The University of Massachusetts system became the first major public university to divest its endowment from direct holdings in fossil fuels on May 25, 2016. This means that they chose to sell their holdings in fossil fuel organizations and reinvest in other entities, never again in fossil fuels. The decision was made by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation, a separate not-for-profit corporation that oversees an endowment whose value was $874 million at the end of FY18.
Sustainable Investment Policy
While the University does not have a publicly available sustainable investment policy statement, the Foundation’s Investment Policy Statement has been amended to include ESG criteria as part of the Investment Committee’s investment selection and monitoring process. In addition, the endowment is prohibited from owning direct investment in coal companies.
Environmental, Social and Governance – As a long-term investor, the Foundation is concerned with environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) issues which may affect the performance of its investments and are inconsistent with the University’s mission and commitment to sustainability. As such, the Committee will consider ESG factors as part of its investment selection and monitoring process. The extent of this consideration will be determined by the Committee and may include evaluating external investment managers’ consideration of ESG factors as part of their investment process and encouraging investment managers to enhance their ESG assessment capabilities.
How is the Sustainable Investment Policy Applied?
The Investment Committee recently selected a new equity manager, which was allocated a portion of the endowment portfolio. As part of the Committee’s selection process, it inquired with potential managers regarding any ESG criteria that they use as part of their investment process. The manager that was ultimately selected had integrated robust ESG factors into their investment and risk-management processes firm-wide, in addition to being a member of the UNPRI https://www.unpri.org/, an investor initiative in partnership with the UNEP Finance Initiative and the UN Global Compact. While this was not the only criteria used by the Committee in their decision, it was one of several criteria used.
Investor Networks That We Engage With
The Intentional Endowments Network supports colleges, universities, and other mission-driven tax-exempt organizations in aligning their endowment investment practices with their mission, values, and sustainability goals without sacrificing financial returns. In doing so, this broad-based, collaborative network will make a significant and critical contribution to creating a healthy, just, and sustainable society.
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) provides a global system for organizations to measure, disclose, manage and share environmental information. CDP investor initiatives (backed in 2015 by more than 822 institutional investors representing an excess of US$95 trillion in assets) give investors access to a global source of year-on-year information that supports long-term objective analysis. This includes evidence and insight into companies’ greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and strategies for managing climate change, water and deforestation risks.
Socially Responsible Investing Advisory Committee (SRIAC)
The University of Massachusetts Foundation Socially Responsible Investing Advisory Committee (SRIAC) is responsible for considering investment issues raised by students, faculty, alumni and other members of the UMass community. The eight-member Committee, which consists of faculty, administrators, alumni and students, serves as a forum in which social investment topics can be raised, discussed and reviewed. The Committee is responsible for considering proposals brought forth by members of the University community to determine whether they warrant further consideration by the Foundation’s Board of Directors.