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Board of Governors Chooses Research and Engagement over Divestment from Fossil Fuels

Trent to continue role as an active solution provider; and initiates socially responsible investment category

In an announcement on Friday, May 8, the Board of Governors, led by the Investment and Pension Committee (IPC), recognized the importance and complexity of the issues of climate change and dependency on fossil fuels and, after careful review, concluded that divestment from fossil fuels is not the best approach for Trent University.

The following motion was passed by the Board at a meeting on Friday, May 8, 2015:

WHEREAS Trent University has a legacy of leadership in environmental sustainability and, through its academic programming, community engagement and research, is actively involved in environmental stewardship; AND WHEREAS the Investment and Pension Committee has given serious consideration to multiple and diverse perspectives on the issue of divestment from investment in the fossil fuel industry, including the recommendations of Sustainable Trent; THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that, consistent with its fiduciary obligations to support the University’s academic enterprise and student assistance, the University’s focus on active engagement on issues, and to respond to select donor interest in socially responsible investment options, the Board of Governors shall establish an endowment category, predicated upon the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) and with expectations on risk and net return consistent with the current investment policy, initially comprised of up to ten percent (10%) of endowment fund assets, which would be available for designation by University donors.

Following extensive dialogue and research, the Board concluded that engagement with the industry and support of research into alternatives and mitigation strategies allows the University to continue its important role as an active solution provider to the negative impacts of fossil fuel usage.

Acknowledging that some donors would like to see their endowed funds directed toward a socially responsible investment, the Board passed a motion to establish a socially responsible investment (SRI) category that will comprise up to 10% of existing endowment fund assets. The new SRI endowment category will be guided by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, which integrate environmental, social, and corporate governance factors into investment analysis and decision-making and may accommodate some fossil fuel investments.

“For more than 50 years, Trent has been challenging the way we think about the environment and sustainability and has been encouraging our students and the entire University community to engage in and debate important issues,” said Bryan Davies, chair of the Board of Governors of Trent University.

Acknowledging the key role played by students in calling attention to a significant environmental issue, Mr. Davies added: “We applaud our students for the constructive, respectful, and responsible manner in which they presented their concerns. The Board looks forward to continuing to engage with students, and the entire Trent community, as we continue to research and pursue alternatives to divestment.”

Sue Graham Parker, chair of the Investment and Pension Committee, pointed out that the establishment of the SRI endowment category is consistent with the University’s focus of active engagement on issues of sustainability, while providing donors with socially responsible investment options.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize our investments for the benefit of students and the University’s academic mission,” Ms. Parker said. “At the same time, we want to be responsive to sustainability concerns. This fund allows us to do both. The University will continually review options into the future to best obtain effective returns for the endowment."

To help seed the SRI category and demonstrate confidence in the investment approach selected, the Board will move the Board Leadership Scholarship Fund, to which current and former governors make annual gifts, to this new investment category.

“Fossil fuel divestment has been a challenging issue for the University,” said Dr. Leo Groarke, president and vice-chancellor. “Everyone in our community wants to do what’s right, but different stakeholders have strong differences of opinion on what that is. After much deliberation, I believe the Board has come up with an approach which respects the different points of view. The Board’s support of the new SRI category signals support for working together with the Trent community and finding alternatives to divestment.”

The income from Trent University’s endowment funds supports student scholarships and bursaries, research and endowed lectures.

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2015.

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