Climate action commitments

President Stephens writes to clarify Mount Holyoke College’s climate commitments, including investment strategies, greening the campus and climate justice.

October 18, 2021

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community,

In January 2018, the Board of Trustees of Mount Holyoke College endorsed the overarching goals of the College's Sustainability Task Force report, including the goal of becoming a carbon neutral campus by 2037. I write today to share updates regarding the College’s endowment holdings in fossil fuels and other climate action commitments.

Investment Strategy

Recognizing that our commitments to combating the climate crisis need to be urgent, specific and measurable, the Investment Committee and the Board of Trustees announced in March 2021 a commitment to effectively phase out the investments in fossil fuel funds.

The commitment was approved and formalized at the February 2021 meeting of the Board of Trustees. It represents an important new step in a multi-year engagement among students, faculty, staff and alums. 

Here are the facts:

  • Over the last five years, our holdings in fossil fuel companies have declined in both dollars and as a share of the endowment. The College has made no new commitments to fossil fuel funds since late 2017 and will not do so in the future.  
  • The College is, moreover, moving with intention to eliminate holdings in fossil fuel investment funds. These indirect investments represent about two percent of the endowment today and will decline to zero over the next decade, if not sooner.  
  • The new direction of our energy exposure is clear: we are intentionally growing our investments in funds dedicated to greener alternatives. In 2014, and well ahead of many peers, Mount Holyoke set out on a course to build a portfolio of private funds focused on investing in companies developing sustainable alternative technologies, including solar mini grids, compostable packaging and software to manage networks of electric vehicles. 

These commitments are on par with — and in some cases go further than — the decarbonizing actions announced by many other U.S. colleges and universities. We also recognize that we must continue to innovate and look for ways to meet the challenges presented by the climate crisis — the defining crisis of our lifetime.

Carbon Neutrality and Greening the Campus

Mount Holyoke’s path to carbon neutrality by 2037 is dependent on significant improvements in energy efficiency, most significantly the transition from legacy heat and electric systems to contemporary, renewable solutions. Transforming our legacy environment is a significant undertaking, and discussions about emergent options and appropriate timing are underway. We anticipate bringing initial recommendations to the Board in May 2022.

In the meantime, recent activities and actions include the following:

  • Since 2017, the College has invested nearly $12M in green capital projects, including several key building projects completed over the summer. 
  • To date, 30% of the College’s passenger vehicles have been replaced with hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The College is currently exploring the installation of electric car charging stations on campus.
  • In addition to ongoing success in sustainable purchasing and enhanced composting efforts, this fall the College invested in a reusable container program in Dining Services. The program will be fully implemented when containers become available.
  • Through a grant program called “GreenerMass,” the College is making several building improvements, including: installing new LED lighting fixtures and retrofits in Kendall, Creighton Hall and Mary Wooley; adding insulation in Clapp and Porter Halls and on steam piping and accessories in steam locations and mechanical rooms; and making energy efficiency upgrades to our central heating plant. This work is anticipated to be completed by December 31, 2021.
  • In 2015, the College established a Green Revolving Fund (GRF) to invest in energy conservation, renewable energy and other sustainability initiatives on campus that also generate cost savings. The GRF ended FY21 with approximately $350,000 to invest in future initiatives, including $42,000 in repayments from previous projects. 

Community Commitment to Climate Justice

Institutional climate action plans often rely on one committee to set goals across campus. At Mount Holyoke, we are taking a different approach. Led by the Miller Worley Center for the Environment (MWCE), Mount Holyoke’s new Community Commitment to Climate Justice (CC2CJ) will offer a path for everyone on campus — students, faculty and staff —  to become involved in the fight against climate disruption. This program aims to generate campus-wide dialogue resulting in specific commitments to action from individuals and stakeholder groups to make meaningful contributions to the global climate justice movement through a local approach. The Miller Worley Center will hold a virtual kick-off on November 4, 2021 with additional meetings planned for February and May. More information on how to get involved with CC2CJ is forthcoming from the MWCE.

Mount Holyoke’s participation in last week’s Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education, sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, reminds us of our collective responsibility for the urgent work necessary to build a future that is sustainable, equitable and resilient for all.

I, the College’s leadership team and the Board of Trustees thank our alums and friends, whose philanthropic support has built the endowment, as well as our students, faculty and staff who share in our commitment to do our part — individually and as a College — in support of climate action.

In solidarity,