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Responsible investment

Find out more about our commitment to responsible investment

Our approach to responsible investment

USS is a long-term, responsible investor with a legal duty to invest in the best financial interests of our members and beneficiaries, so we can pay pensions long into the future.

We believe that when our investments are run effectively and appropriately manage their environmental and social risks, like climate change or health and safety, risk-adjusted returns can be improved over the long term.

That’s why we consider financially material environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues when we invest. More specifically, we integrate financially material ESG factors into our investment decisions and engage with the companies we invest in to encourage positive change.

Universal Ownership and our responsible investment beliefs and ambitions

Universal Ownership involves having highly diversified and long-term portfolios that, by virtue of their large size, are broadly representative of global capital markets.

As a Universal Owner ourselves, we are exposed to certain market-wide or systemic issues that could impact the investment returns we seek. We must therefore act as an active and engaged long-term owner to address these issues, together with other Universal Owners, to minimise the financial impact they can have on our investments.

We believe that by working with other long-term investors to drive change and by embedding responsible investment into all our investment activities, we can drive better outcomes for our members. For more on our beliefs and ambitions in this space, see our Responsible Investment Beliefs and Ambition Statement.

How we do it

Being a responsible investor involves us engaging with the companies we invest in, being active owners of our assets, focusing on long-term outcomes, encouraging good corporate governance, and considering all financially material considerations for our investments.

Our active engagement isn’t just limited to the businesses in which we invest. We believe we have a role to play in promoting the proper functioning of markets and economies. This includes actively engaging with policymakers and regulators in the markets we invest in, to share the concerns of asset owners and long-term investors. We want to ensure that systemic issues don’t affect long-term, market-wide economic performance.

We also address thematic issues, like climate change at asset-specific and market levels. You can find out more about this in responsible investment activities.

Ethically screened investing

We appreciate that, across society, ethical (and religious) beliefs are hugely important. They can be intensely personal and part of our identity. For example, people might not want to invest in companies that extract fossil fuels, provide gambling services, or engage in animal testing for cosmetics – regardless of whether they are legally legitimate and financially sound investments.

Our investments for the Retirement Income Builder must reflect our legal duty to invest in the best financial interests of our members and beneficiaries. Here, we can only take ethical factors into account where they don’t pose a risk of significant financial detriment, and where we believe that members share each other’s views.

Legally there is more flexibility when members can choose their own investments. That’s why members with Investment Builder savings can choose to invest these in a manner that more closely reflects their own ethical preferences. You can find out more about our ethical options at choosing your investments.


We believe that certain issues, including the financial impact of ESG issues, may pose a long-term financial risk. We therefore may avoid certain sectors where a long-term financial risk has been identified.

We have divested from, or will not invest in, sectors that posed long-term financial risks to the scheme. These include tobacco manufacturing, thermal coal mining (where this makes up more than 25% of revenue), and companies that are involved in the development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions (a form of explosive), white phosphorus (a chemical which self-ignites on contact with air) and landmines.

Our net zero ambition

In 2021 we announced our ambition for our investments to be net zero by 2050, if not before. We’ve also set interim targets to cut the emissions intensity of our investments by 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. For more information visit our net zero page.

Find out more

Take a look at the following for more on our commitment to responsible investment and our work in this area:

Document downloads

If you're looking for archived reports that are no longer in use, you can find these on our archived responsible investment material page.  

  • Responsible investment activities

    See what actions we take as part of our responsible investment strategy
  • How to vote

    See how we make our voting decisions