Tufts Enacts Investment Policies to Advance Sustainability

The university will prohibit direct investment in coal and tar sands companies, invest up to $25 million in positive impact funds related to climate change, and more
A Tufts sign with campus buildings in the background. Tufts will prohibit direct investment in coal and tar sands companies, invest up to $25 million in positive impact funds related to climate change, and more.
“Tufts is committed to the mission of addressing the most consequential challenges of our time, including the urgent global crisis of climate change,” said President Anthony P. Monaco.
February 10, 2021

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Tufts University will prohibit direct investments in coal and tar sands companies as part of a multi-part commitment to advance sustainability and address the urgent crisis of climate change. Additional actions include investing up to $25 million in positive impact funds related to climate change over five years and proactively calling on external investment managers to take environmental, social, and governance considerations into account in their investment processes.

The university joins a small number of U.S. colleges and universities with similar-sized endowments of approximately $2 billion or more to prohibit investments in coal and tar sands companies.

From campus operations to the classroom, sustainability at Tufts is a collective effort spanning departments, offices, schools, and campuses. The plan, approved by the university’s Board of Trustees, is in keeping with the university’s long history of leadership within higher education on issues of sustainability, ranging from initiating the Talloires Declaration in 1990 to its work today to minimize its carbon footprint, foster groundbreaking research and scholarship, and prepare students to become the next generation of leaders on climate change.

As part of its multi-part commitment to promoting further change beyond the university and enhanced transparency and accountability within it, Tufts will:

  • Invest $10 million to $25 million in positive impact funds related to climate change over the next five years. A minimum of $10 million will be allocated, with the remainder structured as a match to encourage contributions to the endowment from those who are passionate about climate action.
  • Proactively communicate with all current and future investment managers to inform them of Tufts’ decision to prohibit direct investment in coal and tar sands companies, impress upon them the university’s belief in the urgency of climate change, and encourage them to further integrate climate-change risk and other environmental, social, and governance considerations into their investment processes.
  • Enhance transparency by creating a dashboard that will report on the university’s progress toward these actions as well as other relevant information regarding action on climate change and fossil fuels.
  • Evaluate progress in light of the rapid pace of change in the fields of environmental sustainability, energy production/consumption, and investing, and revisit these actions in two to five years.
  • Further integrate and advance the university’s efforts on environmental sustainability. The university would coordinate these efforts with the Campus Sustainability Council to connect their work in support of a broader, university-wide climate change mitigation plan.

“Tufts is committed to the mission of addressing the most consequential challenges of our time, including the urgent global crisis of climate change,” said President Anthony P. Monaco. “We are taking practical and symbolic steps to advance the cause of sustainability and positive environmental impact, both at Tufts and beyond.”

The university’s commitment follows the recommendations of a Responsible Investment Advisory Group (RIAG) composed of students, faculty, and staff that convened in the fall of 2020 to study the issue of potential divestment. The group reviewed actions taken by other universities and colleges as well as measures beyond divestment to promote sustainability, explored potential options and ramifications, and issued its recommendations [PDF] to the Board of Trustees this winter.

Under the plan, Tufts will prohibit direct investments in 120 coal and tar sands companies with the largest reserves. The university currently has no direct holdings in the restricted companies, and the change in investment policy will prevent it from acquiring any.

This restriction, which would cover virtually all public reserves in this space and most major energy companies, would apply to the Investment Office’s internally managed accounts and be implemented within six to 12 months. The companies in question would be determined by a list updated annually by an established third party commonly used by other universities for these purposes.

The university also will seek to influence the holdings in its other investments that it does not directly control, such as commingled funds, by attempting to move investment managers toward change.

“It is our hope that our actions and our voice, in combination with peer universities and others, will cause investment managers to accelerate their shift from fossil fuel investments to portfolios with more sustainable investments,” said Robert R. Gheewalla, A89, trustee and RIAG chair.

Faculty research related to climate change and climate change solutions can be found in virtually every school at the university. Tufts offered 585 courses related to sustainability over the past two years and seven graduate and undergraduate degree programs in sustainability and related fields. Last year, Tufts welcomed the first cohort of students in the master’s of science in sustainability program.

“The urgency of climate change is imperative, and the steps we are announcing today complement the many university programs on sustainability advanced through our scholarship, research, teaching, and campus operations,” added Monaco.