Publication Date: May 13, 2015
Publication Location: WASHINGTON
Contact: Kathryn Schoenberger   |   [email protected]

The World Learning Board of Trustees has unanimously voted to strengthen its commitment to reducing the impact of climate change, which disproportionately affects the communities where World Learning works and strives to create a more peaceful and just world. The Board reaffirmed its belief that global climate change is a critical global issue by committing to five new initiatives:

  • Adopting a restated mission statement and reaffirming its commitment to sustainable development principles at the heart of the organization’s activities around the globe;
  • Committing to use Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) criteria to bring its investments in line with this mission;
  • “Greening up” its campuses through a collaborative project-based green initiative where students, faculty and staff participate fully in identifying green improvement projects;
  • Funding these green initiatives on campus, which include development of an on-campus Solar Project, Bike Shares, Electric Vehicle Charging stations, more local sourcing of foods, replacing campus equipment and facilities with more efficient and cleaner alternatives and other projects to reduce World Learning’s carbon footprint; and
  • Confirming its ACUP Climate Commitment to produce a carbon footprint analysis and create an action plan to achieve carbon neutrality.

The actions were taken in response to a 2014 student and faculty-led initiative, SIT GreenUp, which called on World Learning’s Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels. However, an analysis of World Learning’s investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies found that the organization’s exposure is already less than two percent, a smaller stake than other organizations who have announced divestment measures. Instead, the Board opted to take a broader, more holistic, impactful and comprehensive approach to sustainability and carbon neutrality as an organization with the series of new initiatives.

“We absolutely agree with those members of our faculty and staff who believe in the urgent importance of a working toward a carbon neutral world, and we are grateful to the students and faculty who led this effort,” said Board Chairman Tom Hiatt.  “After a robust discussion, the Board concluded that we would move farther along the path toward carbon neutrality and sustainable investing principles by adopting this broader array of measures rather than by seeking to eliminate the relatively small number of energy companies in World Learning’s portfolio.“

In advance of this decision, the Board created the Mission-Related Investment Task Force (MRITF) consisting of student, faculty, staff and Board members, to explore how to address climate change as an organization, including whether World Learning’s investment strategy should be used as a vehicle to further its mission, whether environmental sustainability was central to that mission, and whether divestment from fossil fuels was the best way to achieve environmental sustainability. The MRITF met several times and created a universally-supported list of recommendations – agreed to by student and faculty representatives – to:

  • Amend World Learning’s Investment Policy Statement (IPS) to encourage mission-related investments;
  • Acknowledge that World Learning’s mission is broad and includes sustainability;
  • Invest the endowment consistent with World Learning’s mission, at the earliest possible date when deemed to be cost-effective and consistent with IPS;
  • Use Environment, Social and Governances (ESG) criteria and equivalent principles (e.g., United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment (UNPRI)) that reflect the breadth of World Learning’s mission as one standard by which all mission-related investments will be assessed;
  • Monitor and evaluate mission-related investment impacts on investment performance and other factors;
  • Promote a “Campus Initiatives” fund to donors;
  • Continue to fund a Green-up Coordinator function; and
  • Examine the feasibility of a broader and deeper climate change portfolio at SIT Graduate Institute, SIT Study Abroad, U.S.-based summer youth programs and The Experiment.

After receiving the task force’s recommendations in February, the Board amended its mission statement to include the word “sustainability.” The restated mission statement reads: “World Learning works globally to enhance the capacity and commitment of individuals, institutions and communities to create a more peaceful and just world through education, sustainable development and exchange.“

In May, the Board voted to accept and implement all eight of the MRITF’s recommendations, amend its Investment Policy statement to reflect the restated mission and add a directive to the Investment Policy to “make investments [in the Endowment Fund] that are consistent with World Learning’s mission by evaluating and selecting investment managers that incorporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards, United Nations Principles of Responsible Investing (UNPRI) and other similar principles in their asset allocation practices.”

The Board also expressed its gratitude to the students and faculty for raising this issue with them and for collaborating so intensely on producing the MRITF’s recommendations.

“In one year’s time, this passionate movement has inspired the Board to change its mission statement to incorporate these ideals, and to take these other concrete, intentional and conscientious steps toward a more sustainable future for World Learning and the communities it serves around the world,” said Donald Steinberg, World Learning President and CEO. “We would not have come so far so quickly without the commitment of SIT GreenUp, students and faculty, and appreciate their willingness to collaborate closely with the Board to find a solution to an issue we all care so deeply about.”