TIAA Low Carbon Social Choice Fund

In the course of conversations around intentionally designed endowments, the topic of sustainable and low-carbon investment options for faculty and staff retirement often arises. 

TIAA-CREF now offers a low-carbon retirement fund, the Low Carbon Social Choice Fund.

This approach can make a difference. University employees' retirement funds are typically even larger than universities' endowments.  At University of Utah, for example, the university endowment is roughly $1 Billion, and the employees’ retirement funds are worth approximately $3 Billion – which are heavily invested in TIAA-CREF, the $866 billion academicians' retirement fund.
In addition to meeting broad environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria that are consistent with sustainability principles, the Fund selects companies that (1) demonstrate leadership in managing and mitigating their current carbon emissions and (2) have limited exposure to oil, gas, and coal (i.e., fossil fuel) reserves – fossil fuel deposits that have not yet been extracted. The determination of leadership criteria takes into consideration the company’s carbon emissions both in absolute terms (e.g., tons of carbon emitted directly into the atmosphere) and in relative terms (e.g., tons of carbon emitted per unit of economic output such as sales).
Thus far, only a few institutions have shown the leadership to make this fund option available to their employees.
To help make this opportunity available to more employees who might be interested in selecting in for their retirement funds, a small group of professors is working to build awareness about this offering.  They are encouraging faculty and staff to ask their university HR directors to make this fund option available.

Here is an email template you can use to send in reaching out to your Human Resources director:

Dear ____,

I learned recently that TIAA-CREF, the $866 billion academicians’ pension fund, now has a Low Carbon Social Choice Fund available for investment. However, I noticed that it is not yet offered by our school, even though this can happen easily via a request to TIAA-CREF from our HR/benefits department.

Administrators at the University of Utah (UU) have successfully added this option, and like-minded others at U.S. campuses are following that lead. I’m eager to see this sustainable retirement option available for employees here, too, as it will make a big difference to our campus community, the security of our investments, and the integrity of our institution. To put it in perspective, the UU endowment is roughly $1 billion while the individual retirement accounts total about $3 billion. This is a huge opportunity.

Many of our professors, and multiple foci in our institution are taking meaningful action around decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon risk exposure; now that TIAA-CREF provides a retirement alternative that does not violate those principles and better protects our future against carbon risk, we ask that you give us the opportunity to choose it. 

If you have questions, feel free to email Erica Frank, MD, MPH at [email protected]; I look forward to hearing from you soon.




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