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Harvard receives timber kudos amid protest

Harvard's investment management arm has received a Forest Stewardship Council certification for its timberland plantations in Argentina in the same week that a student group is protesting its investment in the region.

Harvard Management Company received a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification this week for its timber plantations — EVASA and Las Misiones — in Northern Argentina. FSC is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to encouraging responsible management of the world’s forests.

The FSC was obtained in the same week that the university’s ‘Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition’, a student body dedicated to changing the way Harvard manages its money, held a rally and 11-day ‘tour’ of Harvard for two Argentinian representatives of the communities affected by the plantations’ activities in Corrientes, Argentina. The student group aims to deliver a petition of 1,115 signatures to the university’s president Drew Faust later today. Earlier in the week the group held meetings with Harvard administrators such as HMC’s vice president for sustainability Jameela Pedicini and other student groups as part of the tour.

Responsible Investment has accused HMC of unethical and irresponsible investment practices and wants the university endowment’s investment arm to comply with the following demands: halt the expansion of the plantations in the Corrientes community; remove plantations that are within 2,000 metres of homes; and comply with all legally required employment standards.

The certifications were awarded by the Rainforest Alliance, an independent third-party able to certify FSC standards, verifying HMC’s plantations’ environmental, economic and social performance and endorsing their track record of maintaining responsible forestry management practices.

Responsible Investment co-authored a report criticizing HMC’s timberland management practices alongside the Oakland Institute in October last year. HMC has responded that the claims are all unfounded and inaccurate.

HMC this week also signed the United Nations-supported Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) as part of a more concerted push to pursue sustainable investing.

“The PRI framework involves integrating material environmental factors, such as energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and resource scarcity, and social issues such as health and safety and employee productivity into investment analysis,” wrote Kevin Galvin, senior director in the public affairs and communication department in a statement to Agri Investor. “Joining PRI underscores Harvard’s commitment to investing with the advantage of fuller, clearer information about environmental and other risk factors. It’s about strengthening our investment process, not limiting investment opportunities.”