Columbia University and Alumnus Robert F. Smith’s Shared Commitment to Carbon Neutrality

Carbon Neutral

Early this year, Columbia University announced a major step in their plan to reach carbon neutrality: the formalization of a non-investment policy in publicly traded oil and gas companies. Together with the University’s 2017 decision to divest from thermal coal, the new investment approach aligns with its considerable academic and research commitment to the environment, including last year’s creation of the Columbia Climate School.

Continuing Columbia’s new policy, the Columbia Investment Management Company (IMC) will expand its evaluation of its investment managers across sectors to assess whether they have plans to create portfolios with net zero emissions by 2050. 

“The effort to achieve net zero emissions must be sustained over time, employing all the tools available to us and engaging all who are at Columbia today and those who will follow us in the years ahead,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “This announcement reaffirms that commitment and reflects the urgent need for action.”

Columbia has also launched the Carbon Management Research Initiative (CaMRI), a new program in Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, which focuses on speeding up decarbonization and reducing the risk and impact of climate change through carbon management. Focusing on U.S. governments and businesses, the program will provide further data on how commitments to decarbonization, like those from Columbia and Vista Equity Partners, could be imperative to saving the planet.

Robert F. Smith’s Work on the Climate Crisis and Racial Equity 

Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, graduated from Columbia Business School (CBS) in 1994 and serves on the School’s Board of Overseers. Smith shares Columbia’s commitment towards climate-friendly investing and decarbonizing the planet. 

Smith recently celebrated the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, an important move to combat the global climate crisis. “Climate change is an existential crisis that disproportionately impacts minority communities,” he said on Twitter. “At Vista, we are committed to carbon neutrality & scaling positive impact via our investments. This action will help preserve our planet for future generations.”

The climate crisis is also deeply connected to another cause for which Smith is a passionate leader and an avid philanthropist: promoting racial equity. Smith has been an active leader in the fight for racial justice, urging the private sector to take action to address decades of inequality and racism. Studies continue to show the broad impact of environmental racism and how climate change has detrimental effects on communities of color across the U.S. For many activists in antiracism and climate, these two issues are inexplicably intertwined. 

In one of the earliest examples of the environmental justice movement, protests arose in 1982 after the North Carolina government chose Warren – a small, predominantly African American town – for a toxic waste facility. In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acknowledged the existence of environmental racism. In 2018, an EPA report concluded that people of color are more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air, sometimes leading to long-term health issues, including cancer, asthma, heart attacks and even premature death. 

Read more about Columbia’s non-investment policy and Smith’s work to urge the private sector to address climate change and environmental racism.