College invites speakers to first symposium on sustainable investing

Panelists at the Sustainable Investment Symposium discussed how to meet shareholder needs by investing in climate-friendly technology. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stacy.
Panelists at the Sustainable Investment Symposium discussed how to meet shareholder needs by investing in climate-friendly technology.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stacy.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the College hosted the first Sustainable Investing Symposium, a two day, highly-interactive event featuring discussions with various experts from every stage of the investment value chain. Over the course of the two day symposium, each panel offered unique perspectives on both the opportunities and concerns that come with investing in the future of our planet.

President of the College Adam Falk and Don Carlson ’83 offered introductory remarks. Carlson is an adjunct faculty member in environmental studies and he spearheaded the formation of the symposium. In his introduction, Carlson spoke of the personal relationship one has with his or her investments. “The way we invest our money has consequences,” Carlson said. “We can choose to be blind to those consequences, or we can choose to be cognizant of them. That is the leitmotif and governing theme of our symposium today.”

Falk then took to the podium to voice his support for the symposium and advocate for the relationship it has with the College. “This year, Williams has committed to a large campus conversation, Confronting Climate Change, which is part of the College’s relation to this existential crisis that faces our planet,” Falk said. “At Williams, we educate and foster dialogue, and those are two of the things that are going to happen over the next two days. This symposium represents how Williams produces people that go out and change the world.”

A number of alumni of the College were in attendance as panelists, moderators and spectators. Many had interesting and unique backgrounds in energy policy and investing, such as Dan Wohl ’15, who spent a year in Israel as a professional basketball player before deciding to move back to the United States, and now works on the Democratic staff for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources.

All the discussions fostered intriguing questions and heated discussion, but the “Sustainable Investing for Endowments and Foundations” session was of special interest. Moderated by Ralph Bradburd, professor of economics and chair of environmental studies, the panel discussed how investors can meet the needs of a diverse set of stakeholders. Panelists included Paulus Ingram of APG Asset Management, who made the point that it is very challenging to meet the wants, needs and interests of a pool of investors that come from vastly divergent socioeconomic backgrounds.

Abigail Wattley ’05, managing director of the College’s Investment Office, agreed that it is hard to satisfy everyone, but thought it was a generational rather than socioeconomic issue. Wattley’s statements stressed that it is hard to meet the wants and interests of a community that consists of past, present and future generations. She believes that, for the endowment to have the sustained, positive effect it has on the College experience, such as a generous financial aid system, the Office needs to consider the school’s financial needs before they can satisfy anything else.

The panelists also discussed how to invest on behalf of institutions that are engaged in fighting climate change. One panelist, Jigar Shah, rejected the premise that sustainability necessarily complicated investing.  He established his wealth in green investments and continues to outperform his competitors by grounding his investment strategy in sustainability. He emphasized that those shying away from sustainable investing are overestimating risk, and are not capitalizing on the biggest value creation opportunity of a lifetime. 

TL Guest ’17, student chair of the advisory committee on shareholder responsibility and co-organizer of the symposium, shares Shah’s enthusiasm for the potential of wealth creation through sustainable investing. “This is a new but rapidly evolving space,” Guest said. “As the world undergoes an energy revolution, Williams needs to continue to explore investments in renewable energy. I hope this symposium introduces Williams to a network of sustainable investing resources, encouraging us to explore these emerging opportunities.”

Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, who was a panelist in the keynote conversation and is the chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is exploring and leading the way in sustainable investment. Recently, her fund decided to completely divest from fossil fuels and have committed to allocating twenty percent of their funds to impact investments. Just as the Rockefellers serve as a representation of American energy innovation, the College hopes to represent American education innovation in an analogous way. The Sustainable Investing Symposium helped to further the crucial discussion of sustainability across campus and the country and, in doing so, sought to establish the College as a thought leader in this space.