Advancing and Deepening Brandeis' Commitment to Sustainability
Oct. 6, 2021
Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,
It is undeniable that the consequences of climate change threaten us all. We cannot ignore that human activities are fueling the cascading environmental crises that have grown far too frequent in their occurrence, and it will require human intervention to avert a future that promises to be catastrophic if we fail to take action. Our academic community has made invaluable contributions to the scholarly discourse around issues of climate change, but there remains more for us to do.
As an institution, Brandeis has long been at the forefront of making firm commitments and taking concrete steps toward addressing climate change. Indeed, in 2016, Brandeis stopped investing in fossil fuel private limited partnerships. Then, in November 2018, the Brandeis Board of Trustees adopted several ambitious policies relating to the University's fossil fuel investments and long-term sustainability goals.
Today, I am writing to announce that Brandeis will continue to take a leadership role in combating climate change through a series of commitments, unanimously approved by the Board:
- Brandeis will extend its policy, first adopted in 2018, of not investing in fossil fuel private limited partnerships;
- We will deepen our efforts to invest in the expanding green sector; and
- We will develop a measurement and analysis tool set to measure and disclose the Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions associated with our entire endowment holdings as part of our sustainability goals
Brandeis is proud to be a visionary leader of the movement toward net zero carbon emissions. By example, we are now committing to develop a measurement and analysis tool set that will quantify both our progress and success in reducing the direct and indirect greenhouse emissions associated with our endowment holdings. In addition to our other policies, we believe this action distinguishes Brandeis among our peers and demonstrates a serious commitment to the climate. These policies are discussed in greater detail below.
First, Brandeis has no intention going forward of making any new investment in fossil fuel private limited partnerships. Brandeis has not made any such investments in over five years, and the legacy investments, comprising approximately 4% of our portfolio, will continue to be liquidated as they run off in accordance with their normal life cycle. This policy builds upon the success of our previously established pledge to not make direct investments of endowment funds in companies whose principal business is the mining of coal for use in energy generation, and we will now also exclude companies whose business is to extract fossil fuels as part of that commitment.
Second, Brandeis will work to position our endowment to better respond to the threat of climate change. We will do this by:
- Deepening our ongoing efforts to find investments in the rapidly expanding "green" sector of the economy. This will be consistent with our target risk and return standards and will include carbon emission reduction technology, conservation, renewable energy, energy optimization, energy efficiency, alternative and renewable energy, sustainable forestry, and circular economy investments. These types of investments will account for a rapidly increasing proportion of the Brandeis endowment over the next five years.
- Continuing to engage our current and future investment managers about further integrating climate-change risk and other environmental, societal, and governance (ESG) considerations into their investment processes.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, over the next four years, Brandeis will develop a tool set to measure the Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions associated with its holdings. This tool set will allow us to measure whether we are meeting our goals, and this project will represent the first step toward the University's longer-term effort to incorporate the endowment into campus-wide carbon mitigation plans. These plans will include a roadmap for accelerating carbon reduction strategies across Brandeis' physical plant and moving the University toward carbon neutrality. This measurement and analysis tool set is a distinct aspect of our plan that distinguishes us among other institutions of higher education as a leader when it comes to combating climate change. It reflects a serious commitment to look beyond the mere question of whether fossil fuels investments are in our portfolio and engage in the meaningful work of reducing the carbon impact of each aspect of our entire endowment.
Some will argue that these actions are merely symbolic acts that could negatively impact the endowment and thus our ability to deliver our teaching and research mission. However, our plans align our vision for a more sustainable future with a prudent, risk-averse investment strategy. It will take time for us to know whether our commitments will make a meaningful impact on our sustainability goals, but we cannot let uncertainty prevent us from taking action now, for the risk of inaction is too great.
With these steps, we are well positioned to achieve our sustainability goals, and I believe we will be able to celebrate both the progress we've made and our commitment to realizing broader climate justice efforts in 2022-2023 — the Year on Climate Action.
Our plans reflect the tireless work of students and faculty whose patience and passion have set us on a path toward climate-conscious investing. We owe them a debt of gratitude not only for grappling with this set of issues for years, but for envisioning a Brandeis that strives to reflect one of its highest values — using one’s talents to repair the world — in word and deed.