AS seeks to divest from big oil

Mozes Zarate

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Associated Students Sustainability is asking the University Foundation to pull its money out of big oil.

The A.S. endowed $271,000 to the foundation to invest in ‘high yielding’ stock funds, said Lori Hoffman, treasurer of the University Foundation.

Exxon-Mobil and ConocoPhillips are among corporations A.S. money is invested in, according to an endowment report. Both are among the top 10 fossil fuel companies in the world, according to 350.org.

While the amount of A.S. money invested in fossil fuels is still unclear, A.S. Sustainability wants the foundation to commit to a long-term divestment of A.S. funds from these companies, said Kaitlin Haley, who chairs the Environmental Affairs Council.

“We make this claim that sustainability is one of our values as a university,” Haley said. “If that is really what we stand for, we need to make sure that where we’re putting student dollars is sustainable in the long run.”

Over 300 U.S. colleges are campaigning under the banner of 350.org’s ‘Fossil Free’ campaign, a global movement to steer money away from the top 200 publicly traded companies in non-renewable energy.

“If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from the wreckage,” Fossil Free’s website reads. The organization aims to help prevent drastic climate change through emissions released by fuel production.

Six universities have currently committed to divestment, cities like Seattle, Wash. and Berkeley, Calif. have also joined, and in September, Massachusetts became the first state to pledge divestment, according to 350.org.

Mass divestment could convince the top 200 to re-evaluate their energy production strategy, Haley said.

“The more people and organizations that dig their money out, the less power these companies have,” Haley said.

Combined, U.S. college and university endowments represent less than one percent of invested assets in fossil fuel companies worldwide, or an estimated $400 billion out of $150 trillion, according to a Bloomberg report.

The plausibility of Fossil Free’s mission is being debated nationwide.

“By petulantly selling your shares, you have not hurt the company at all,” wrote Christine Wood, a trustee of Vassar College in New York, in an article published by UniversityBusiness.com. “You’ve just transferred ownership of shares to some other party who cares much less about the issue than you do.”

Most U.S. schools have refused to divest, including Harvard University, according to an article in the Daily Caller.

Stockholder voting power was a concern, wrote Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, in a letter to the publication.

“Such a strategy would diminish the influence or voice we might have with this industry,” Faust wrote. “Divestment pits concerned citizens and institutions against companies that have enormous capacity and responsibility to promote progress toward a more sustainable future.”

Some of A.S.’s endowment money funds scholarships, Haley said.  The long-term financial consequences of reinvestment are still being figured out.

“We don’t want students or the university to lose money,” Haley said.

There’s money to be made in renewable energy, according to Arnerich Massena, the Oregon-based investment firm that handles the University Foundation’s portfolio.

In 2011, the firm moved almost $400 million into green companies, according to an article by Sustainable Business Oregon. The company didn’t argue for sustainability, but instead predicted that renewable energy companies will see monumental growth as natural resources become scarce.

In a few weeks, Haley will meet with Hoffman to talk about divestment. Meanwhile, she said she’d like to get the facts straight.

“We don’t want to present anything to the administration without being knowledgeable of the financial aspects,” Haley said.

 

Mozes Zarate can be reached at [email protected] or @mzarate139 on Twitter.

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