The student-led movement to divest from fossil fuels and invest sustainably has recently come to a halt due to lack of participation. The group originally gained traction in 2014 due to a sentiment among students that the college needed to invest along environmentally responsible lines.
Moreover, the issue of sustainable investment of CC’s endowment has become more important in the wake of the election, and student involvement in the Sustainability Council Investment Committee (SCIC) is essential to reach investment principles that reflect CC’s branding as an innovative, cutting-edge, environmentally-friendly institution.
Following Trump’s victory in the presidential race, he elected Myron Ebell, a graduate from Colorado College, to lead the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Ebell is a well-known climate change contrarian and rejects global warming as a serious threat. He intends to dispel the ‘myths’ that climate scientists release regarding anthropogenic climate change.
CC has a history of divestment efforts extending to 1986, during the height of the South African apartheid. During that time, students and faculty demanded divestment from companies who profited from the apartheid, policies or systems of segregation, or discrimination based on race. Despite their efforts, the Board of Trustees ultimately decided not to divest.
Fossil fuel divestment first became an issue on campus in 2011, when it was discovered that CC invests an estimated 5 to 10 percent of their $542 million endowment in companies that use eco-destructive practices, such as Monsanto, Halliburton, and ExxonMobil.
Following this discovery, students called for divestment from companies dealing with fossil fuel extraction and the Student Divestment Committee (SDC) was formed.
Founded in 2013, the SDC utilized demonstrations, petitions, and proposed alternatives in their attempts to persuade CC to divest. Some of their demonstrations had attendance in the hundreds, and in 2013 more than half of the student body signed a petition calling for fossil fuel divestment.
Despite their efforts, the Board was unwilling to budge. Every proposal by the SDC was essentially met with a statement from the Board of Trustees saying “no.”
In an article written in February of 2015, Kathy Giuffre, a professor of Sociology at CC, expressed the importance “for the SDC to make sure that generations of CC students down the line maintain interest in the movement for it to succeed.”
Unfortunately, the SDC was unable to do that. By the end of the 2014-2015 school year, the SDC was flatlining, and a lot of students involved in leadership roles graduated.
“Throughout the years there have been a number of proposals to the Board of Trustees, and they have basically been shut down every time,” said Scott Broadbent, a senior graduating in December. “And so I think a lot of kids grew tired… Basically it all fizzled out.”
Of the people involved with the SDC, the only ones that returned the following year were seniors Ben Criswell and Scott Broadbent. The SDC then evolved to become the SCIC, a sub-committee of the Campus Sustainability Council (CSC). Criswell and Broadbent remained the only active members in the 2015-2016 school year.
During the year, they presented once to the Board of Trustees in November. Rather than stressing the ethical importance and claiming that CC has an obligation to divest from fossil fuels, they instead presented their arguments from a financial view.
“The angle we tried to give them is that it just makes financial sense,” said Broadbent. “Coal and oil are no longer really good investments. If the school had divested from fossil fuels, like, 10 years ago, they’d be in a way better financial position than they are now.”
They compared indexes that are divested against average indexes and showed that the fossil fuel-free funds performed just as well or better. Compared to the average, ESG metrics—which measure the sustainability and ethical impact of investment into a company—do just as well.
However, the Board of Trustees does not directly decide the investment of CC’s endowment, which was $720.1 million in 2015. CC uses 27 external professional investment firms to manage the college’s assets and employs Monticello Associates as their investment consultant. Most of the private investment firms do not consider sustainable investing, and therefore do not have divested products.
This complication makes it harder, but not impossible, for CC to reinvest. “If enough people want it, [sustainable investment] will happen,” said Broadbent. However, he also voiced the difficulties with student participation. “Kids graduate, so it’s like, how do you create a way for people to have meaningful impact at this school?”
Additionally, the SCIC created a guideline for proxy voting for the college. In every company that CC owns stock in, they get to vote on what is called “shareholder proposals.” The school has a bad track record voting on these proposals, so a guideline was created to encourage the school to vote green. It also serves as a starting point for anyone who would want to revive the SCIC.
The SCIC is looking for people who are passionate and want to see the school reinvest and commit to a more sustainable future. “It’s cyclical. You’re always gonna have kids leaving and coming in. So I guess it has to be a yearly thing, recruiting new people, bringing them up to speed, getting them involved in the right ways,” Broadbent concluded.