Sterling College, a small, environmentally focused college in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, became the third educational institution in the U.S. to heed the call to divest from fossil fuels, in response to a nationwide campus campaign that began last fall. The announcement was made in early February.
Sterling was among the first colleges in the U.S. to focus on sustainability through academic majors in conservation ecology, outdoor education, and sustainable agriculture. Upon the announcement in February, Sterling President Matthew Derr said, “Sterling College is an incubator for those who care about Vermont, care about the natural world in which we all live, and who want to promote healthy and just food systems, and as such, it makes no sense for us to invest in companies that are wreaking havoc on our climate.”
Sterling’s Board of Trustees has instructed its investment team to “move swiftly to divest.” It anticipates no negative impact upon endowment performance.
The divestment movement, galvanized by 350.org, is active on over 250 campuses and has gathered strong support among students at Tufts, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and Harvard, among others. Activists have also organized campaigns pressing other institutional investors to divest, including the State of Vermont, the California State Teachers’ Retirement Fund, the United Church of Christ, and the City of Seattle. Vermont State Representative Kesha Ram has filed a bill calling for the state’s pension fund to divest itself of fossil fuel companies within three years.
Derr continued, “Our legacy and our focus on food, water, health, energy, and governance through conservation, education, and sustainable agricultural practices absolutely compels us to take this action. We hope that we inspire other colleges and universities to take this important next step toward divestment in fossil fuels because higher education is an important bully pulpit, and we need to focus the nation’s attention on this critical issue for future generations of our students.”
Bill McKibben, Sterling College honorary alumnus and the founder of 350.org, said of the college’s move, “Sterling College has always been a leader in sustainability and environmentalism. I am thrilled that Sterling has decided that divestment is an important tool for reversing climate change.”
Clean Yield President Rian Fried, a trustee of Sterling, said, “With this action, not only will the social return of the portfolio increase, the safety of the long-term financial returns will also be significantly enhanced by shielding the college from direct exposure to companies whose production levels are unsustainable.”
Sterling College plans to organize a symposium to explore the challenges and benefits of transitioning to a fossil-free portfolio.
You can read more about Sterling’s divestment at http://www.sterlingcollege.edu/divestment.html. Our article, Can We Divest Ourselves Out of Global Warming?, appears in Clean Yield’s December 2012 newsletter.