Friday, August 22, 2014

Intentional Endowments

Over the past year, much of my work has focused on an emerging new project aimed at supporting colleges and universities to better-align their endowment investment practices with their mission and values. 

In April we held a summit in Boston -- the Intentionally Designed Endowment conference -- that brought together 120 leaders, including senior administrators from higher ed, endowment managers, investment firms, experts on sustainable investing and fiduciary responsibility, and non-profit executives.

The event was designed to create a highly-interactive, 'safe-space' to talk through the full range of issues and potential strategies for integrating sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria into endowment investment portfolios.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has been driven in large part by student leadership on college campuses. While many colleges have resisted calls to divest, it has opened up important conversations about if and how institutional mission and values should be incorporated into endowment investing policies and practices. At the same time, as the ESG / sustainable investing space has matured, it has become more common for investors to recognize that sustainability challenges can affect the value of companies and projects, and consequently pose material risks to their portfolios.

Given these complex and rapidly changing dynamics, participants of the event expressed a clear need for more forums like it, and other ways to continue the conversation and learning on these topics.  In response, we've been developing the Intentional Endowments Network.

Our website has presentations and videos from the conference, a resource library with reports and articles on key topics, and a news feed for relevant media coverage:

We are currently in the process of developing a strategic plan for this exciting new initiative, while at the same time developing tangible actions, including webinars, another Intentionally Designed Endowments conference in the Southwest, a student-focused conference, workshops and sessions at other conferences, new resources, and strategic engagements with individual institutions.

Please visit the website and share your thoughts.

Stay going.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 HBCU Green Report

The second survey of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) -- the 2014 HBCU Green Report -- was recently released by the Building Green Initiative at Clark Atlanta University.

The report finds a "green revolution" is underway at HBCUs, despite the fact that these efforts are not sufficiently covered in mainstream higher education, sustainability, or media outlets.  Forty-three institutions participated in the survey that yielded the data for the report. These institutions are active in the five focus areas covered: administration, green building, student involvement, food and recycling, and climate change and energy.

The report found that HBCUs are also recognizing that strategic sustainability plans can benefit the bottom line.  Highlighted projects include UMD Eastern Shore's solar farm - the largest concentration of PV panels on one site in Maryland, a LEED Gold renovation at Spelman College, a new Sustainability Institute at Florida A&M, the conversion of the football field to an organic farm at Paul Quinn College, and a commitment to a 20% reduction in energy use over 5 years at Clark Atlanta.

CAU President, Dr. Carlton Brown states in the report: "Long before the world fully grasped the urgent need to address climate change, Clark Atlanta University’s (CAU) Environmental Justice Resource Center provided leadership in documenting and addressing industrial pollution practices that disproportionately impacted communities of color... This work evolved into a global movement for climate justice. Climate change is one of the most critical challenges facing the global family today and special mission institutions like CAU have a unique role to play in crafting triple bottom line solutions that transform challenged under-served communities into healthy, vibrant livable neighborhoods."

The Building Green Initiative's report is a great source for learning more about how HBCUs across the country are working to do just that.

Stay going.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sustainability Illustrated: City of Canning sustainability video

Here's a great new video laying out the basics of strategic sustainable development.  It was created by two MSLS graduates -- Alex Magnin and Jayne Bryant -- for the City of Canning in Australia... hence the kangaroos.

Stay going.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

You're already paying for carbon pollution

Below is a great video from The Climate Reality Project about the price of carbon -- explaining why we need a price on carbon.  The consensus is finally building among the economists, politicians, and the public that putting a price on carbon is the most effective and efficient way to minimize the damage of climate disruption. 

The EPA's recently announced rules limiting carbon from existing power plants (The Clean Power Plan) is an important step, and one that will help pave the way for a price on carbon.  It's design of allowing states to determine how to meet the rules is the right way to go, and I expect it will result in more states instituting a price on carbon -- either by joining RGGI, or connecting with California or the Western Climate Initiative, or instituting their own pricing schemes, like cap & trade or cap & dividend, or a simple carbon tax like British Columbia.

These state-level precedents are what we need in order to get more comprehensive federal legislation, and from there a meaningful international climate agreement, with the US leading the way.  Given the recent results of the National Climate Assessment (and many other reports and studies) this needs to happen fast enough for an agreement in Paris in 2015 that goes into effect by 2020. 

Check out the video and share.  To get this done we need as many people as possible on board and letting their elected officials know they support a more effective and efficient way of paying for carbon pollution -- through a price on carbon.  Obama made it clear in this recent interview with Tom Friedman -- we need a price on carbon, we're not going to burn all of the carbon in the ground, and to enable a smooth ramp to clean energy, we need broad public support. Quoting Lincoln, he said: ‘With public opinion there’s nothing I cannot do, and without public opinion there’s nothing I can get done.’ As this piece in the NYT today shows, leadership on climate is finally becoming a political winner, and we need to keep it that way.

Stay going.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

F*&k It

It's hard not to feel how Stephen does sometimes... good to see all elements of the media covering the National Climate Assessment report, however.

While we are very late in taking meaningful action on climate in the US, it feels as though we might be getting to a place where it will be possible.  The NCA (despite false balance in media coverage) and the recent study about West Antarctica melting being inevitable has caught people's attention.  The EPA rules on power plant emissions coming this summer (reportedly with Obama making it a personal priority) is a real start to controlling carbon pollution.  And maybe most importantly, people are starting to experience a taste of what climate change will bring between Sandy, droughts, San Diego wildfires, the polar vortex, and so much more weird weather... it's not just normal plus a degree or two.

We have so much of the technology we need to dramatically reduce demand for fossil fuels and rapidly phase in alternatives.  Those alternatives are coming down in price and getting more competitive.  There is a groundswell among the youth (and many others!) drawing a line in the sand about the moral injustice climate inaction represents.  All in, the stage is very close to set for real change. 

It's been very tempting to say "F*&k It" for years, but we may now finally be getting close to a real tipping point.

Stay going.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Solutions Fridays: Passive House

Image source:
Passive House design encompasses for me a lot of what sustainability is all about -- smart design, reducing demand for energy and resources, saving money, improving quality of life.

The basic premise is through smart design, and effective use of passive heating, cooling, and day-lighting techniques, buildings can be comfortable year-round in any climate without large, expensive. energy-intensive heating and cooling systems.  They can reduce heating energy demand by 90%.

Learn more about passive house design from the Passive House Institute US.

It's sometimes hard for people to imagine how we could meet global energy demand only with renewable energy -- a big part of what makes that possible is dramatically reducing the amount of energy we use (without reducing quality of life -- and indeed increasing it for a great many people).  Passive House design is an exciting way to make that happen.
Unity College Passive House (photo: Jonah Gula)

Stay going.