Warren Wilson College Leads the Way on Being a Responsible Shareowner

This post by Alice DonnaSelva, Senior Advisor at IEN elaborates on Warren Wilson College's partnership with IEN to adopt a robust climate change strategy that actively promotes racial and gender equity in their businesses. 


A little more than a year after co-filing resolutions with Amazon, Google and BlackRock, Warren Wilson shared its journey with students, asset managers and endowment professionals at IEN’s Climate Action Pursuit February milestone, but the story doesn’t end there. 

Warren Wilson College (‘WWC”) is partnering with IEN again in 2021 to join other investors as they engage with companies to adopt robust climate change strategy and to actively promote racial and gender equity in their business. Because the WWC endowment, like many others, invests over half its portfolio through commingled funds, IEN first invited WWC to join its Proxy Voting Campaign by executing letters it had prepared for endowments to request that the large asset managers in their endowment vote to support resolutions that combat climate change through emissions reduction and other progress on the Climate 100+ Net Zero Benchmark indicators and to support resolutions that address and counter the legacy of structural racism and gender bias at corporations. 

Later in March, WWC and IEN  explored options for voting their proxies in a way that supports the school’s mission and financial success.  The proxy voting solution also had to fit the time and people constraints at the college. WWC and IEN explored options at ISS (through ISS’s socially responsible guidelines that WWC had used in 2020) and a new option through a partnership with As You Sow and Proxy Impact called As You Vote. Any endowment that invests in public equities through a separate account vehicle can subscribe to this service to help set the direction of a company on racial justice, climate change practice and many other related issues including corporate lobbying, environmental health and deforestation.

In the late April meeting of WWC’s ESG Advisory Committee, Andy Behar, CEO of As You Sow, gave a presentation to the committee on As You Sow and the As You Vote proxy voting service. After some follow-up negotiation and discussion, WWC  became one of the first subscribers to As You Vote in May.   This service allows votes to be made in line with As You Sow’s proxy voting guidelines with flexibility for WWC to alter the vote if it chooses through the Proxy Edge platform.

The advisory committee also heard from Gabe Rissman, co-founder of Your Stake to learn how they could effectively measure the environmental and social impact of their portfolio. Although there was keen interest by the committee members in using the  Your Stake tool to both measure portfolio impact and help them diligence potential asset managers, it was decided that the tool would be most useful if it enhanced students’ academic experience.

In May and June, WWC faculty began conversations with As You Sow to bring shareholder engagement into the classroom, to prepare students for a future of influencing the direction of the companies they invest in to become better stewards of their employees, their communities and the environment, thereby supporting a thriving economy. An education in shareholder engagement offers by its nature a multi-disciplinary experience, crossing the disciplines of finance, political science, sociology, environmental science and communications.

Planning will continue into the fall and is expected to include interactions with experts from As You Sow in energy, environmental health, racial justice and workplace equity.  Simultaneously, Warren Wilson College will be preparing to partner with other organizations in corporate engagement through dialogue, and filing and co-filing resolutions in the fall.

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