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November 12, 2012
College Endowments Urged to Divest Fossil Fuel Holdings
    by Robert Kropp

The Do the Math campaign from 350.org urges colleges and universities to restructure their endowments and divest their holdings in fossil fuel industries to make an impact on climate change.


College and university endowments played a leading role in the divestment campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. What might be the impact of a similar campaign to address climate change, by divesting from companies in the fossil fuel industries?

The environmental group 350.org aims to find out. The organization's Do the Math campaign is currently on a tour of 21 US cities "that will connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel industry," 350.org states.

According to an
article in Rolling Stone by 350.org founder Bill McKibben, the global climate crisis can be reduced to three important numbers. Scientific consensus is that global warming must be held to less than two degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Scientists also estimate that no more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be emitted by mid-century. Yet 2,795 gigatons remain in proven coal and oil and gas reserves.

"What this math shows is that the fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry," McKibben said. "The fossil fuel industry has bought one party in Washington DC and scared the other into silence. Unless we can weaken the power of this industry, we’ll never see the sort of climate progress we need."

Despite their central role in the anti-apartheid campaign, college endowments now lag behind many mainstream institutional investors in accounting for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors in their investment strategies, according to a recent
report from the IRRC Institute and the Tellus Institute. "Transparency of ESG investments remains particularly poor" among endowments, the report found. "Colleges are regularly self-reporting unverifiable data about their ESG investment policies and practices, which upon investigation prove to be overstated."

Given such realities, Do the Math can count some early successes in its campaign already. The Unity College Board of Trustees voted to divest its holdings in fossil fuels on November 5th. "The time is long overdue for all investors to take a hard look at the consequences of supporting an industry that persists in employing a destructive business model," Unity College President Stephen Mulkey said.

And Hampshire College has adopted a sustainable investment policy that divested the college endowment from fossil fuels.

"It just doesn't make sense for universities to invest in a system that will leave their students no livable planet to use their degrees on, or for pension funds to invest in corporations that will ruin the world we plan to retire in," 350.org stated in announcing the campaign.

 

 
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