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Letter: Vanguard’s climate record undermines Brown’s new ESG retirement fund

To the Editor:

As a staff member at Brown, I was pleased to see that the University has started to offer a new ESG fund for its employees’ retirement. I am grateful for the work of the Benefits Office and the University’s Retirement Planning Committee for this welcome step. I also applaud the activism of Sunrise Brown to spur the creation of such an option.  

I was especially interested in the news because I serve on the board of directors of Earth Quaker Action Team, a Philadelphia-based environmental activist organization that targets corporations around climate justice. But I was disappointed to see that the fund that the University chose — the FTSE Social Index Fund Admiral — was managed by the investment manager Vanguard.

Although the fund has positive features compared to other Vanguard funds — and over other retirement options at Brown — it receives a mixed rating from Fossil Free Funds, a website that evaluates the climate impacts of various investment funds. The Vanguard fund received a “D” rating on fossil finance and a “C” rafting for its fossil fuel insurance policies. The problems, however, go deeper.


Vanguard is the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels. Additionally, a 2023 report by Majority Action found that, by a range of measures, Vanguard holds consistently bottom-tier records on shareholder voting on resolutions surrounding issues like racial equity, organized labor and political spending disclosures. For these reasons, the global Vanguard SOS campaign has been pushing Vanguard to change course. 

I am proud that EQAT is currently part of that global campaign. In addition to escalating with direct action, EQAT is calling on supporters everywhere to pledge “Never Vanguard.” Unfortunately, Vanguard has recently chosen to move in the wrong direction: for example, by bowing to right-wing pressure and pulling out of the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative — which was already weak and unenforceable.

As much as I would like to take advantage of an ESG option for my retirement, I cannot get behind the Vanguard fund. I hope that the Retirement Planning Committee will continue their work to give faculty and staff sustainable retirement plans, and offer a different choice than Vanguard.

Ben Safran
Institute Manager, Cogut Institute for the Humanities


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