiatives. We are grateful for Alice’s continued leadership within the network!

We are actively recruiting a new Managing Director - please review and circulate the job description here.

Recent Webinars

IEN Members can access the following recent webinars through our member-only archive:

  • The Energy Transition: What, How, and Why It Matters | April 20, 2021
  • Brown Bag Session: Investor Journey to Net-Zero: Understanding your Portfolio | April 19, 2021
  • Choose Your Own Climate Future: En-ROADS Climate Simulator Workshop | March 17, 2021
  • How You Can Help Stop the Sixth Mass Extinction: The Importance of Considering Biodiversity Conservation When Constructing Your Portfolio | February 3, 2021
Upcoming Events

Please join us for our upcoming IEN events:

Other Events

See our full event calendar here, and please let us know which topics you would most like to hear from members about in this year’s webinar series!

IEN's Focus Areas
SIILK (Sustainable & Impact Investing Learning & Knowledge) Network

This spring, SIILK has had two main focuses: running this year’s Student Corporate Engagement Competition and releasing our first Report on the State of the Field of Student-Managed Investment Funds. Participating teams in the Competition are from Arizona State University, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, University of California Haas School of Business, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Yale University. Their final presentations are taking place next week, and you’re welcome to listen in (register here). Learn more here about the Competition, new report, and getting involved with additional SIILK programming.

Supported by Federated Hermes

Sustainable Retirements: ESG Options for Retirement Plans

The Expert Panel for the Retirements project held two sessions at the February Pursuit milestone, and presented at GreenBiz’s GreenFin conference in April. The group is developing a Toolkit -- to be published in June -- for Plan Sponsors and campus advocates to support adoption of ESG options in 403b plans. We have also continued to hold free small-group virtual meetings to help stakeholders (Plan Sponsors, trustees, faculty, sustainability directors, investment staff, etc.) by answering questions, providing coaching, resources, and insights on how best to move forward. Learn more here about joining the Sustainable Retirements Initiative.

Supported by Natixis, Federated Hermes, Gitterman Wealth Management, and Schroders

Net Zero Endowments

IEN’s Net Zero Endowments initiative continues to grow, with the launch of a Steering Committee this month that will shape and guide the project. Details on the Committee’s membership and activities will be announced soon. We had a great Net Zero session at the February milestone of the Climate Action Pursuit with case studies from Harvard, the David Rockefeller Fund, and WRI. In the June milestone we’ll hear from investment managers and nonprofit partners supporting implementation of these commitments. Within the last month UMich and Penn announced NZ commitments -- in the run-up to COP26, we encourage more endowments to commit to Net Zero Portfolios and join this initiative. Visit the Net Zero Endowments webpage for details and to get involved!

Supported by Wellington Management

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The initiative brought DEI focused sessions to the February milestone of the Climate Action Pursuit such as conversations on investor exposure to the prison industrial complex and creating your own best practices on racial equity investing. One of the outcomes from the Pursuit was the formation of a “Pursuit Team,” a small cohort of universities committed to setting goals/making progress around DEI investing. If you are interested in joining this self directed peer resource group, please contact us. We continue to host learning opportunities to support investors make progress on the action steps outlined in the Investing in Racial Equity Primer such as our upcoming workshop with Philanthropy New York on Look Under the Hood and Demand More - Investing with a Racial Equity Lens. Learn more here about joining this community, participating in joint work, or sponsoring.

Supported by Prime Buchholz and Global Endowment Management

Fiduciary Duty & Policy

The Fiduciary Duty Working Group brought fiduciary duty and governance to life in a session at the Climate Action Pursuit, Staying Relevant: The Endowment as a Tool in the Toolkit, which told the story of the multi-stakeholder effort by Middlebury College to align their investments with their institutional mission. This spring the group will be evaluating the SEC’s climate change disclosure regulation and providing input. Learn more here about participating in this working group.

Shareholder Engagement

In late March, IEN launched a Proxy Voting Campaign led by working group members. The campaign page provides all the tools endowments need to vote proxies, including template letters to send external managers, a Resolution Tracker listing key votes to pay attention to, and a curated list of partner resources for those with the time to dig deeper. Learn more here about participating in this work.

Trustee Peer Group

Members of the trustee peer group have been providing input on the design of the Climate Action Pursuit, and will be attending the Presidents & Trustee sessions taking place at the remaining Pursuit milestones this year. Learn more here about participation in the Trustee Peer Group.

Featured Resources
Resources from IEN
Other Resources from the Field
In the News
IEN in the News

Read more coverage of the network here

Recent Announcements About Higher Education Endowments Aligning Their Investments with Institutional Goals

Read coverage of recent announcements by higher education endowments about their progress aligning their investments with institutional goals:

  • Amherst College: Amherst College Board of Trustees has announced it would officially divest from fossil fuel interests and phase out the remaining investments in directly held, long-term fossil fuel funds by 2030.
  • Babson College: Babson’s Board of Trustees voted to integrate ESG factors while making investment decisions for its endowment. The board voted to incorporate DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) principles into its endowment investing as well.
  • Cornell University: Cornell University Assembly passed a resolution calling on one of the main pension fund suppliers for Cornell faculty and staff to divest from fossil fuel companies and certain agribusiness practices associated with deforestation and human rights abuses.
  • Canadian Universities Unite as Investors to Help Address the Climate Crisis: A coalition of Canadian university endowments and pension plans is launching a new initiative through SHARE, a non-profit investor advocacy organization, to engage investee corporations on climate change risks.
  • Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP): Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board pledged to fully divest from US private prison companies amidst public pressure.
  • King’s College London: King’s College London has fully divested from all fossil fuels almost two years ahead of schedule.
  • Newnham College: Newnham College has announced that it will divest from all meaningful exposure to fossil fuels by 2030, in line with the University’s commitment to full divestment in the same timeframe.
  • Southern New Hampshire University: Southern New Hampshire University reassigned part of its endowment to address structural racism by investing in venture funds and start-ups founded and managed by Black and brown executives.
  • Trinity College: Trinity college commits to net zero carbon emissions before 2050, in line with the spirit of the Paris Agreement.
  • University of Cape Town: The University of Cape Town Council has approved the Responsible and Sustainable Investment Policy, which sets out the approach to be taken by the university regarding its financial endowments stewardship.
  • University of Michigan: The University of Michigan announced a plan to achieve “net zero” carbon footprint status for its $12.5 billion endowment by 2050 through measures including shifting away from investment in fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
  • University of Pennsylvania: The Office of Investments has established the goal of reducing the net greenhouse gas emissions from Penn’s endowment investments to zero by 2050.
  • University of Southern California: The University of Southern California Board of Trustees’ Investment Committee voted to halt new investments in fossil fuels, the university announced. The university will also liquidate its existing fossil fuel investments over the next several years.
  • University of Victoria: University of Victoria announced that it is transferring $80 million to a short-term bond that reduces the “carbon intensity” of its investments. That follows the approval of a policy last year to lower carbon emissions, represented in the entire $225-million portfolio, by 45 per cent by 2030.

View past issues of IEN’s weekly news summary online here.

If you have an original piece you would like to submit for an upcoming newsletter, or for more information about the Intentional Endowments Network and how you can support this work, please contact Hannah Bowen at [email protected].

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