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Harvard Joins Principles for Responsible Investment
an article by Robert Kropp, Social Funds (abridged)

Harvard's endowment is the first in the United States to join the global network of sustainable investors; the university also announces it will report its greenhouse gas emissions to the CDP.



click on photo to enlarge

Last year, Harvard was criticized by the student divestment movement for refusing to join the growing number of college and university endowments that are divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies.

Despite strong support from students at the university for the action, Harvard President Drew Faust said, “As shareholders, I believe we should favor engagement over withdrawal. In the case of fossil fuel companies, we should think about how we might use our voice not to ostracize such companies but to encourage them to be a positive force both in meeting society’s long-term energy needs while addressing pressing environmental imperatives.”

Sustainable investors have come down on both sides of the divest vs. engage debate, but what might have been most troubling about Faust's position was her concept of fiduciary duty. “The funds in the endowment have been given to us by generous benefactors over many years to advance academic aims, not to serve other purposes, however worthy,” she wrote. “As such, we maintain a strong presumption against divesting investment assets for reasons unrelated to the endowment’s financial strength and its ability to advance our academic goals.”

If, for example, ExxonMobil, which recently reported that “Any future capping of carbon-based fuels to the levels of a 'low-carbon scenario' is highly unlikely due to pressing social needs for energy,” is wrong about its position on stranded assets, then an enlightened view of fiduciary duty would seem to support divestment.

Nevertheless, Harvard has taken steps to address the concerns of its stakeholders. Also last year, Harvard Management Company, the endowment's investment manager, announced the hiring of Jameela Pedicini as its first vice president for sustainable investing. Pedicini was formerly employed by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), a leading pension fund with a long-standing commitment to sustainable investing.

This week, Harvard took further steps toward a philosophy of sustainable investment, when it announced that it will become the first university endowment in the US to become a signatory to the United Nations' Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). As readers of SocialFunds.com surely now, PRI is an international network of sustainable investors committed to the incorporation of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) criteria into their investment strategies.

“Harvard University is the first US endowment to publicly commit to investing its funds in a more responsible and sustainable manner using the PRI’s voluntary framework, and we are thrilled to welcome them to the organization,” said Fiona Reynolds, Managing Director of the PRI. “Sustainable investment is one of the world’s fastest-growing investment trends, and Harvard’s leadership provides a model for other US universities” . . .

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)

DISCUSSION

Question(s) related to this article:


Despite the vested interests of companies and governments, Can we make progress toward sustainable development?

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Latest reader comment:

[responding to CPNN article The film 'Demain', a manifesto?

Yes initiatives from the grassroots are important and necessary which will have a direct impact on the present and the future. But there are governments like India which are conscious of over exploitation of the earth’s resources and are taking suitable policy measures and also taking legal action against the exploiters.

We must emphasize public transportation and reduce our dependence on individual cars even though the auto industry will not like this.

Otherwise it is not demain but aujourdhui — the problems are there for us to see.


This report was posted on April 17, 2014.