University of Guelph identifierLessening the environmental impacts of the University of Guelph’s investments is the goal of a plan approved unanimously today by the Board of Governors to reduce the carbon footprint of the University’s endowment fund portfolio.

The plan will include setting short- and long-term carbon reduction targets and developing new investment goals using responsible investing and environmental social and governance (ESG) criteria.

“Finding ways to live and work more sustainably is fundamental to improve life, and is embedded in our culture and values,” said U of G president Franco Vaccarino.

The plan was recommended by the Board’s finance subcommittee and an ad hoc committee on special action requests. It follows many months of extensive analysis and substantive discussions, prompted by a request from students and Fossil Free Guelph.

“We commend the students and Fossil Free Guelph for their passion and commitment in bringing this important conversation to the forefront,” Vaccarino said.

“They have helped the University shape thinking and discussion about positive actions we will take to meet the complex challenge of climate change.”

Under the plan, the University will reduce its endowment fund’s carbon footprint by 10 per cent in the next two years, amounting to a reduction of about 17 tonnes of CO2 per million dollars invested, said Don O’Leary, vice-president (finance, administration and risk).

“This is a significant and achievable starting point,” O’Leary said. He said U of G is the first Canadian university to commit to reducing the carbon footprint of its endowment funds in the short term.

“The 10-per-cent reduction will allow us to learn and to establish even more robust, longer-term targets.”

The University will track the results of the initial reduction and evaluate its investment management accordingly, O’Leary said.

The action plan also calls for:

  • Establishing a baseline carbon footprint and environmental, social and governance (ESG) score for all endowment investments;
  • Setting targets for improving the endowment fund’s ESG rating within two years, and taking immediate action to maintain and/or improve the rating in the interim;
  • Developing sustainable and responsible investment goals in the next 10 years; and
  • Building partnerships with other universities toward setting sector-wide targets for reducing the system-wide environmental footprint of university endowments.

U of G is uniquely positioned to serve as a leader and role model among Canadian universities in this area, O’Leary added.

Currently, more than 200 faculty and researchers conduct environmental and sustainability-focused research, and the University offers more than two dozen sustainability-focused academic and research programs.

“The University’s strengths in agri-food and these many research innovations and initiatives promote change, sustainability and improved practices and behaviours,” O’Leary said.

“As well, we can share the knowledge and experience we have gained through this special action process with other universities.”

The General Endowment Fund is made up of restricted accounts, with 80 per cent of them designated for student assistance such as scholarships and bursaries. The fund also supports research, equipment, library acquisitions and endowed faculty positions.