Category: Sustainability News (page 1 of 62)

Dissecting Divestment and Tufts’ Investment Plans with Craig Smith

Have you heard talk recently about Tufts’ divestment plan? Are you left wondering what this all means? Discussions on divestment at Tufts have been occurring for years. From Tufts Climate Action’s first divestment campaign in 2012 and other campus groups showing support for divestment over the last decade, these efforts led to the Tufts Board of Trustees approving a sustainable investment plan for the university in February 2021.  

The Office of Sustainability recently sat down with Craig Smith, Chief Investment Officer at Tufts, to learn more about this this plan, its effects on Tufts’ endowment, and get answers to common divestment questions. 

Endowment? I think I heard about this on an episode of Succession…. 

First, let’s get some background on why Tufts invests in the first place. When donors give to Tufts, they can choose to have their money used today on immediate expenses for the university or they can donate to Tufts’ endowment.

Pie chart showing the expense categories that Tufts endowment funds

An endowment is a collection of charitable donations that provides long-term stability to support generations of students, faculty, and researchers equitably. This is done by investing Tufts’ endowment (roughly $2.7 billion as of June 2021) in the stock market and other securities, allowing it to grow, and withdrawing a small chunk of it each year (~5%) to help pay for university expenses (as shown in the pie chart).  

Ultimately, a well funded and managed endowment supports student scholarships, innovative research, new areas of growth for the university, and more. Take three minutes to better understand the value of Tufts’ endowment with this video

So, where’s the money going? 

The Tufts Investment Office is tasked with managing the university’s endowment, with direction from the Board of Trustees and an Investment Committee, to make sure that it is invested in a way that provides long-term, equitable support for all generations of Jumbos. 

Right now, the endowment is invested in three categories. The smallest chunk (1%) is invested in direct holdings, which are individual stock investments that the university chooses directly.

Another 10% of is in separately managed accounts (SMAs). Tufts hires investment managers outside of the university, gives them investment goals and values, and those managers choose custom investments based on those criteria.

The largest portion of the endowment (89%) is in commingled funds. Investment managers outside of the university create funds to invest in many companies on behalf of many investors. This is, by far, the most common option available and typically the least expensive, although this is also the least customizable of the three options. 

(Let’s pause to talk more about funds. Fund managers at investment firms – think Fidelity and Vanguard – gather stock in hundreds of companies to create a fund that is more stable than investing in an individual stock. Buying a fund is like buying a bag of M&M’s. You can’t walk up to the counter and ask that they remove all the brown M&M’s before you buy it…..Mars, Inc. just has too many customers to make you a special bag. Funds are similar. Many people buy into the fund so managers cannot accommodate every customer. Instead, they manage the fund independently and Tufts get a cheap and reliable investment.) 

The scoop on divestment and other sustainable strategies at Tufts

In February 2021, Tufts announced the Responsible Investment Advisory Group’s (RIAG) guidelines to make the university’s investments more sustainable. They include: 

  1. Divest from direct holdings and prohibit future direct investments in 120 coal and tar sands companies with the largest reserves. (Remember, direct holdings make up 1% of the money Tufts invests and is the easiest one to customize.) 
  2. Invest $10 million to $25 million in positive impact funds related to climate change over the next five years. (More on this below) 
  3. Proactively communicate with all current and future investment managers to encourage them to integrate climate values into their investment strategy 
  4. Enhance transparency by creating a dashboard that would report on the university’s progress (The Investment Office just released the dashboard in November.) 
  5. Evaluate progress on these guidelines.  

The Investment Office is tasked with carrying out these actions and the university will revisit them in 2-5 years to analyze progress and make updates to the investment plan. The RIAG guidelines also call on the university to further integrate and advance their efforts on environmental sustainability across all disciplines.  

Okay, here’s the TL;DR so far. Tufts has a $2.7 billion endowment that is held in investments and is a steady financial source to support Tufts forever. It’s invested in three ways: 89% in commingled funds (the least customizable), 10% in separately managed accounts, and 1% in direct holdings (the most customizable). Tufts released in Feb. 2021 guidelines for it’s investments including divestment from coal and tar sands in direct holdings and $10-25 million in positive impact investments. 

Now that you’re an endowment expert, you might be left with other questions. How important are these investments for Tufts? Why are we only divesting our direct holdings? Why are we talking about M&M’s? 

Craig Smith, Chief Investment Officer

The Office of Sustainability hosted a webinar (viewable to the Tufts community) in December 2021 with Craig Smith, Chief Investment Officer at Tufts, to get into the nitty gritty of divestment, portfolio management, sustainable investing, and all those other financial buzzwords! 

Q&A With Craig Smith 

What impact does selling a company’s stock have on the company? 

“Generally, not very much. When buying and selling stocks in the stock market the money from those transactions doesn’t go to the company. Most of the money a company raises from investors happens before being on the market and as it “goes public” (becomes listed on a stock exchange). Afterwards, when you sell a stock, you are selling it to somebody else, another investor, and so from the company’s perspective their balance sheet hasn’t changed a whole lot.  

“When there is tremendous selling pressure that can push prices down temporarily, but you’re still selling the stock to someone who is buying it at that price, so it doesn’t really change things. As long as companies are making profit from what they’re doing, and certainly fossil fuel energy companies are making a profit from what they’re doing, that will allow the company to continue operating. Things that could change profit are regulations and alternative energy options. Having energy alternatives will impact how much revenue fossil fuel companies make.” 

With sufficient time and a high level of commitment from Tufts, how would you achieve further divestment? 

(Divestment is a pretty simple concept: selling existing investments in a particular area, in this case fossil fuel companies. In practice, it becomes more complicated.) 

“It’s happening on three different levels at different paces. One is at the industry level. Companies are changing, so there will be less fossil fuel and greenhouse gas production as energy companies are making changes on their own front [to alternative energy]. 

“The second is around the managers that we invest in, as the [fossil fuel] decline happens in the energy space, managers will have less and less [fossil fuel investments] over time.  

“And the third is managing the Tufts portfolio to reduce the exposure we have to certain investments where we have the most fossil fuel exposure. This is something we’re looking at today…in the commingled funds and looking at which of our managers make up the most of that exposure. The other thing that will bring this down over time is not making future private investments in the general fossil fuel energy space. We have not made a new private investment in this space for a few years and we will not make any moving forward.” 

While Tufts has no direct holdings in the coal and tar sands companies identified in the RIAG guidelines, 0.7% of the money invested in commingled funds are still invested in these companies. You mentioned that to divest from this 0.7%, you’d have to liquidate ~20% of the holdings in the commingled funds, what is the implication of that? 

(Remember the M&M analogy? With commingled funds, you can’t choose to exclude certain companies, you get whatever the fund manager decides to invest in. To exclude the 0.7% of the endowment invested in coal and tar sands companies held within some funds, Tufts would have to sell all their holdings in those funds, ~20% of the total endowment.) 

“It’s hundreds of millions of dollars that we would sell from our portfolio and those are from managers that we view as best in class. So, we would expect to lose value in the portfolio.” (aka less money in the endowment for the expenses in the first pie chart above). “The bigger challenge is the secondary and tertiary effects. If we did that once and reinvested the money in other funds, there may be managers we use that may not be invested in these companies today, but may be tomorrow. It makes it really difficult to be long-term invested when you don’t know if you may have to liquidate a fund tomorrow.” 

What about the fossil fuel companies that are not involved with tar sands and coal, how come we didn’t divest from them? 

“That was an area of a lot of debate. There were many discussions on where to draw the line. It becomes complicated when you try to define what a fossil fuel company is – some companies do many things including fossil fuel, so you need a clear definition when making a plan. The driver around not including natural gas and oil [in the RIAG guidelines] had to do with the energy sector transition. Coal is actively coming down in usage because we have natural gas as an alternative for generating energy and heat. So that fossil fuel still has a place in the energy transition because it’s beneficial in how it’s replacing coal, which for the next few years is still a positive as there is not sufficient capacity yet in alternative energies. There was a lot of discussion around this and ultimately it was decided that natural gas was a necessary bridge to get to where we need to go.” 

Does Tufts hope to increase positive impact investments over time beyond the $10-25 million in the RIAG guidelines? 

(Positive impact investing is a strategy to invest in a way that furthers a social or environmental goal. The most impactful type of these are private investments – not traded publicly on the stock market – as the money goes directly to the company to help build their business. For example, Tufts could invest in a growing solar company. An investment like this helps build solar energy infrastructure, is a financial benefit, and can help lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, like natural gas.) 

“I think that will definitely be what we talk about at the RIAG review in a few years. There is certainly a good case to be made for this type of investment over the long-term because it’s a growth area and as the alternative energy sector matures, there is less risk with investing in it. There are also more and more investment managers who are experienced in positive impact investing and the quality of these managers is increasing rapidly as well.” 

Could money from commingled funds that contain the 0.7% of coal and tar sands companies be instead invested in positive impact investments? 

“It’s not a 1 to 1 trade off. The timing of these two types of investing are different. A lot of what we’re doing in the positive impact investments are private investments because that’s where you have more impact as opposed to public investments. When you invest in the private space the money is actually going to the company and truly helps these companies develop.” 

How does Tufts compare to other schools’ divestment plans? Are we running into the same problems? 

“Yes, everyone is running into the same issue. The California school system has gone further, but they are also much larger with over $100 billion and so they do a lot more in that customizable SMA category, which gives them greater flexibility. But with endowments of comparable size to Tufts, everyone runs into the same issue with commingled funds. What you see in divestment announcements from other universities is around direct holdings, putting positive impact dollars to work, talking to managers they work with and trying to limit exposure that way – those are the vast majority of actions taken by universities of our size, including Tufts.”

How do we find the most up to date information about the components of Tufts’ investment portfolio? 

“Our investment office dashboard is live as of November. There is additional information in an annual report (FY 2021 report coming soon!) that covers performance and allocation that is also posted on our website.” 

Congratulations to the 2021-2022 Green Fund Winners!

On Monday December 13th, forty members of the Tufts community gathered in Alumnae Lounge and over Zoom to watch the Green Fund finalists pitch their project ideas (swipe through event photos and videos here.) After the final presentation event, the Green Fund selection committee deliberated and voted to award all six finalists funding for their projects! 

Over the next year, the winners will implement their projects across multiple Tufts campuses in the areas of specialty recycling, waste reduction, transportation, lab procedures, and pollinator ecosystems. We’ll keep you updated on their progress on our social media and monthly newsletters

2021-2022 Winning Projects

Medford/Somerville Campus

Tufts Pollinator Initiative 2.0 – submitted by Nick Dorian and Jessie Thuma 

Five images of flowers, a bee on a flower, a group of students, students in a pollinator garden, and a student with a butterfly net.

Tufts Pollinator Initiative 2.0 (TPI 2.0) is a project that will build on a previous Green Fund proposal from the Tufts Pollinator Initiative. The Green Fund selection committee awarded TPI 2.0 $11,000 to enhance urban pollinator conservation by planting new pollinator gardens, training Tufts undergraduate students to become environmental educators, and to strengthen Tufts Pollinator Initiative’s research mentorship program.  

Previous Green Fund support has enabled TPI to plant 2500+ square feet of pollinator habitat on campus that helped support 115+ insect species, teach hundreds of Tufts undergraduate students about urban pollinators, conduct community outreach, and earn a Bee Campus USA certification from the Xerces Society. We are excited to see what they accomplish this time around! 

Tufts Pollinator Initiative Presentation | Tufts Pollinator Initiative Poster 


Pearson Bike Rack – submitted by Noah Mills 

A Man stand in front of a poster explaining a bike rack installation project.

The Pearson Bike Rack project will install two additional bike racks next to existing racks outside of the Pearson Chemistry Building. The Green Fund committee awarded this project $6,770 for the construction and installation of the two new bike racks, opening up 14 new spots for students and faculty to park their bikes outside of Pearson.  

Βy providing secure and accessible bike parking, Tufts can promote bike riding to campus, which is more sustainable, safer, and takes up less space on campus than driving. As the surrounding community improves its bike infrastructure, this project allows Tufts to keep up with the increased biking popularity. Not only is this good for the environment, but you’ll get quite a workout biking up the hill! 

Pearson Bike Rack Presentation | Pearson Bike Rack Poster 


Efficient SciTech Autoclave – submitted by Michael Saad 

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SciTech Autoclave is a proposal to purchase a smaller, more efficient autoclave for the SciTech Center at Tufts. Currently, the SciTech Center has a large autoclave for sterilizing lab equipment that is highly inefficient in water and electricity usage. 

The Green Fund selection committee awarded the $6,330.77 to the SciTech Autoclave team for purchase of a smaller, more efficient autoclave. The CHBE and BME departments agreed to match up to $5,500 for the purchase of the autoclave.  

It is estimated that a smaller autoclave will save Tufts around $3,200 annually in electricity and water costs, and it is the hope of the project team and the Green Fund committee that results from this project will prompt other labs at Tufts to purchase more efficient equipment that will provide long-term cost savings. It is estimated that a smaller capacity autoclave will divert 50% of the current usage from the inefficient large autoclave. 

SciTech Autoclave Presentation | SciTech Autoclave Poster 


Boston and Grafton Campuses

Save the Fishes and Do the Dishes – submitted by Maria Brouard 

With students being busy during the semester, it is popular to order takeout within a mile radius of the Boston campus and run back to lab or the library to continue studying. Save the Fishes and Do the Dishes will provide Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) students with reusable silverware kits including a spoon, fork, knife, and chopsticks to use as an alternative to single use plastic utensils. The Green Fund selection committee awarded this project $1,090 for the purchase of these kits and outreach for student education.  

A resusable silverware set and carrying pouch laid out on a table.

This project allows students to carry reusable silverware in their backpacks and to decrease the need to use and buy single-use plastic utensils when getting takeout, therefore decreasing the overall waste created by takeout food. Moreover, it can allow students to use their own utensils for events with strict COVID procedures instead of using single use plastic. 

Save the Fishes and Do the Dishes Presentation | Save the Fishes and Do the Dishes Poster 


Greening Boston Mask Recycling – submitted by Erin Mooz 

Grafton Mask Recycling – submitted by Nicole Swanson 

The Boston Mask Recycling project will institute a mask recycling program on the Boston campus. The Green Fund selection committee awarded this project $500 for two Terracycle disposable mask recycling boxes to be placed on the Boston campus.  

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The Grafton Mask Recycling project will expand the existing mask recycling program on the Grafton campus. The Green Fund selection committee awarded this project $1,095 for five Terracycle disposable mask recycling boxes to be placed near entrances/exits and other highly trafficked areas on the Grafton campus. 

Masks are mandatory at Tufts for the foreseeable future. Disposable masks are used very frequently on these two campuses and this project will reduce the number of masks ending up in landfill waste. Keep an eye out for these boxes popping up on campus soon!

Mask Recycling Poster 


Read more about the Green Fund and past winning projects.

COP26 and You: How Global Discussions on Climate Relate to Life at Tufts

Hope, frustration, and urgency have all come out of COP26 along with updated commitments to accelerate climate solutions. But how does a massive convening of world leaders, climate activists, and global key players affect life at Tufts?

While the consequences of climate change span across the world, students, staff, and faculty here at Tufts are researching and implementing projects to reduce waste and emissions, fight for equal access to a clean planet, and work towards national and global climate goals. Below we explain the commitments agreed upon in the Glasgow Climate Pact signed at COP26 and how these are playing out on your campus.

Science and Urgency: Nations at COP26 agreed not only to “fully embed science in the decision-making process” when it comes to climate action, but to act in accordance with the urgency that is needed to achieve the goals laid out by climate science. This includes urgency to reduce global warming as we near the 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature rise limit.

At Tufts, there is a Sustainability Council made up of faculty, staff, and students that are working to identify climate issues that are most impactful to the Tufts community and set goals to address these issues in alignment with climate science and global climate goals. You can also hear directly from the Tufts delegation of students and faculty that attended COP26 about their observations and attitudes towards climate urgency at the conference.

Five Tufts students stand facing the camera with U.S. Senator Edward Markey
Tufts delegates at the U.N. climate conference met with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts. Photo: TuftsNow

Climate Adaptation: Nations agreed to “reduce vulnerability, strengthen resilience and increase the capacity of people and the planet to adapt to the impacts of climate change.” Specifically, this includes upholding the climate adaptation goals of the Paris Climate Agreement (signed in 2015) and committing to tracking, communicating, and enhancing global progress on climate adaptation.

A group of people sitting in a room listen to someone speaking about climate resiliency
The Medford/Somerville campus community resilience building workshop held on May 3, 2018. Photo: Adam Whelchel/TNC.

In 2018, Tufts conducted a climate resiliency workshop and assessment at the Medford/Somerville campus and in 2020 conducted one at the Boston campus. Here, Tufts community members identified potential climate emergencies that Tuft’s campuses are vulnerable to and created recommendations to address these vulnerabilities.

Climate Mitigation: Nations agreed to accelerate actions that reduce their emissions and limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. These actions include, but are not limited to, decreasing coal power and other fossil fuels, reevaluating emissions reduction goals, annual reporting on progress towards long-term goals, and an invitation for nations to submit long-term strategies to reach “net zero by mid-century”.

In 2016, President Monaco signed the Second Nature Climate Leadership Commitment, which committed Tufts to reach zero carbon emissions no later than 2050. The Office of Sustainability conducts annual reports on our progress towards this goal and The Tufts University Operations Division recently published an Energy & Water data dashboard showing yearly energy emissions data.

You can take part in this effort to reach zero carbon by 2050 with simple daily climate actions!

Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from energy use and the university vehicle fleet over a 30-year period.

Finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for mitigation and adaptation: Overall, the participating nations at COP26 recognized the importance of working collaboratively, raising funds, and sharing knowledge and resources on how best to approach climate mitigation and adaptation. They agreed to continue discussing plans on how to collectively finance mitigation and adaptation strategies through 2027. While action on this issue lags, these funds are critical for Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries who tend to experience the most severe consequences of climate change and need adaptation strategies in place to survive.

The Fletcher School’s Climate Policy Lab (CPL) researches climate policies to evaluate their “financial mobilization, economic efficiency, environmental effectiveness, and equity” in order to identify effective ways for governments to fund mitigation and adaptation strategies. The Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning graduate school is also at the forefront of researching and recommending best practices for climate solutions within the “intersection of planning, policy and social justice”.

Sign up for the Office of Sustainability’s webinar in December focused on fossil fuel divestment and the endowment at Tufts to hear more about how finance intersects with the environment.

Loss and Damage: Loss and damage refers to the effects of climate change that are difficult to avoid and includes severe consequences such as “loss of lives, livelihoods and ecosystems”. Nations at COP26 endorsed the need for more money to be provided to help minimize loss and damage and created a plan for discussions on how such funds will be used and given out.

Ways to address loss and damage have been hotly debated in recent years and Rachel Kyte, Dean of the Fletcher School, talks about the difficulties in reaching a consensus about loss and damage solutions in her analysis of the COP26 outcomes.

Implementation: Nations further refined the rules of the Paris Climate Agreement (signed in 2015) and plans to assess the implementation of the goals laid out in the agreement.

In 2017, President Monaco signed on to the We Are Still In joint statement saying that, despite the federal government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the nation remains committed to climate action and meeting its climate goals. Tufts has also signed on to a number of climate commitments aimed at energy, waste, emissions, and much more that are being implemented by an array of departments and student groups across all of our campuses.

Collaboration: Nations committed to including youth, people of all genders, and indigenous communities in climate action. They also recognized the importance of nature in climate solutions and agreed to focus on both land and ocean climate action.

Many Tufts community members are working on researching and integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into their environmental work (including this UEP graduate thesis on inclusive evacuation during climate emergencies). The Tufts Office of Sustainability recently drafted a plan to address equity and justice within sustainability across all campuses. Read through the plan and leave a comment to help steer the direction of environmental justice on your campus.

Lastly, check out these environmentally focused groups on campus working to amplify the voices of those commonly marginalized in the climate fight and find a way to support climate action at Tufts!


P.S. There are more environmental initiatives happening on all four campuses than are listed above. We encourage you to explore the Office of Sustainability’s website for more info and to talk to your peers about the climate actions they take.

Medford Launches New Adopt-a-Drain Program

Written by Anna Cornish (A22)

Last week, The City of Medford announced it would be launching a citywide Adopt-a-Drain program. Participants can now sign up to care for a storm drain near their home or work and volunteer to check on it a few times a month to clear any trash, leaves, or debris that might have been swept into it. 

Storm drains are grates on the sides of streets and roads, along the curb. Since asphalt and pavement can’t absorb water, any rain or melting snow flows along the street and into these drains. Anything that goes down a storm drain flows directly into local lakes and streams without being treated. When debris clogs drains, stormwater accumulates and picks up chemicals and bacteria from things like pet waste, garden fertilizer, and road salts. Once the water can get through, it washes any litter down the drain with it, further polluting local bodies of water and harming wildlife. Keeping storm drains clear is an easy way to prevent this pollution and ensure a healthier watershed.

To adopt a storm drain, sign up on this webpage. Participants can search for drains in their area of Medford, select and name their drain, and volunteer to check on it occasionally, especially before and after heavy rain or snow. For more information about the program, visit here, and to learn more about Tufts’ local watershed, check out the Mystic River Watershed Association website.

Adopt-a-Drain is a great volunteer opportunity for members of the Tufts community  as it is a low commitment way to connect with the larger Medford community and local water systems. 

Adopt-a-Drain was created and designed by Ali Hiple, a Tufts UEP Graduate Student and Tisch Summer Fellow. Another Tisch Summer Fellow, Anna Cornish (A22), saw the program through to completion. 

OOS Hiring: Sustainability Communications Specialist

The Tufts Office of Sustainability is looking for people with 3-5 years of direct experience in communications and marketing, preferably related to sustainability, to join our office as a dedicated Communications Specialist.

This position is responsible for managing internal and external communications for the Office of Sustainability with the goal of promoting Tufts’ sustainability efforts to the university community and building a culture of environmental sustainability on campus. In this position, you will join a small team of dedicated staff and interns who value diversity and welcome people from all backgrounds and interests. You can expect a high degree of autonomy as you work on a wide variety of projects in a fast-paced environment.

Job Responsibilities:

Communications and Publicity

  • Develop compelling digital content for use on multiple channels
  • Keep the Office of Sustainability website and recycling & waste diversion online content up to date
  • Prioritize communications requests
  • Share content that is produced with University Communications and Marketing
  • Pitch story ideas to internal and external media outlets (e.g. Medford/Somerville campus newspaper, AASHE Digest) in coordination with University Media Relations
  • Manage sustainability email account and general office phone

Graphic Design and Production

  • Create publications that comply with the University brand guidelines to reinforce brand and message strategy, including reports, brochures, posters, flyers, web-based products, and newsletters
  • Develop promotional materials for outreach events (e.g. Orientation)
  • Produce educational signage
  • Research/design environmentally sustainable promotional materials
  • Convert data sets to visually compelling content to make sustainability information accessible to a variety of audiences
  • Coordinate with outside vendors and consultants

Marketing Planning & Program Management

  • Develop and implement communications strategies that build support for sustainability across Tufts University
  • Manage editorial calendar
  • Evaluate and report on the effectiveness of communication strategies and identify areas for improvement
  • Prepare annual sustainability progress report
  • Manage the completion and promotion of the AASHE Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) biennially
  • Maintain excellent records of events and activities, campaigns, and initiatives to build the office’s institutional memory

Other

  • Hire, train, and supervise student workers
  • Assist sustainability-related student groups with marketing and communications
  • Participate in university-wide communication committees
  • Build relationships with communications and sustainability professionals within and beyond Tufts
  • Work on other projects and priorities, as necessary
  • Monitor a small marketing budget
  • Provide guidance to other staff and students on communications matters

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