Stanford University Will Purge Coal Investments From Its $18.7 Billion Endowment

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Stanford University announced Tuesday it would divest from the coal industry, making it the first major university to do so.

The university’s internal guidelines allow the Board of Trustees to consider whether the “policies or practices” of companies they invest in “create substantial social injury.” Following a five-month review process, an advisory panel that included students, faculty, staff and alumni recommended that stocks from companies “whose principal business is coal” be sold off and excluded from any future investments. On Tuesday, the Board voted to follow through on that conclusion.

Lisa Lapin, Stanford’s associate vice president for communications, told the New York Times that the decision covers about 100 companies around the globe, some of whom are currently in Stanford’s investment portfolio and some of whom are not. Those that are account for only a small portion of the $18.7 endowment, “but a small percentage is still a substantial amount of money,” Lapin added.

“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 Stanford President John Hennessy. “Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.”

The process was kicked off when a student-led protest group, Fossil Free Stanford, asked the university to divest from the 200 largest fossil-fuel companies. The group is Stanford’s branch of a nationwide effort to encourage major institutions to drop their investments in sources of energy that result in humanity’s carbon emissions and thus drive climate change. Other major universities such as Harvard and Brown have resisted the pressure. But 11 smaller universities including Pitzer College and San Francisco State have agreed to divest, as have a number of other foundations with total investments of $1.8 billion, as well as some cities and religious organizations.

Stanford declined to divest from oil and natural gas companies, making the victory for Fossil Free Stanford only partial. But Deborah DeCotis, the chairwoman of the board’s special committee on investment responsibility, also told the New York Times this may not be the end of the matter.

“This is not the ending point. It’s a process,” she said. “We’re a research institute, and as the technology develops to make other forms of alternative energy sources available, we will continue to review and make decisions about things we should not be invested in. Don’t interpret this as a pass on other things.”