NMU Makes Landmark Investments in Sustainability Initiatives

President Brock Tessman (right) and NMU Board Chair Steve Young

The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees today voted to fully divest its endowment fund from the fossil fuel industry by 2028, while also increasing sustainability-related investments by up to 15%. The move aligns with NMU's core values and strategic priorities, which include a focus on building a culture of sustainability. It also expands on related initiatives such as implementing a carbon neutrality plan, creating a new assistant vice president for sustainability position, and enhancing trustee support for the EcoReps student organization. 

“Northern's administration recognizes that a comprehensive strategy is required to infuse sustainability into university decision-making—from the curriculum, research and service to planning and operations,” said NMU Board Chair Steve Young. “We support that, and we also appreciate the willingness of campus leaders to work with the students who were advocating for divestment. Today's decision to move in that direction elevates NMU's performance in the sustainability arena to the next level.”

“I am proud of what's been done here, but it would not have been possible without the passionate dedication of the DivestNMU student organization, and the support of many others across campus,” said NMU President Brock Tessman. “Divestment is a technical term and it's certainly what we are doing, but this is also about alignment and investment. We are aligning with Northern's core values and making smart financial investments in the future of our people, place and planet that offer a greater return. It also reflects a crucial investment in near- and long-term economic and workforce development in our region and state.”

NMU does not currently have any direct investments in fossil fuel entities, said NMU Vice President for Finance and Administration Gavin Leach. It does have indirect passive investments through funds that make up about 6% of the university's endowment portfolio. Leach said it took time to develop a new plan that would produce slightly higher projected returns with a limited change in projected volatility, while also adhering to NMU's core values and “meeting our required fiduciary responsibility for managing investments.”

DivestNMU co-chairs Maggie Bailey and Kolibri Drobish issued the following joint statement: “All students who have been part of DivestNMU—both past and present—wish to thank and applaud the NMU administration for taking action on this notable step towards campus climate action.”

NMU had previously committed to achieving industry standards for carbon neutrality by 2050. A plan recently finalized by a campus task force calls for targeted reductions over time. It also identifies five key strategies for reaching those thresholds: reduced energy use; optimized infrastructure to minimize operational costs and emissions; a “right size” campus physical footprint to maximize use and efficiency of new and existing spaces; renewable energy investments; and increased carbon sequestration on university land.

Jessica Thompson, a member of the Carbon Neutrality Task Force and director of the Sustainability Hub for Innovation and Environment (SHINE), will serve as NMU's new assistant vice president for sustainability. She will collaborate with faculty, staff and students to strategically and significantly advance Northern's efforts in this area. In announcing her appointment, Tessman said an essential responsibility of the role will be “expanded engagement with Indigenous communities at NMU, tribal leaders and communities across the Upper Peninsula, and other key external partners.”

NMU trustees will increase their support of EcoReps, a peer-to-peer sustainability education program, by sponsoring a signature Green Fund project and planning at least one Zero Waste awareness event in 2024. The Green Fund is for student-led sustainable initiatives, such as the $50,000 solar panel array installed next to the SHINE building on campus. Zero Waste events are held primarily at NMU Athletics competitions to educate the community about proper disposal.

In other action at today's meeting, the NMU board:

-Voted to retain Steve Young as board chair and Alexis Hart as vice chair for third terms, which extend through December 2024;

-Agreed to drop a requirement that students provide proof of measles inoculation to meet national and state standards (no other public university in Michigan requires proof of inoculation);

-Approved a contract extension for external auditor Rehmann Robson;

-Agreed to add an “Outstanding Graduate Student Award” to the annual Board of Trustees Student Achievement Awards that recognize significant contributions to the quality of life at NMU; and

-Approved the following trustee committee appointments: Academic Affairs: Lisa Fittante, chair, Steve Lindberg, Greg Seppanen and Greg Toutant; Finance: Alexis Hart, chair, Melissa Holmquist and Brigitte LaPointe-Dunham and Greg Seppanen; Executive: Steve Young, Lisa Fittante, Alexis Hart and Brock Tessman; Ad Hoc Policy Review: Melissa Holmquist, chair, Lisa Fittante, Steve Lindberg and Greg Toutant; and Foundation Board ex officio members: Lisa Fittante and Alexis Hart. Chair Steve Young and President Brock Tessman will serve as ex officio members of the Academic Affairs, Finance and Ad Hoc Policy Review committees.

The board also recognized the following: Trustee Emeritus Steve Mitchell in honor of his past service on the board; the women's soccer team for its GLIAC regular season and tournament championships and NMU's first two All Americans in the sport; cross-country runner Madi Szymanski for becoming only the second Wildcat in history to earn an at-large bid to race at the NCAA Championships; and Vice President for Finance and Administration Gavin Leach and Executive Director of Board and Government Relations Deanna Hemmila for their efforts in Lansing related to NMU's budget and capital outlay project request.

Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director

Categories: Around NMU, Strategic Plan