February 6, 2020; Washington Post
Georgetown University’s president, John DeGioia, has announced that the university will stop making new investments from endowment funds in fossil fuel companies and will move to withdraw funds already invested in those firms. The decision, reports Susan Svrluga in the Washington Post, was made by the school’s board of directors amidst pressure from students and other campus activists.
According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, as of July 2019, Georgetown’s endowment is valued at $1.822 billion, the 61st-largest university endowment in the nation. The board’s decision directs endowment funds to be invested in areas such as renewable energy, and it freezes investments in companies and funds that focus on the extraction of fossil fuels. The measure commits the university to exit all investments in publicly traded fossil fuel companies by 2025 and in private investments by 2030. The board’s vote is in accord with the recommendation from the university’s Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility.
“We are thrilled!” Lucy Chatfield, a sophomore member of GU Fossil Free, a student-led group, tells Svrluga. “We are so excited and so proud of Georgetown for taking this step, and so proud of the work everyone has been doing since 2012.”
As Svrluga writes, the decision by Georgetown is part of a broader international campaign to reduce fossil fuel use, with student campaigns now under way at hundreds of universities. To date, 1,184 institutions worldwide have announced divestment measures; these institutions collectively hold assets of $14.09 trillion.
Svrluga adds that one motivation for the decision at Georgetown was that it boosted the university’s efforts to honor Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment.
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“His words inform and strengthen our commitment to the environment, and to one another,” DeGioia wrote in a message to campus. Georgetown is affiliated with the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church.
DeGioia added, “The work of understanding and responding to the demands of climate change is urgent and complex. It requires our most serious attention.”
Peter Marra, who directs the Georgetown Environment Initiative, a campus-wide effort to study environment issues, describes the board’s decision as “a major step forward, but also one of many in a comprehensive and complex set of commitments that Georgetown is making to sustainability and to the environment more broadly.”
Georgetown’s vote comes just after Harvard University’s faculty voted by a margin of 179–20 to urge divestment of the school’s $39.4 billion endowment from fossil fuel companies.
Other environmental measures being taken at Georgetown in addition to divestment include programs that encourage students to donate items to people living in poverty rather than throwing their belongings away at the end of the academic year, and the funding of research into the global decline of pollinators, such as bees. Georgetown has also added a number of academic programs, including an undergraduate minor in environmental studies and a business-school certificate in sustainable business.
Writing on behalf of the investment committee, Michael Barry emphasizes that the school’s move to divest from fossil fuel stocks is also a move to invest more money in renewable fuel equities. “Divestment allows us to divert more capital to fund development of renewable energy projects that will play a vital role in the transition away from fossil fuels—part of the long-term solution required to prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change.”—Steve Dubb