Environmental, Social and Governance Responsibility Task Force Holds Community Forum

Task force members sought feedback from the GW community on draft priorities and addressed questions about the importance of diversity and inclusion, sustainability and accountability.

ESG virtual forum
Trustee Roslyn Brock, M.S. ‘89, (left), Trustee Peter Harrison, and Jeremy Liskar, a GW graduate student and member of the ESG task force, participate in a community forum on Friday. (William Atkins/ GW Today)
November 01, 2021

By Kristen Mitchell

The George Washington University Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Responsibility Task Force, formed by the Board of Trustees, held a virtual forum on Friday to discuss draft priorities and solicit input from the university community.

The task force was created in 2020 to establish a long-term, proactive approach to managing ESG responsibility. The task force, with input from the GW community, made a series of environmentally focused recommendations to the Board of Trustees. As a result, GW committed to accelerating plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and release a plan for climate resilience for the university’s operations. The university made a pledge in June 2020 to eliminate fossil fuel investments from the endowment over the next five years.

In the summer of 2021, Board Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82, charged the task force, under the leadership of task force co-chairs Trustees Roslyn Brock, M.S. ‘89, and Peter Harrison, to continue its work with a renewed focus on social and governance priorities. The task force also aimed to develop a process by which future ESG issues could be addressed by the university community. The task force met throughout the summer and fall to discuss these issues and develop an initial set of draft priorities for consideration.

ESG is a set of standards for all organizations to ensure they are achieving their mission through just, equitable and sustainable means. The standards are frequently used from an investment perspective to view a company’s operations through a socially conscious lens to screen potential investments. Environmental standards consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social standards examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers and the communities where it operates. Governance standards address a company’s leadership, internal controls and shareholder rights. 

The subjects covered under the ESG umbrella are complex and touch on various aspects of life at GW and the world more broadly, Ms. Brock said. 

“We acknowledge that these priorities do not include everything, but we hope that by creating a robust process of engagement and discernment, further issues can be raised and identified and addressed on a timely and an ongoing basis,” she told forum attendees Friday. “Part of our intent today in holding these forums is to hear directly from each of you—your thoughts, your opinions, your questions, your ideas and your suggestions are very important to us, and they'll help inform our thinking as we prepare to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees.”

Mr. Harrison said he is proud GW is “blazing a trail” in higher education by ensuring that ESG standards are adopted and met across the university. Through engagement with students, faculty and staff, the ESG task force will draw up priorities that align with the university’s teaching and research missions and GW’s unique location in the nation’s capital.

Melani McAlister, professor of American studies and international affairs in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the ESG task force, presented a draft social statement that affirmed the university’s aim in cultivating a richly diverse and inclusive community whose members thrive in a supportive culture. It also highlighted the university’s responsibility to promote equity, support social justice and act with integrity. 

Forum attendees emphasized the importance of strong support for diversity, equity and inclusion. An attendee also voiced gratitude for the task force’s environmental work, which has sent an important signal about the university’s commitment to sustainability. 

Somender Chaudhary, a GW Alumni Association executive committee member and member of the ESG task force, presented a draft statement on governance, laying out an aspiration for good governance based on integrity and trust, and an aim for robust process and procedures across the university’s endowment, operations and academic spheres. This work prioritizes transparency, diversity, equity and inclusion, accountability and compliance and stakeholder engagement.

Earlier this semester, the Board of Trustees announced plans to launch a shared governance task force in full consultation and partnership with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. This shared governance process is separate from the ESG task force’s governance work. 

“Shared governance is such a big and important issue that it really deserves its own entire committee and conversation,” Mr. Harrison said.

Jeremy Liskar, a GW graduate student and member of the ESG task force, presented a draft process that would enable the university to, in the long-term, proactively address ESG issues. This discernment process is grounded in accountability, transparency, community engagement and consistent evaluation standards. The process highlighted how ESG issues could be brought to the forefront by the Student Association, Faculty Senate and petitions within the GW community. After a formal proposal detailing how a subject aligns with GW’s ESG principles, proposals will be reviewed by a standing ESG review committee.

Having a process in place will enable the university to address a “constantly evolving and shifting set of issues and topics,” Mr. Harrison said. 

Ms. Brock encouraged attendees to attend upcoming task force forums on Wednesday, Nov. 3 and Thursday, Nov. 4, and to encourage their colleagues to attend and provide feedback as well. Input can also be submitted through the ESG task force website.

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