Efforts Switch from Divestment to Sustainable Investment

The Sustainability Council Investment Committee (SCIC), led by sophomore student co-chairs Robbie Gardner and Bryna Coyle, is working towards the goal of complete sustainable investment of Colorado College’s endowment.

Some of their initiatives include proxy voting on JW Bristol’s holdings and bridging the gap between the SCIC and the Investment Club, a program in the Economics and Business Department. Above all, they say more student participation is vital to reach their goal.

“With two people we can talk to the school as much as we want, and we really want to sustainably invest,” said Gardner. “But unless there’s a big movement by the school, they’re not really going to listen.”

Campus Sustainability Council (CSC) meetings, open to both students and the public, happen every first Wednesday at 3:30 the Tutt Science lecture hall. Katy Dupree, the paraprofessional for the Office of Sustainability, works with the Council to achieve CC sustainable investment.

Even with limited participation, the SCIC is still working on projects with tangible results. Coyle and Gardner are perfecting the proxy voting guidelines, in which CC can vote on how JW Bristol & Co. invests the 36 percent of the endowment they manage. Voting green on these holdings will begin the process of reinvesting CC’s endowment sustainably.

The SCIC also has Portfolio 21 that contains around $16,000 for the committee to sustainably invest. Next semester, Gardner plans on using this money to prove that investing sustainably can be just as profitable as other investing practices.

“What my vision for it is, is to next semester start investing with that money and try and it out and invest with the Investment Club who’s investing in anything, while we invest in only sustainable companies and practices and stuff like that,” said Gardner. “And kind of use that as a microcosmic representation of what the college could do as a whole with their investment.”

The Investment Club has four portfolios, each containing $10,000, and members compete to earn the most return on their investment. If Gardner can generate equal or better returns than the portfolios, the SCIC will have some evidence that sustainable investment is financially feasible.

Financial feasibility was one of the downfalls of the divest movement. Starting in 2011, CC students attempted to persuade the school to divest, but got rejected numerous times by the Board of Trustees. The students presented divestment as an ethical issue, but failed to recognize the complications involved with a complete divestment.

Each year, the college spends approximately 5 percent of their endowment. For the 2016-2017 school year, 37 percent of that money was spent on financial aid; other spendings included the construction of the new library, professorships, departments, and a category labeled “unrestricted.”

“Divestment could potentially take away, in the first few years that we try it, [from] returns,” said Gardner. “And those returns not only go to building stuff on campus, but they go towards paying kid’s tuitions… So the thing about divesting in the first few years is that if we don’t get returns to the same amount, it would be less kids being able to go to college.”

For this reason, along with the fact that CC uses 28 different companies to manage their endowment, the Board denied all attempts for divestment. However, the SCIC has been presenting more realistic ideas for CC’s investment, and have been receiving mostly positive responses.

“We have been getting a lot of positive feedback… which does give me a pretty good amount of hope,” said Coyle. “I think we’re just trying to go about it in a way that’s very approachable by professionals who are economists, not environmentalists.”

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