NEW YORK | December 18, 2020 – The Rockefeller Foundation announces a commitment to divesting its $5 billion endowment from existing fossil fuel interests while refraining from future fossil fuel investments. The Foundation’s Board of Trustees recently approved this new policy, prompting the Foundation’s investment team to start taking steps that are expected to more than halve its total exposure to fossil fuels to less than 1% in the near future.
The Foundation’s philanthropic history starts in 1913 when Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller provided an original endowment of $100 million. While the family was essentially out of the oil business by 1911, the Foundation’s endowment was largely built from the proceeds of the company which at one time controlled more than 90% of petroleum production in the United States.
“JD Rockefeller started this foundation to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world, based on science and innovation. This is still our mission, and since the science is clear on the harm caused by fossil fuels, it was time that we officially aligned our internal investment strategy with our external values and mission,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “This new policy puts The Rockefeller Foundation in line with our sister organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and so many other courageous members of the Rockefeller family who have made the point that society needs to rethink growth capital and sustainability for the future. We’re proud to follow in those footsteps.”
This announcement comes on the heels of The Rockefeller Foundation’s $1 billion commitment over the next three years to catalyze a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the single largest commitment in the Foundation’s 107-year history, which has distributed more than $22 billion since its inception.
“John D. Rockefeller’s philosophy on philanthropy was that scale of impact comes from partnerships, and with this billion-dollar pledge, we intend to do just that – by partnering with others to turn that billion into a mobilizing force for a trillion-dollar inclusive, just, and carbon-reducing global recovery,” said Dr. Shah. “We are also working across the Foundation to bring market-driven solutions that reduce emissions while creating jobs and wealth-building opportunities for those that have been shut out of economic progress and are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.”
A decade ago, The Rockefeller Foundation made ending energy poverty in a clean, sustainable way a top priority. Because low-carbon and climate resilient asset classes are largely underserved by public and private capital markets, and climate risks are often ignored or underplayed by key decision makers, massive investments in renewable energies, transmission lines, battery storage, and solar PV micro-grids are needed to connect the more than 800 million energy poor people around the world into the modern economy. There are an estimated 3.5 billion people who have their potential diminished by unreliable or insufficient energy access, predominantly provided by carbon-emitting fuels. Providing clean, safe, and reliable electricity is essential to creating jobs and economic opportunity for more than 40% of the world’s population, while also combatting a rise in temperatures and sea levels that is endangering the world.
On the endowment side, the Foundation’s exposure to fossil fuels declined from 4% in 2014 to approximately 2% today (0.6%-0.7% in public commingled funds and 1.3% in fossil fuel private partnership interests). During this time, it also generated average annual returns of 8.3%, more than 3% ahead of its benchmark.
“The endowment’s total private fossil fuel exposure declined in recent years in part because of global energy transition trends and heightened sustainability risks in the sector, but also because we actively narrowed the resources portfolio to less than a handful of managers who place strong focus on ESG integration and avoided dedicated investments in the heaviest emitting fossil fuels,” said Chun Lai, The Rockefeller Foundation’s Chief Investment Officer, who is responsible for managing the $5 billion endowment.
This next chapter is based in ensuring an equitable, sustainable future where there’s genuine opportunity for all. The Foundation’s prioritization of pioneering breakthroughs in technology and data squarely aligns with John D. Rockefeller’s vision of encouraging scaled investments and seeking creative and science-based solutions to intractable problems.
This new chapter is in line with a long history of taking decisive and timely actions that have altered the course of events. During its first 40 years, The Foundation started the modern field of public health, played a key role in fighting the 1918 influenza pandemic, helped to eradicate hookworm in the United States, and seeded the development of the Yellow Fever vaccine. During the next chapter, it launched the Green Revolution that transformed farming and kept hundreds of millions from starvation.
All of this was done while also investing in innovations that built telescopes and cyclotrons and convening the very best in their fields to solve the world’s most pressing problems, along with changing the course of philanthropy with “impact investing” in 2007.
About The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation advances new frontiers of science, data, and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power, and economic mobility. As a science-driven philanthropy focused on building collaborative relationships with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation seeks to inspire and foster large-scale human impact that promotes the well-being of humanity throughout the world by identifying and accelerating breakthrough solutions, ideas, and conversations. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.