Stanford University To Divest From Coal Industry; Big Win For 'Fossil Free' Movement

 
on May 06 2014 7:55 PM

Stanford University announced Tuesday that it’s divesting from coal companies in a major victory for the “fossil free” divestment movement.

Stanford, in Palo Alto, Calif., which had an endowment worth $18.7 billion at last report, is far and away the largest and most influential university to make such a move, as the San Jose Mercury News notes.

“Stanford University will not make direct investments of endowment funds in publicly traded companies whose principal business is the mining of coal for use in energy generation,” the board of trustees stated.

The trustees cited Stanford's Statement on Investment Responsibility, which states that when the trustees judge that "corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury," they may include this factor in their investment decisions.

"Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations," said President John Hennessy. "The university's review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it."

The resolution means that Stanford will not directly invest in approximately 100 publicly traded companies for which coal extraction is the primary business, and will divest of any current direct holdings in such companies.

Fossil Free Stanford, which led the campaign to divest, hailed the move:

“Today, the climate movement won a groundbreaking victory. In a striking acknowledgement of the need for a bold and immediate response to climate change, Stanford University is divesting from the coal industry. The Stanford endowment, valued at $18.7 billion, will now become the largest in a growing group of funds to partially divest from fossil fuels. …

“We call on university administrators across the nation to follow Stanford’s lead and begin the process of divestment. This victory marks not the end of our campaign, but a call to action and a demonstration that our generation has the power to shape its own destiny. With millions of lives from California to Bangladesh depending on swift action, we cannot afford to fail.”

Stanford's move comes after protests last week by climate activists at other leading universities, the Washington Post reports. Seven students at Washington University in St. Louis were arrested demanding Peabody Energy chief executive Gregory H. Boyce resign from the university's board of trustees, and a student was arrested at Harvard University for trying along with half a dozen other students to blockade the office of Harvard President Drew Faust. More than 100 faculty members have signed a letter to Faust urging the university to divest.

"Stanford, on the edge of Silicon Valley, is at the forefront of the 21st century economy; it's very fitting, then, that they've chosen to cut their ties to the 18th century technology of digging up black rocks and burning them," climate activist Bill McKibben, a Middlebury College professor and founder of 350.org, said in a statement.

The divestment movement has convinced Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and other cities to shed fossil fuel firms. Other colleges that have divested include Hampshire College, Pitzer College, and College of the Atlantic.

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