WASHINGTON - October 3 – The first-ever step-by-step guide to encourage colleges and universities to adopt responsible investment practices in pursuit of social and environmental change is being released today in a collaboration between Amnesty International USA and the Responsible Endowments Coalition. The guide is aimed at higher education trustees and administrators and student activists who want to push for responsible investing on their campuses.
Available online at no cost (www.endownmentethics.org) the handbook, Integrating Environmental, Social and Governance Issues into Institutional Investment: a Handbook for Colleges and Universities, is a comprehensive guide with real-world examples and best practices from leading academic institutions.
Amy O'Meara, a business and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International USA, said that while the trend toward responsible investing has been gaining over the last decade most academic institutions continue to invest in at least some companies whose policies and practices offer no protections for the environment or human rights and may, in fact, hurt either or both. "Colleges and universities could use their power as investors to press companies to improve how they respond to social and environmental challenges. But often they do not," O'Meara said.
"The truth is, academic institutions in the United States lag behind public and private pension funds, foundations, and even mutual funds in adopting strategies and policies for responsible investing," said O'Meara. "The value of college and university endowments now exceeds $340 billion in the United States. If higher education devoted a larger share of these endowments to responsible investments, the impact on the common good and on social and environmental change could be enormous."
Morgan Simon, executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, said: "Our handbook explains in depth how college trustees, investment managers and students can align investment strategies with their institutions' values and missions. Long term, colleges with responsible practices can have a significant impact on how companies define their response to social and environmental challenges in addition to supporting their own communities."
Simon said: "The guide provides many compelling examples of best practices from colleges and universities who have taken some leadership in this area."
Sixteen of the top 20-ranked colleges and universities (2008 U.S. News and World Report rankings) have adopted some practices that incorporate social, environmental and governance concerns in investment decisions.
The practices range from committees on investor responsibility to formal processes that allow students to petition for shareholder advocacy on issues that are of concern
Overall, more than $2.29 trillion in assets in the United States are currently managed using one or more strategies that consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. This means that one out of ten dollars under professional management in the United States today is involved in some form of ESG investing.
The handbook offers information on legal issues, investment strategies, including positive investment screening and community investment, sample investment policies, and outlines various methods of shareholder advocacy and direct engagement with companies whose practices may be of concern. The guide was endorsed by the Social Investment Forum, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Friends of the Earth.
"This resource can offer win-win solutions for those seeking creative yet responsible approaches to university investing,” said Timothy Smith, Senior Vice President for Walden Asset Management and Chair, Social Investment Forum.
Lisa Sachs, a co-author of the handbook and currently a third-year student at Columbia Law School, is now a leader pushing for action on this issue on her campus. "The world of finance and investments is often confusing to students, even those who are intent on getting their schools to change their endowment policies. I think we have been able to break down complex ideas and put them into a form that students can turn into action."
"College students today have a low tolerance for hypocrisy, and many are getting an education so that they can better fight the massive injustices they see in the world, including human rights abuses by companies. These students are ready to undertake sophisticated efforts to reform their college endowments with the guidance this handbook offers," said Sachs.
The Responsible Endowments Coalition works to foster social and environmental change and promote corporate reform through university endowments by educating and empowering a diverse community of university members and allies.
Amnesty International USA, as part of its overarching mission to protect and promote human rights, works to ensure that companies abide by international human rights obligations in their global business operations.