Author page for Joshua Humphreys


Joshua Humphreys
Joshua Humphreys is founding President and Senior Fellow of Croatan Institute, an independent institute for advanced social and environmental research and engagement, and a former Associate Fellow at Tellus Institute. He is a leading analyst of the social and environmental consequences of finance capitalism and an outspoken advocate for social equity, ecological resilience, and economic democracy. He has taught at Harvard, Princeton, and New York University. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Paris at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and a visiting fellow at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. He served as associate fellow at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, visiting research associate at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Archive Center, and an Aspen Environment Forum Scholar. He has advised numerous non-profits, businesses, community and labor groups, policymakers, and multilateral organizations on complex issues in social and environmental finance.

He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Dwight Hall SRI Fund at Yale University, the Advisory Council of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, and the Board of Advisors of the Coalition for Responsible Investment at Harvard.

He holds a PhD in History from New York University.


Tellus Publications (Selected)


Decolonizing the Empire of Cotton

Joshua Humphreys

Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton offers a magisterial history of cotton’s role in the development of modern capitalism. However, it is a partial story: the bright light it shines on the “empire” and its masters occludes the array of social forces and actors working to tame or dismantle the emergent system.


US Investment in Large-Scale Land Acquisitions in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Joshua Humphreys

In the past decade, investment in land used for agriculture and forestry in low- and middle-income countries has grown dramatically. This study reveals that US investors—mainly private equity and hedge funds—play a substantial role financing agribusiness companies that employ monoculture production in low-income countries at the expense of biodiversity and greater food security. The analysis is based on primary data collected from interviews with investors and fund managers involved in farmland and timberland investments and experts from civil society organizations, as well as a review of secondary and limited primary data on US investors and investment funds engaged in large-scale land acquisitions in low- and middle-income countries. The report also discusses the challenges to gaining access to information and the need for stronger public disclosure requirements.

Institutional Pathways to Fossil-Free Investing: Endowment Management in a Warming World

Joshua Humphreys, Christi Electris, Jaime Silverstein

This report provides an analysis of climate-related portfolio risk faced by educational and philanthropic endowments and presents three pathways toward reallocating an endowment portfolio into fossil-free investment opportunities, across asset classes. It includes numerous case studies of institutional asset managers and endowments that have competitively managed portfolios without exposure to fossil fuel company securities.

Public Investment in Private Higher Education: Estimating the Value of Nonprofit College and University Tax Exemptions

Joshua Humphreys

Few phenomena embody higher education’s social contract with the public more concretely than annual taxpayer support, through direct payments, grants, and contracts and indirectly through tax incentives, subsidies, and exemptions. This report offers a bottom-up methodology to estimate the public tax expenditure resulting from non-profits colleges and universities’ tax exemption. Its approach employs and expands on methodologies developed through comparable research on hospitals and the nonprofit sector more broadly in order to arrive at a methodology appropriate for estimating the public investment in individual private, non-profit schools Northeastern University provides a demonstration case for developing the underlying estimation techniques, the application of which we present at the federal, state, and local levels.

Total Portfolio Activation: A Framework for Creating Social and Environmental Impact Across Asset Classes

Joshua Humphreys, Christi Electris, Ann Solomon

Interest in investment that pursues social and environmental impact has exploded in recent years. Although opportunities for impact investing have emerged across asset classes, most impact-investment activity has remained largely confined to a limited array of private investments. To help fill this gap, this paper introduces a simple conceptual framework for organizations and individuals seeking greater impact and better alignment between their investment activities and their mission or values: Total Portfolio Activation. The basic insight that drives Total Portfolio Activation is that every investment across every asset class has social and environmental impacts—positive and negative. This report further offers concrete steps to help any institutional investor begin working toward a fuller activation of their portfolio in support of their mission.

Environmental, Social and Governance Investing by College and University Endowments in the United States: Social Responsibility, Sustainability, and Stakeholder Relations

Joshua Humphreys, Christi Electris, Catie Ferrera, Ann Solomon

With more than $400 billion in combined assets under management, US college and university endowments constitute an important segment of institutional investors involved in sustainable and responsible investing—defined here as the explicit incorporation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into investment decision-making and active-ownership activities. This study provides one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of the state of ESG investing by educational endowments.

Academic Excess: Executive Compensation at Leading Private Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts

Joshua Humphreys

This issue brief provides an in-depth analysis of excessive executive compensation at leading private, nonprofit institutions of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In recent decades, as the cost to attend a private college or university has spiraled upward, increasing numbers of senior college administrators have received six- and seven-figure compensation packages that place them at the upper echelons of the national income distribution.

Educational Endowments and the Financial Crisis: Social Costs and Systemic Risks in the Shadow Banking System

Joshua Humphreys

The high-risk, high-return “Endowment Model of Investing” adopted by many universities generated impressive financial returns in the boom years, but the financial crisis destroyed tens of billions in endowed wealth at colleges and universities within one year. Mounting endowment losses have been used by college administrations to justify some of the severest austerity measures in a quarter-century. This report looks at what happens—and who suffers—when universities embrace high-risk investing. It examines six privately endowed New England colleges and universities—Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—as case studies for exploring deeper connections between educational endowments and their impact on our institutions, our communities, and our economy.