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Northeastern to invest $25 million of endowment funds in environmental sustainability

Northeastern University, a recognized leader in sustainability practices, education, and research, announced today it is taking an innovative additional step to address the global challenge of climate change.

The university will direct $25 million of its endowment to investments with a focus on sustainability, including clean energy, renewables, green building, and sustainable water and agriculture. Implementation will take place over five years, allowing the university to maintain strong endowment performance while transitioning to make these strategic investments in a sustainable planet.

“Northeastern is already a sustainability leader when it comes to how we operate our campuses, educate our students, and focus our research,” said Thomas Nedell, Northeastern’s senior vice president for finance and treasurer. “Today we are furthering this leadership by proactively setting aside a portion of our endowment for investments in sustainable ventures. We have deliberately chosen to invest, not divest. This approach is consistent with Northeastern’s character as an institution that actively engages with the world, not one that retreats from global challenges.”

In recent years, Northeastern students—and those at colleges and universities across the country—have rallied around the issue of environmental sustainability, particularly climate change, and proposed policy changes to the university’s investment portfolio.

Two years ago, the university established a Social Impact Council to serve as an inclusive venue for students, faculty, and staff to discuss and address issues of social impact related to the university’s activities and engagement. Climate change was one of the first issues addressed by the Social Impact Council.

We have deliberately chosen to invest, not divest. This approach is consistent with Northeastern’s character as an institution that actively engages with the world, not one that retreats from global challenges.
—Thomas Nedell, senior vice president for finance and treasurer

The council created the Fossil Fuel Divestment Working Group, chaired by student leaders, which produced a thorough report and recommendations in March. The report lauded Northeastern’s leadership in sustainability practices and academic focus, stating: “Northeastern University is among a broad coalition that is converging to take on the challenge of building a sustainable future, as demonstrated through its research enterprise, curricular offerings, and campus energy and waste reduction efforts. These accomplishments are unquestionably deserving of recognition.”

Beyond these accolades, the report urged the university to go further by specifically recommending that Northeastern fully divest its endowment holdings from all “companies engaged in fossil fuel production.”

Northeastern’s endowment is currently valued at approximately $700 million. The university does not hold any direct investments in energy companies, due in part to the fact that endowments of this size rely primarily on commingled investment funds (similar to mutual funds for personal investors) that include investments from a broad range of economic sectors.

Northeastern’s Board of Trustees, through its subcommittee on funds and investments, is in support of the $25 million investment initiative.

Over the past decade, Northeastern has made aggressive and impactful efforts to advance sustainability, both through its operations and its academic mission.

Northeastern University is among a broad coalition that is converging to take on the challenge of building a sustainable future, as demonstrated through its research enterprise, curricular offerings, and campus energy and waste reduction efforts.
—Fossil Fuel Divestment Working Group report

As part of the university’s 2010 climate action strategy, Northeastern pledged to reduce its 2005 carbon-emission levels by 20 percent by 2015. The university ultimately exceeded this goal and now has pledged to achieve an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

The newest buildings on Northeastern’s campuses—Dockser Hall, International Village, and the Kostas Institute—are all LEED Gold certified and operationally efficient using cutting-edge technologies. The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex, due to be completed in 2017, is also expected to be LEED Gold certified.

Sustainability is one of the university’s main research pillars—along with health and security. This year, Northeastern is on pace to exceed $50 million in sustainability research funding, more than one third of the university’s overall external research funding.

More than 130 courses and experiential learning programs that address sustainability are offered by numerous departments at Northeastern and they all span different aspects of sustainability, from climate science to related government policies.

Northeastern has also received numerous awards and recognitions for its sustainability efforts, including consecutive listings in The Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll, and the University of Indonesia’s “GreenMetric” ranking, which ranked Northeastern No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 3 in the world among 301 universities.