Five Things You Should Know About THAT Socially Responsible Investment Meeting:
by Erika Lygren ‘16
On Monday, May 16, students came to CAPA to speak with representatives from Glenmede - the firm that now Manages our endowment- as well as a member of the Board of Trustees. Me and my environmental action cohorts attended all three of the conversations. Here are 5 things you should know about the meetings.
Attendance wasn't tops considering the full capacity of the Symposium, however, every person in the room had brilliant, critical questions & open thoughts. The two representatives from Glenmede were men in suits, the member of the board also happened to be a suited man, named Nick.
The Prepared Part:
The Glenmede reps presented research about negative screening (divesting an endowment from entire industries for moral reasons) and positive screening/ESG ('tilting' your portfolio towards business practices that you agree with, while still holding some stocks of companies that don't do better practices.) Glenmede had heavy bias towards positive screening & ESG, mostly because they provide better returns. They had trouble making an argument for negative screening, based on the returns research data they presented (none of which even touched on the fossil fuel industry, but I digress).
If you remember the survey that circulated around, it was on industries the Bennington community would want to divest from or invest in, if possible. Students from BEAG talked about the findings from this 390+ person survey. Fossil fuels were the highest priority people would like our endowment to no longer invest in, followed by firearms & private prisons. After Glenmede's presentation on negative screening, this specific research obviously had less steam, but the most important thing that we think Glenmede saw was the enthusiastic overwhelming environmental direction that students cared about. They have the survey results now to analyze as much as they please.
Many questions were asked at first. Then we got more into the insane moral dilemma which is: what kind of changes can we make to our endowment when we know that Bennington also doesn't want to hinder returns that it needs to function? And that is where we left the conversation every time - knowing that there was so much more conversing and hard ethical question considering that needed to be done on this topic. In my mind, that didn't keep Glenmede from learning enough to know where to begin when it comes to ESG being incorporated into our portfolio.
Glenmede is gonna do some research on ideas that we generated in these meetings and see what expected returns they might make. From there, they will be coming back to us and the board with this research to make the first decision of what our first positive screening step will be. Expect that conversation to happen in the next year. Other than that, we just need to keep showing up and showing the board that we want to go as progressive as we reasonably can in this realm. For the future of all things we care about, from environmental to social problems, showing up to this endowment/institutional money related conversation will be sure to bring personal results.