Summary of 2023 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit

IEN and Second Nature’s 2023 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit

IEN and Second Nature’s annual Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit was hosted at the University of Miami, and took place February 5-7, 2023. The 300+ attendees included college and university presidents, trustees, endowment stakeholders, sustainability staff, and businesses and firms supporting sustainable investing, procurement, and operations.

Sunday, February 5th

The Summit kicked off on Sunday with various tours and workshops, including IEN’s HBCU Endowment Growth Workshop — which set the tone of centering justice at the Summit

IEN’s workshop focused on discussing case studies on endowment successes and challenges, as well as future plans, at HBCUs. Topics covered included best practices in building fundraising and endowment capacity, centralized asset funds, and how to solve the campus housing crisis.

Photo from Sunday’s evening welcome reception at THesis Hotel

Monday, February 6th

The following morning, the Summit opened with a keynote and two plenary panels, followed by several concurrent sessions.

Opening Keynote: Rhiana Gunn-Wright

In the keynote, the conversation was centered around the questions: What is higher education’s role in advancing climate justice, and what are the policy implications of the IRA on colleges and universities? How can the higher education sector advocate for equitable climate and equity policy going forward?

Plenary Panel: Diversify to Unify, Roles

This plenary panel delved into how different college and university stakeholders define progress and success when it comes to climate and equity work, and what the levers for impactful change across the higher education ecosystem are.

The rest of Monday, participants engaged with each other through networking breaks, concurrent sessions, tours and workshops, a reception at University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum, and small group dinners.

IEN Concurrent: Intentionally Designed Investments: Where are we now, and where are we heading?

Panelists Kunle Apampa (Head of Client Solutions & Partnerships at Capricorn Investment Group) and Jenna Nicholas (CEO at Impact Experience) highlighted the many starting points and many paths to aligning endowments and retirement funds with institutional mission in ways that reduce risk, protect capital, and enhance returns. Participants then discussed at their tables where their community of stakeholders are in the process of exploring and implementing sustainable investing strategies, and what they hoped to explore throughout the event.

Picture of IEN’s Roadmap session

IEN Concurrent: Diversity in Asset Management: Advancing BIPOC Leadership, Enhancing Equity, & Improving Financial Returns

Panelists Jomayra Hererra (Partner at Reach Capital), Chavon Sutton (Senior Investment Director, Sustainable & Impact Investing Research at Cambridge Associates), Juan Martinez (Vice President, CFO & Treasurer at the Knight Foundation), Tina Byles Williams (CEO of Xponance), and Daryn Dodson (Managing Partner at Illumen Capital) explored the important, intersectional topic of diverse managers and the obstacles they face. Together, they explained that there is no performance gap that explains the capital allocation gap to diverse managers and catalyzing the movement of capital to diverse managers requires asset owners and allocators to take a multi-pronged approach, including: looking at asset management firm’s diversity in ownership & leadership, committing to the next generation pipeline building, and investing assets with diverse founders. After the panel’s presentation, members of the audience discussed their experiences and observations, takeaways from the panel, and next steps on how to progress racial equity.

IEN Concurrent: Developing a Diverse Board & Advancing Conversations Across Social Equity and Climate

Panelists George Suttles (Executive Director of Commonfund Institute), Dianne Dillon-Ridgely (Board Chair at the Crane Institute of Sustainability), Samantha Grant (Senior Consultant at Verus Investments and Board Member at IDAC), and Marvin Owens (Chief Engagement Officer at Impact Shares) delved into how perceptions of race can inform both business and investment operations and how investors should consider conducting bias training and diversifying their Board and Investment Committees to bring in new insights, spur new approaches and expand networks. 

Photo of IEN’s Board Diversity session

Second Nature organized concurrent sessions covering topics including master plans for campus decarbonization, implications of the IRA for higher education, climate justice, and climate action planning at HBCUs and MSIs. 

You can view Monday’s session recordings here:

Tuesday February 7th

Tuesday's agenda followed a similar format, starting with a plenary session followed by concurrent sessions and opportunities for discussion. 

Plenary Panel: Endowment Management: JEDI & Climate, Risks & Opportunities

On this panel, Tamara Larsen (Investment Committee Member at the David Rockefeller Fund and Clara Lionel Foundation, Partner at Mercer), Ken Jones (COO at the MacArthur Foundation and Trustee at Virginia Union University), Jason Wingard (President at Temple University), and Hilda Pinnix-Ragland (Board Chair at North Carolina A&T State University), discussed the role and value of higher education, the importance of aligning endowment investing with institutional sustainability work, and pathways to do so. 

IEN Concurrent: Net Zero Portfolios: Definitions, Centering Climate Justice, Engagement & Implementation

This session actually featured two panels! In the first panel, moderated by Kelly Major Green (Financial Advisor and Institutional Consultant at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management), panelists Jeff Mindlin (Vice President & CIO at Arizona State University Enterprise Partners), Megan Hammond (Senior Managing Director - Hard Assets, University of Michigan Investment Office), and Douglas Chau (CRO & Head of Research, University of Toronto Asset Management) discussed their net zero commitments and journeys. The second panel, moderated by Pedro Henriques da Silva (Associate at Global Endowment Management), included David Loehwing (Head of Sustainability & Stewardship - North America, Impax Asset Management) and Tim Coffin (Head of Strategic Partnerships at Breckinridge Capital Advisors). The trio delved into the asset manager perspective of net zero portfolios—touching on aspects such as engagement, reporting, data, risk, and industry answers to challenges. Following breaks for Q&A after each panel, audience members shared the questions they still had about net zero portfolios, their thoughts and progress on net zero integration in Investment Policy Statements, and more at roundtables. 

IEN Concurrent: All Money Has Impact: Is Your Retirement Fund Contributing to Sustainable Solutions?

IEN’s final panel of the Summit was moderated by David Finegold (President of Chatham University) who discussed sustainable retirement options, IEN’s new Sustainable Retirements Pledge, the Department of Labor’s recent ruling on ESG investing in retirement plans, and why ESG investing does not violate fiduciary duty with panelists Liana Magner (Executive Vice President, Head of Retirement and Institutional at Natixis), Roberta Lobo (Director, Nuveen), and Lazaro Tiant (Director of Sustainable Investments at Schroders). The session ended with Q&A from the audience.

Second Nature concurrent sessions on Tuesday covered topics including climate action decision making and Indigenous led adaption planning. 

Next Level Conversations

After lunch, Summit participants were given the opportunity to discuss a myriad of important, intersectional topics at 23 “Next Level Conversation” roundtables. Designed to maximize learning, these 25-minute conversations, repeated three times, allowed attendees to move between tables and hear from peers across topic areas. Table conversations focused on topics including shifting corporate behavior through the endowment, incorporating ESG and DEI into the investment policy statement and investment process, DEI training, and demystifying and unlocking the power of regulated compliance carbon markets. More details on the roundtable topics can be found here on Tuesday’s agenda.

Picture of Next Level Conversation roundtables

Closing Keynote: Atossa Soltani

Atossa Soltani, Founder and President of Amazon Watch, closed out the Summit by emphasizing the importance of protecting natural areas like the Amazon, and centering indigenous voices in climate solutions. She reminded us why we are building connections and  making a just transition to a more sustainable and environmentally healthy world.  

Picture of Keynote Speaker Atossa Soltani during her closing presentation

You can view Tuesday’s session recordings here:


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