Where we spend our money matters for the environment and for social justice. Our Sustainability 2020 strategic plan calls for us to have a net positive impact on the world, which means we have to think about how every dollar we spend affects our community and other communities throughout the world. This is why we are in the first generation of colleges to divest from fossil fuels in our endowment, and why we have a sustainable purchasing policy and a green revolving loan fund.
On Campus Purchasing
Over the past 15 years, a number of classes and groups of students have helped Green Mountain College improve purchasing practices in dozens of areas. Improvements take the shape of new purchasing policies and guidelines for business partners.
Green Mountain College’s Guidelines for Business Partners outlines environmental standards that should be reached by companies working with the College, as well as standards for companies aspiring to become “preferred” partners. The minimum standards require reasonable efforts to disclose information that can help the College understand the environmental impact of its purchases and have an opportunity to purchase more environmentally-friendly products or services if it chooses to. In order to reach preferred status, a business partner must go beyond the effort to disclose information and show sustained commitment to high environmental standards in products and services.
Green Mountain College’s Sustainable Purchasing Policy states that in the purchasing of supplies and services all departments of the institution will place high priority on reducing its environmental impact from the supply chain, as well as supporting the local economy, supporting businesses that are socially and ecologically responsible, and supporting socially disadvantaged businesses. The policy covers the following areas: appliances, biomass fuel, cleaning products, food, furnishings and renovations, paper, waste, water, grounds and landscaping.
On Campus Investing
On campus, we have a $30,000 Green Revolving Loan Fund (GRLF), which we started in 2012 as part of the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, run by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. The Billion Dollar Green Challenge encourages colleges, universities, and other non-profits to invest a combined total of one billion dollars in revolving funds that finance energy efficiency improvements. Currently there are 56 schools from all over the country participating in the challenge with a total of $116 million invested. For more info on the challenge, visit their website.
To date, our GRLF has funded three energy projects: the replacement of all 80 outdoor lighting fixtures with LED light bulbs; installation of a solar PV array near Dunton that generates electricity for the grid and provides an electric car charging station for the community; and the transformation of Two Editor’s Inn to be a model for energy efficient, older residential buildings in the North East. For more on the details of each specific project, including payback, check out this pdf.
After the savings from projects pays off the balance from the loan, that money will be available for another project, allowing the GRLF to continue helping the College lower fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Off Campus Investing through Endowment
We divested from fossil fuels in 2015 and were among the first schools in the nation to commit to divestment in 2013 when the divestment wave started. The campaign to divest was student driven. Our divestment models the criteria suggested by 350.org, which is to divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The list of these companies is maintained by Fossil Free Indexes, LLC and can be found here.
In addition to divesting our endowment, we are always thinking about ways to make more positive investments. Positive investing is often known as creating an ESG (Environmental Social Governance Policy).
Our effort toward positive investing started in 2010, when we created The Socially Responsible Investment Advisory Committee (SRIAC) and an SRI policy that can be viewed here. It was formed to increase transparency and stakeholder involvement. The members of the committee are two students, one faculty member and the Vice President of Finance and Administration. The committee recommended that the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees approve an initial investment equal to 10% of the endowment portfolio in a Socially Responsible Investment fund, specifically, the Portfolio 21 Fund. The recommendation was approved and implemented in June 2010. In 2011, another 5% investment in this fund was approved. In 2016, Portfolio 21 represented over 34% of our assets.
Our most recent snapshot of the endowment is available below:
The purpose of the Endowment is to support the College and its mission over the long-term. Accordingly, the primary investment objectives of the Endowment are to:
- Preserve the real purchasing power of the existing principal by prudently investing capital into assets that are likely to preserve purchasing power.
- Provide a stable source of perpetual financial support to Endowment beneficiaries in accordance with the College’s spending policy.
- Provide a stable, well-managed platform for future gifts from donors.