The St. Olaf College Investment Committee voted May 18 to amend the college’s investment policy with the goal of reducing exposure to the fossil fuel industry.
In doing so, St. Olaf joins a growing movement of colleges and universities responding to activists’ calls for a commitment to what they say is climate justice.
Under the new policy, St. Olaf will prefer investments in fossil fuel free index funds if they provide “sufficient liquidity at a comparable cost.” As a result of this change, St. Olaf reportedly expects investments in fossil fuel companies to represent less than 1% of the market value of the school’s endowment within the next 10 to 12 years.
In 2020, Carleton College formally adopted incorporating environmental sustainability, social responsibility and governance factors into its endowment investment manager selection process.
“As part of this effort, the college’s investment office assesses each investment manager’s hiring practices and policies, ethics and integrity, partnership structure and governance, as well as understanding the manager’s philosophy and process on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing and conducting a general review of the manager’s holdings from an ESG perspective,” said Joe Hargis, Carleton associate vice president for external relations.
The changes to St. Olaf’s investment policy reportedly came after the student organization, Climate Justice Collective, presented a fossil fuel free endowment policy proposal. CJC has advocated for the college to divest $33.5 million of the institution’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry since 2018.
CJC’s advocacy has received recognition from climate justice leaders including Bill McKibben, founder of the nonprofit 350.org, who tweeted, “Thanks to great organizing, [St. Olaf College] in Minnesota has committed to phasing out fossil fuel investments.”
Climate Justice Collective’s organizing has reportedly taken a variety of forms including circulating petitions, presenting informational workshops, holding a climate strike and organizing a “die-in” on campus to protest the Line 3 Pipeline and investment in fossil fuels.
“Student advocacy and grassroots organizing is more powerful than those holding institutional power want us to believe,” said CJC leader Anna Mulhern. “The movement we built in support of divestment from fossil fuels has shown us the impact students can have. And we’re going to keep organizing until our full demands for divestment are met.”
While community members said the recent amendments to the investment policy represented progress, CJC says that the new policy ultimately falls short.
“The new policy is not divestment, it is the passive phasing out of the college’s fossil fuel investments” said CJC leader Abby Becker. “The immediacy of the climate crisis requires bold action for climate justice. Slowly phasing out investment in fossil fuel companies and preferring rather than requiring divestment from index funds with fossil fuel exposure is not enough. St. Olaf must divest now. Our planet doesn’t have time to wait.”