News: Featured Stories

December 9, 2015

Board of Trustees endorses Foundation’s divestment from coal

  • The UMass System
Board urges continued reduction of endowment’s carbon footprint.

LOWELL – The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees today approved a statement on climate change, describing it as ``a serious threat to the planet,’’ and endorsed the UMass Foundation’s decision to divest from any direct holdings in coal companies.

The Board also recommended that over the next five years the Foundation ``continue to evaluate ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the endowment and pursue investment opportunities which promote environmental sustainability.’’

Board Chairman Victor Woolridge, who has actively engaged with UMass student  divestment groups for the past year, said after the vote: ``I think it’s a very significant statement that goes a long way in demonstrating our commitment to reducing fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere.’’

He added: ``I’m glad the students brought up the issue, because it is just as much their planet as it is ours.’’

The Board’s action brought cheers from members of the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign who attended the meeting. Peter Boretus, a junior at UMass Lowell and Mica Reel, a sophomore at UMass Amherst, both members of the nationwide Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network, addressed Trustees before their vote.

``If this statement is a commitment of the UMass community to address the climate crisis, let us truly work together as a community to move this commitment forward,’’ Reel said.

The statement on fossil fuel divestment was supported by 18 of the 19 voting members of the Board of Trustees; Trustee Edward W. Collins Jr. abstained.

Education Secretary James Peyser, who supported the statement, said before the Board’s vote: "On behalf of the Governor and myself, I want to thank the Chairman for his attention to this issue and his diligence in crafting language that is both reasonable and practical from the perspective of the Foundation’s fiduciary responsibility and, at the same time, forthright in affirming the Board’s position in support of reducing the University’s carbon footprint.’’

The Foundation’s divestment decision, announced last week, is the latest in a series of steps that the Foundation has taken to adopt socially responsible investing practices, including formally incorporating into its investment policies Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria, establishing a Social Choice Endowment option for donors, and becoming a signatory to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which provides a global system for organizations to measure, disclose, manage and share environmental information.

The steps the Foundation is taking on divestment are consistent with the leading role the University has played in addressing climate change through research, academic programs, student engagement and its own energy policies.  In 2007, for example, the University President and all five campus Chancellors signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.  Since then, UMass has succeeded in reducing its carbon emissions by an average 4 percent per year.

The divestment decision by the Foundation Board of Directors followed a deliberative process that began with the creation of a Socially Responsible Investing Advisory Committee in November 2014 to serve as a forum in which social investment issues such as environmental sustainability could be raised, discussed and reviewed.  The eight-member Committee is made up of faculty, administrators, alumni and students.

In March, the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign submitted a formal petition asking the Foundation to divest.  Before making a recommendation to the Board, the Socially Responsible Investing Advisory Committee met with representatives of the Campaign and researched the issue over several months.  Based on the Committee’s recommendation, the Board voted to divest from investments in coal.

Contact: Ann Scales, 617-287-4084