Warren Wilson College trustees vote to divest from fossil fuels

Warren Wilson College’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to divest endowment funds from fossil fuels. Photo by Morgan Davis

The $55 million dollar endowment of Warren Wilson College is being pulled out of the fossil fuel industry. Following a vote by the school’s Board of Trustees, the portion of the endowment that has been diversified to include fuel commodities, and other non renewable energy, will be removed over the course of the next five years. The stated intention of the body is to reinvest the money in companies that stress the importance of environmental responsibility.

The move comes partially in response to campus activism and strong movement among faculty, staff and students pushing for the college’s investment policy to better align with the prevailing ethos of environmentalism on campus. There is also a ripple of  roughly 25 colleges nation wide making the same choice with their endowments.

Complete press release from Warren Wilson College:

Warren Wilson College’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously at its fall meeting to divest endowment funds from fossil fuels over the next five years. In a move that aligns the College’s investments with its core values, the nearly $55 million endowment will be separated from corporations listed among the Carbon Underground 200, which contains the world’s top coal, oil and gas companies. The Board further adopted a Responsible Investment Policy that includes environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) considerations and management strategies. In addition, no new endowment funds will be invested in fossil fuel companies.

President Steve Solnick commented, “We’re excited to be joining this national movement of higher education institutions taking stands about the future of the planet. The Trustees have taken a bold step to align our investments with our core mission values. I’m also pleased that in doing so, they have recognized the strong sentiment from faculty, staff and students who have launched an effective campaign of education and advocacy, very much in the Warren Wilson tradition. This is campus activism at its best.”

The Board’s decision is the final step in a process that included a faculty and staff resolution endorsing divestment. Additionally, a student group met with the Board’s Investment Committee to advocate for divestment and also participated in the selection of new investment advisors.

Among the students who met with the Investment Committee was Larissa Robinov, a junior originally from New York City. “While we know divestment isn’t the only answer to climate change, it’s a good step in the right direction,” she said. “We think it’s important to show our support for fighting climate change, albeit slowly. It’s what we as a school and students stand for.”

As Warren Wilson College divests from fossil fuels, new investments will be made in companies that demonstrate commitment to environmental sustainability, community and economic development, social diversity in hiring, and transparency and accountability in corporate governance, among other traits. The College’s Responsible Investment Policy also calls for investments that “provide a qualitative impact consistent with the values, culture and mission of Warren Wilson College.”

“There are two aspects of the Responsible Investment Policy that are particularly exciting for me,” said Alice Buhl, Chair, Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees. “First, it gives us a principled procedure to look for positive investments that are going to be consistent with our values. Secondly, we are establishing a group made up of students, faculty and staff members that will advise the Board’s Investment Committee about future investments and assess the impact we have already made under the new policy.”

In mid-September, a research firm, Arabella Advisors, announced that “436 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries and representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.” Warren Wilson College is one of roughly 25 U.S. colleges and universities, including Georgetown University, Stanford University and Syracuse University, pledging, in full or in part, to divest.

Ben Linthicum, a senior who also met with the Investment Committee, said, “It is so great to see this come to fruition while I am still a student. It’s awesome to see that the students had an impact along with the Investment Committee, the faculty, staff and administrators. It reinforces our position as one of the top green schools in the country. Warren Wilson College truly cares about its impact on the planet.”

Warren Wilson College ranks 54 among the nation’s 153 “Cool Schools,” which is an indication of the institution’s “greenness” as determined by Sierra magazine. The College has been named a “Cool School” nine consecutive times mirroring the total number of lists published since rankings began in 2007.

For more information, visit warren-wilson.edu.

About Able Allen
Able studied political science and history at Warren Wilson College. He enjoys travel, dance, games, theater, blacksmithing and the great outdoors. Follow me @AbleLAllen

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