Harvard University is taking a step towards sustainable investment -- the company that invests Harvard’s $32 billion endowment is looking to fill a new position: vice president of sustainable investing.
The job description, posted on the Harvard Management Company website, calls for an individual to serve as the in-house expert on environmental, social, and governance -- or ESG -- issues.
“There’s a lot of potential depending on who they hire," said Dan Apfel, the executive director of the Responsible Endowment Coalition, an advocacy group. "This could be a position that really changes the way HMC invests their money.”
Harvard’s endowment is the largest educational endowment in the world, which means when HMC looks in a new direction, other investment managers notice.
“Harvard is really the leader, along with Yale and Stanford, in how universities, especially large endowments, invest their money,” Apfel said. “It will be really hard for other schools not to follow suit if Harvard is taking a real stance on Sustainable Investing."
What type of stance Harvard is taking with this new position has yet to be seen. Its creation comes in response to ongoing pressure from students and alumni to encourage Harvard to invest its billions in a responsible way. Senior Krishna Dasaratha is the treasurer for the student group Responsible Investment at Harvard.
“I think its an exciting development. It also doesn’t mean in itself that Harvard is now committed to social responsibility throughout the endowment,” Dasaratha said. “The university is still invested in fossil fuel companies. The university is invested in index funds that contain gun companies.”
The group argues that investments in fossil fuel and gun companies are irresponsible because of the impact they have on the environment and society.
In an emailed statement, Harvard Management Company CEO Jane Mendillo, said, “We are long-term investors and that means we are concerned with sustainability and stewardship.”
Her statement also said that given the growing conversation around sustainability on the Harvard campus and across the financial sector, the HMC wanted to develop a more integrated approach to such issues.
In December, the University announced that beginning in July, alumni will be able to donate to a "social choice fund" that invests in one or more mutual funds that take special account of ESG considerations. This fund, however, will be managed separately from the endowment, and will not be a responsibility of the new vice president of sustainable investing at the Harvard Management Company.