President Ronald D. Liebowitz sent the following update to the Middlebury community on September 23, 2014.
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Last year at this time I issued a Statement on Divestment to the Middlebury community. In it, I outlined the steps we had taken and would take to manage our endowment in a manner that reflects our values as an institution and the essential fact that the endowment is a trust that exists for the benefit of current and future generations.
I am writing today to update the community on the actions we have taken over the last year.
The first step I mentioned then was the development of stronger ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) principles for our investment portfolio.
Actions taken: Over the last year, our endowment management company, Investure, has begun sending a copy of Middlebury’s recommended proxy voting principles to its more than 100 investment managers every time they close a new investment. Active shareholder engagement strengthens the relationship among endowed organizations, their capital, and the companies and communities in which they invest. In the process, voting rights give shareholders the opportunity to advocate for responsible governance and changes to how companies operate. In addition, Investure has committed to putting the portfolio of publicly-traded equities through a process of analysis designed to bring to its attention those companies that are practicing good ESG principles.
The second step was the creation of ESG guidelines to help monitor operations on our campus in Vermont.
Actions taken: We are completing an ESG report that will be released later this fall. Highlights from the report are as follows:
- Middlebury has reduced its carbon footprint from a high of 31 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2008 to 14 thousand metric tons in 2014, a reduction of 55 percent.
- Starting in 2015, Middlebury will be the primary purchaser of 92 million cubic feet of renewable natural gas (bio-methane)/year from the Lincoln Renewable Gas Project in nearby Salisbury. This initiative will eliminate 640,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil from our annual operations and bring us to, or very near, our goal of being carbon neutral on our campus.
- Middlebury has invested $1.7 million retro-fitting our main boilers so they can use multiple fuel sources. As a result, the central plant will be able to use a diversified fuel portfolio: biomass wood chips, renewable natural gas, bio-fuels, natural gas, and oil (in emergencies).
- This year we became the exclusive purchaser of electricity from the newly opened South Ridge Solar Farm, the first completed 500 kW solar net metering project in Vermont. Annual production at South Ridge provides electric power to about 130,000 square feet of residence hall space. That’s enough to power Prescott, Palmer, Brackett, Brooker, Stewart, and Hepburn halls.
- We continue to increase food purchases that reflect our desire to serve meals that are ecologically produced, sourced locally, and that strengthen the Vermont agricultural economy. The most recent data show that we purchase 22 percent of our food in line with “Real Food” principles.
- Finally, we pledged to increase significantly the amount of the endowment directed toward ESG investments, including those focused on clean energy, green building projects, and other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the environment.
Actions taken: Last spring, Middlebury increased the amount of our endowment that is specifically directed towards investments that generate long-term social, environmental, and economic value. The value of these specifically directed investments is $25 million as of July 31, 2014, compared to approximately $3 million a year ago, which takes us more than half way to our $50 million commitment. In addition, Middlebury has placed $150,000 of its endowment funds under the management of RISE, a subgroup of the student-run Socially Responsible Investment Club, which reports its progress annually to the Board of Trustees.
While I am pleased with the progress we have made in recent years and in the last year specifically, we are by no means done. Middlebury’s commitments to sustainability and responsible investing are deeply held and will continue to shape our operational decisions and our relationships with others within our communities and outside them. I look forward to continuing this work throughout the coming year and advancing our previously stated goals.