Mennonite investment pool with college’s endowment funds adopts climate change commitments

By Mackenzie Miller ’21

A panel on climate change, divestment and shareholder advocacy speaks at Goshen College on convocation on Oct. 3, 2016. From left: Mark Campanale, Phil Rich, Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus, Hannah Yoder, and Melissa Kinsey. Photo by Katie McKinnell

Mennonite Education Agency’s (MEA) Investment Committee has adopted five new stewardship commitments, effective June 1, to address climate change within the pooled financial assets of the agency’s member education institutions, including the majority of Goshen College’s endowment funds.

The value of the MEA Investment Fund was $151.7 million on April 30, 2020, and includes financial assets of 19 Mennonite organizations. GC has approximately $80 million — 71 percent of its total endowment — invested in the MEA Investment Pool.

The five new climate change commitments are:

  • To continue to reduce the portfolio’s contribution to climate change and the calamitous impacts rising temperatures will trigger.
  • To mitigate the portfolio’s exposure to the economic risks that climate change presents to the investment pool and to participate in investment opportunities that will benefit God’s creation.
  • To uphold the committee’s duty of care, despite high uncertainty regarding the international policy response to climate change, technological developments and adaptation efforts.
  • To take action now and in the future. The committee is currently identifying and prioritizing specific steps to ensure climate-related risks and opportunities are embedded into the assessment of portfolio risks and opportunities, manager selection and proxy voting.
  • To communicate transparently with stakeholders regarding its decision-making and to both share its perspective and listen to the concerns of its stakeholders.

“The MEA Investment Committee has been faithly stewarding Goshen College’s pooled endowment resources for many years using the guidelines of socially responsible investment,” said Deanna Risser, Goshen College Vice President for Finance. “These climate change commitments are a welcome action by the committee to continue to manage and steward these funds in a way that protects our planet from further harm.”

According to MEA, the Investment Fund has embraced socially responsible investing that has included work on environmental topics since day one.

“Investment products and strategies have evolved over the years to a point where the committee believes it can prudently balance the environmental and investment performance goals that it has as fiduciaries of the members’ money,” said Aaron Ziulkowski, chair of the MEA Investment Committee ESG subcommittee.

Change to MEA’s climate change commitments come as good news after research and activism by college students several years ago. Goshen College alumni, Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus ’17 and Hannah Yoder ’18, proposed MEA divest from fossil fuels through a literature review they drafted as students four years ago, titled, “Socially Responsible Investing within the Mennonite Education Agency.”

In 2013, Lapp Stoltzfus and Yoder worked with other students on campus to create GCDivest, a student-run campaign calling for fossil fuel divestment of the college’s endowment. GCDivest worked in collaboration with DivestEMU, a similar student group at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“Those of us who are privileged to be involved in universities have a unique opportunity to leverage the influence of these powerful institutions and model change for broader society,” Lapp Stoltzfus wrote in the review.

In promoting discussion on ethical investing regarding climate justice, GCDivest urged the MEA Investment Committee to develop a more public presence, become increasingly transparent with their operations and continue to invest in support of community resiliency.

The literature review was published in 2016, setting into action a series of conversations about fossil fuel divestment and climate change.

GC’s Ecological Stewardship Committee, along with Everence and MEA Investment Committee, hosted guest lecturer Mark Campanale, founder and executive chairman of Carbon Tracker Initiative, at Goshen College in fall 2016. His convocation was accompanied by the public presentation of Lapp Stoltzfus’ and Yoder’s research along with a panel discussion featuring Campanale, several MEA representatives, Yoder and Lapp Stoltzfus.

MEA has also published a position paper on climate change and made updates to the information publicly accessible on their website.

“We hope MEA will continue to proactively walk the path they have set forth with their new stewardship commitments,” Lapp Stoltzfus and Yoder said. “And we trust that students and MEA stakeholders will continue to find ways to leverage the power their endowment holds.”