UN PRI drops complaint against Nuveen and TIAA

Environmental groups and academic clients of the companies alleged greenwashing

The board of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment recently dismissed a complaint against TIAA and its subsidiary Nuveen over alleged greenwashing.

In a response from PRI provided by the Center for International Environmental Law, which was among entities involved with the complaint, the UN group stated that Nuveen will be allowed to remain a signatory to the organization.

“The PRI board reviewed a complaint about Nuveen and Nuveen’s full response and decided that the allegations do not constitute a breach of the policy. As such, there is no reason to change Nuveen’s status as a PRI signatory,” the statement read. “Signatories ultimately choose how they go about implementing the principles, in-line with their own investment beliefs, investor duties, commitments and policies.”

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and others that brought the complaint blasted the decision, pointing to the financial services companies’ investments in the fossil fuel industry.

“PRI’s formal response to the complaint gives the green light to irresponsible investors like TIAA, who can make themselves look good by signing onto the Principles for Responsible Investment and then do exactly as they please, including pouring money into the likes of Adani, Exxon, Chevron and Halliburton,” Caroline Levine, a Cornell University professor and TIAA-Divest committee member, said in the CIEL announcement.

The complaint was filed in October and had support from about 800 TIAA clients at academic institutions, according to the announcement.

In a statement, a TIAA spokesperson said that the company cooperated with a review by PRI.

“Based on the UN PRI’s decision we believe our responses and the supplemental materials we provided demonstrate our commitment to responsible investing, the thoughtful approach we take to incorporating ESG considerations into our investment processes and our dedication to transparency and engagement with the companies we invest in on behalf of our clients,” the statement read.

The complaint noted a net zero by 2050 goal for TIAA’s $300bn general account, alleging that the company has failed in setting adequate emissions-reduction targets and has not considered including wide-ranging Scope 3 emissions as part of that. About a third of the general account is tied to the fossil fuels industry through public corporate bonds, CIEL stated.

“PRI’s refusal to act on the serious allegations in this complaint, in the midst of mounting climate chaos, sends the wrong message at the wrong time,” CIEL senior attorney Hana Heineken said in the announcement. “TIAA has a fiduciary duty to act in the long-term interests of its beneficiaries, and that means taking meaningful climate action.”

In an email, Heineken noted that “it is both a disappointing and disturbing result, but the TIAA pension plan participants are determined to continue this fight.”