Divestment looks to inspire vast reform

Illustration by Raya Deussen

By Andrew Hayes

The week prior to spring break was dedicated to celebrating the decision by the Lewis & Clark Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels.

The decision to divest from fossil fuels was made in response to a petition started by Students Engaged In Eco-defense (SEED). The LC Sustainability Council held a panel on March 21 discussing environmental responsibility in relation to investments. The panel was led by Jonas Kron, Senior Vice President and Director of Trillium, an asset management company, who worked with the Board of Trustees on managing their investments while preparing to divest from all fossil fuel investments.

“Divestment is also a political move, a political gesture,” Kron said. “I believe the companies we invest in should have societally beneficial results. It really takes a constellation of various pressures to cause change and we will keep knocking on their doors and increasing the pressure.”

Chief Investment Officer Carl Vance, who has been focusing on this issue for years, believes that divestment from fossil fuels will yield future benefits.

“By divesting Lewis & Clark will avoid a significant drop in valuations, when the markets agree fossil fuel companies can no longer be valued based upon their reserves in the ground,” Vance said. “Although it will be more difficult to measure, trustees also believe the college will do better recruiting and retaining both students and faculty, as a result of the divestment policy.”

Evelyn Hunsberger ’19, co-leader of SEED, believes the college’s dedication to environmental, social and corporate governance will set an example for other academic institutions concerned about climate change and global warming.

“I think that Lewis & Clark’s decision will set an example for the type of action that is required in the 21st century,” Hunsberger said. “Lewis & Clark’s decision proves that it is financially possible – and arguably recommended – for colleges with similar-sized endowments to divest.

Hunsberger has also reached out to other colleges to assist in making similar changes.

“I have already been in contact with students from other colleges who want to discuss SEED’s divestment campaign, in order to see if any of our strategies could be applicable at their institutions, thus LC’s outcome is already instigating cooperation between institutions,” Hunsberger said. “In addition, other colleges who label themselves as ‘green’ will now face more pressure to divest as well.”

Though it will be a five years before the school has fully divested from fossil fuels, LC’s promise to eco-friendly practices will be held accountable by the fifth guideline in the new policy, which states that “Lewis & Clark will provide an annual update to the broader campus community on holdings of fossil fuel securities in the endowment portfolio.”

Vance will be retiring at the end of this year. The responsibility of future endowment oversight will then be turned over to others.  

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