Responsible Investment Principles

Responsible investment principles

As part of our deep commitment to sustainability, and in response to passionate feedback from the RMIT community, we are strengthening our ethical approach to philanthropic investments.

RMIT has had a long-standing commitment to incorporating sustainability into our operations through genuine and practical actions. We are proud to be part of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, the UN Global Compact, which tackles environment, human rights, labour and anti-corruption challenges. We have also hosted the UN Global Compact - Cities Programme since 2008, bringing together government, business and civil society to address complex urban issues.

We have new Responsible Investment Principles to guide our investment managers, to ensure that our portfolio minimises activities that have material impact on climate change, including involvement in fossil fuels, while screening for issues relating to public health and wellbeing. We will also monitor the portfolio in relation to globally accepted norms on corporate sustainability behaviours to ensure we meet our commitments to the UN Global Compact.

RMIT takes its obligations to the health of the planet seriously, to keep the global temperature rise under two degrees. Our independent financial advisers and fund managers respect this as signatories of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) and are responding with innovative proposals to reflect our values.

Scope

The Responsible Investment Principles apply to the management and investment of the University Philanthropic Fund. This Fund represents the only pool of diversified financial assets managed by RMIT University.

Principles 

RMIT University will work to ensure that in addition to financial considerations, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues are taken into account when making investment decisions.

  1. RMIT University requires investment managers of the Philanthropic Fund to monitor the portfolio in relation to globally accepted norms on corporate sustainability behaviours in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption.
  2. RMIT University will instruct investment managers of the Philanthropic Fund to ensure that, where practicable, the portfolio:

a. minimises activities that have material impact on: 

i. climate change, including involvement in fossil fuels; and

ii. public health and wellbeing

b. fully complies with international conventions, including those ratified by the Australian Government, such as the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines and the International Convention on Cluster Munitions.

      3. RMIT University requires investment managers engaged by RMIT University to be a signatory to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

Frequently Asked Questions

By supporting scholarships, research, or other major projects, gifts to RMIT have the potential to impact the lives of students and our community for many years to come. Funds donated to the university for a particular purpose are distributed in accordance with donor’s stated intentions e.g. scholarships, bursaries, research, facilities, specific projects etc. Funds donated to the ‘university’s highest priorities’ are distributed to areas aligned to University strategy deemed in greatest need of support.

The University’s Impact Report showcases the transformative impact of philanthropy.

The University invests through a ‘pooled funds’ structure, where investments are not directly held by the University. Pooled funds are those where there are several different types of investors whose money is ‘pooled’ and invested together. This structure provides the University with access to several different types of asset classes that are normally only available to large-scale investors, which would otherwise be very expensive and difficult for the University to invest in on its own.

The entirety of the RMIT funds are invested in two responsible investment products:

  • Russell Investments Australian Responsible Investment ETF: the fund is weighted towards companies that demonstrate positive environmental, social and governance (ESG) characteristics after negatively screening for companies that have significant involvement in a range of activities including tobacco, gambling and controversial weapons.
  • Russell Investments Low Carbon Global Shares Fund: the fund maintains a reduced carbon exposure, whilst also increasing exposure to renewable energy. The fund of international share is designed for investors who value environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations within the investment decision-making process, particularly those related to climate change risk. Other ESG exclusion include controversial weapons, uranium and tobacco companies.

The use of pooled funds means that direct investment decisions, such as whether to buy the shares in an individual company are not made by the University. Instead, RMIT works with an asset consultant to set parameters on the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) impacts of its investments. The asset consultant then assists the University in finding suitable investment products that best match the University’s ESG parameters.

Since the Responsible Investment Principles were approved in March 2017, we have commenced the implementation.  We have established definitions behind our principles to ensure that the investment market understands our requirements and we can report in a consistent manner. For example, we define fossil fuels related activities as including coal (coking and thermal), oil, natural gas and peat. We define companies involved in the production of tobacco and associated products as those which generate ≥10% of revenue from these related activities.

The Russell Investments Australian Responsible Investment Exchange Traded Fund (RARI) was established by a number of ethical charities and organisations to screen for thermal coal, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, pornography and armaments. RMIT has been given a seat on the RARI Responsible Investment Committee, allowing us to drive further ESG outcomes. For example, we successfully pushed for the fund to divest from fossil fuel exposures, with RARI divesting from the Underground 200 at the end of March 2019.

We undertook a scan of the market to find a suitable international shares product which matched our requirements and was committed to evolving further over time. The Philanthropy Committee and Sustainability Committee worked together with independent ESG experts to find an appropriate investment vehicle. This resulted in us moving from the Russell Investments Balanced Fund to their Low Carbon Global Shares Fund which maintains a reduced carbon exposure and an increasing exposure to renewable energy.

RMIT’s principles are published on both here on our public website and in our public reporting in order for the University to remain open and transparent. The metrics to track these principles can be found in the latest Sustainability Annual Report.

'Where practicable' means that we will make every effort to implement the principles. However, there may be circumstances where we simply cannot practically address every issue.

For example, the principles state 'where practicable, the portfolio minimises activities that have a material impact on public health and wellbeing'. It is well understood that there are many health issues surrounding tobacco and that no level of tobacco is safe for consumption. It is also easy to identify and exclude any companies that are manufacturing tobacco. However, while overconsumption of sugar is also a health issue, it is much more complicated to identify and exclude companies that are responsible for the society’s overconsumption of sugar.

‘Where practicable’ is never designed to act as a loophole to avoid addressing the real intent of the principles. Rather, it reflects the real-world constraints of meeting those principles when dealing in a complex investment market.

The Responsible Investment principles have been endorsed by both the Sustainability Committee and Philanthropic Committee, and then approved by the Vice Chancellor’s Executive and University Council. This high-level commitment mandates that the principles be implemented by the Philanthropy Committee. 

RMIT considers investment returns to be extremely compatible with our responsible investment objectives. Responsibly invested Australian share funds have outperformed their equivalent mainstream funds over the last ten years (Responsible Investment Association Australasia, Benchmark Report 2017). These investment principles, including the principles of responsible investment, create good investment returns and reduce risk. 

RMIT is committed to ensuring that it makes socially responsible investment decisions that align with RMIT values. The Responsible Investment Principles guide the incorporation of ESG considerations into the management of the investment portfolio of RMIT’s philanthropic funds whilst ensuring that investment management practices achieve strong financial outcomes for the University. 

Absolutely, RMIT’s biggest opportunity to directly address climate change is by reducing our own carbon emissions whilst supporting research and learning.

RMIT invested $128M in the Sustainable Urban Precincts Program (SUPP), which provides 32,000 tCO2-e of carbon emission reduction every year, through major infrastructure updates across our campuses. As a result of SUPP we achieved our carbon emissions reduction target of 25% by 2020 four years early. At the end of 2018 we achieved a 45% reduction in carbon emissions from a 2007 baseline and our Carbon Management Plan  now sets us on a journey to carbon neutrality by2030.

As a proud partner in the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project, in 2018 RMIT began purchasing renewable energy from the Crowlands Windfarm in regional Victoria. RMIT has committed to purchasing 25 per cent of its electricity from the wind farm over the next 10 years. The project highlights RMIT’s commitment to lowering campus emissions and being an advocate of change through collaborative partnerships.

On-site solar photovoltaic (PV) was expanded in 2018 with the addition of more than 1,500 panels, bringing total on-site solar PV generation to 600kW. RMIT also upheld its commitment to offset 20 per cent of electricity consumption, with 8,000 tCO2-e offset through the University’s Carbon Offset Strategy. 

University Philanthropic funds are very different from superannuation funds in terms of scale, purpose and investment approach. For example, UniSuper currently has around $60 billion in net funds under management, with the sole purpose of supporting the retirement of people in the higher education sector.

For universities, philanthropic investments are targeted towards outcomes specified by the donor and follow the university Philanthropic and Fundraising Policy. Usually, these investments are smaller in scale than the amount of money invested by superannuation funds. Superannuation and larger scale funds have greater control over the way the money is invested. 

The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is the world's leading proponent of responsible investment. The PRI works with its international network of signatories to put the six Principles for Responsible Investment into practice.

Its goals are to understand the investment implications of environmental, social and governance issues and to support signatories in integrating these issues into investment and ownership decisions.

The six Principles were developed by investors and are supported by the UN. They have more than 1,400 signatories from over 50 countries representing US$59 trillion of assets.

Accountability 

The Philanthropy Committee is accountable for the implementation of the Responsible Investment Principles, with ESG oversight provided by the Sustainability Committee. 

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nations on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

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