Socially Responsible Investing at SF State

At SF State, social justice and sustainability aren't just buzzwords. They're core values the University puts into practice every day, in the classroom and the community at large. So it's only natural for our work at the SF State Foundation to reflect those values, too. And it does, through SRI — socially responsible investing.

Socially responsible investing means weighing the environmental, social and governance impacts of specific investments when deciding what should be a part of an institution’s overall portfolio. In the past, the Foundation has acted on its commitment to SRI by choosing not to invest directly in tobacco company stocks or companies or countries with known civil or human rights violations. More recently, we took a bold new step that put us at the forefront of SRI nationwide.

In June 2013, SF State became the first public university in the country to limit its direct investment in companies that are fossil fuel providers. The move came after a passionate group of students presented the idea of fossil fuel divestment to the Foundation and SF State President Les Wong, eventually leading to the divestment initiative, which continues to expand. In 2014, we decided to halt any direct investment in companies significantly involved in the production and use of tar sands, and we are now in the midst of a five-year plan to review all of our endowment investments in fossil fuel companies as well as comingled funds that might contain fossil fuel company stock.

Foundation President Robert J. Nava credits Immediate Past Foundation Chair John Gumas, Finance and Investment Committee Chair Kimberly Brandon and other volunteer leaders for guiding these divestment policies and working to establish a new “Green Fund” with strict environmental screening procedures. As a result, SF State has become a role model for other universities and institutions pursuing SRI, conducting a conference about divestment best practices, which attracted students and staff from nearly 300 universities, and sharing SF State’s divestment success story at a number of state and national conferences.

“Part of our success stems from the process that we went through, from the students’ involvement to how we engaged the board to think about SRI in their role as fiduciaries,” explains Robert Nava, adding that the Foundation is also working on ROI projections with its partners at UBS Institutional Investing. So far, putting your money where your mouth is looks like a great investment. “We feel very confident that by investing in socially responsible companies and green funds the return on our investment will be equal to and may even exceed the return that we would get with a more traditional portfolio,” he says.