(Mennonite Education Agency) – Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) has strengthened its investment strategy by adopting five new stewardship commitments targeting climate change, according to its new Investment Fund Climate Change Position, effective June 1, 2020. The MEA Investment Fund manages the endowment assets of member MEA institutions, including schools, colleges, congregations, conferences and other programs.

"Numerous issues prompted the current effort to increase our focus on climate change," said Aaron Ziulkowski, chairman of the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) subcommittee that crafted the statement. "The sobering findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) served as a significant motivator. Further, the economic costs of climate change are becoming more obvious, paving the way for more concrete discussions about the increased investment risk of business as usual."

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 commitments support the fund's stewardship investing core values, which articulate an intent to invest in companies that practice environmental stewardship and work toward environmental sustainability. According to the position statement, these commitments "will advance the committee's stewardship of assets over the long term, while also contributing to a healthy world." 

"The investment committee is committed to continuing to build our knowledge related to the intersection of climate change and investment management," said Ziulkowski. The committee works closely with an external investment consultant that focuses on environmental and social issues. In addition, the committee has increased its own ESG expertise with the recent additions of Chad Horning and Christine Jantz, both of whom have professional expertise with ESG investing. Finally, the committee actively seeks interaction with students, administrators and other investors to gain insight, according to Ziulkowski.

Despite the "sobering findings" of the IPCC reports, MEA's Investment Fund Committee is seeing hopeful developments in global attitude shifts and new investment strategies.

"For many years, the fossil fuel industry exerted its political and economic power in leading the discussion on climate change," said John Liechty, chair of MEA's 10-person Investment Committee, which manages the fund. "However, the balance of power is shifting," he said, explaining that activists like Greta Thunberg, proponents of the Green New Deal and a growing number of foundations and endowments establishing renewable energy investment policies are influencing political and business leaders.

This shift also can be seen within MEA.

"Climate change is an issue about which students at our academic institutions care deeply," said Ziulkowski. "We've observed that students increasingly are considering how colleges and universities are addressing climate change."

Mennonite Education Agency (MEA), headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana, serves Anabaptist educational institutions by providing resources, programing and support to schools, administrators and teachers. As an agency of Mennonite Church USA, MEA ties church and school together in a complementary way to ensure students receive a quality Anabaptist Mennonite education.

Contributed by Mennonite Church USA/MEA Staff  –  6/9/2020