First proposal submitted to ACIR demands University divestment from fossil fuel companies


Evan Robinson-Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Members of the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility. Fossil Free Northwestern urged the committee to move forward with a proposal calling on the University to divest itself of all holdings in fossil fuel companies and reinvest in green energy.

Pranav Baskar, Assistant Campus Editor

In the first proposal ever submitted to the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, members of Fossil Free Northwestern called on the University to divest itself of all holdings in the top 100 oil, gas and coal companies, demanding a commitment to sustainable investment in renewable energy.

The proposal — which was presented at the committee’s Tuesday meeting held in Scott Hall — cited millions of dollars in University investments to the fossil fuel industry, which includes $3.9 million to coal companies and $45.4 million to oil and gas firms.

Weinberg senior Carolina Laguna, a member of Fossil Free Northwestern, said the goal of the plan was to create a feasible scheme for the University to transition away from fossil fuel-based investments as expeditiously as possible, while simultaneously allowing it to diversify its investment portfolio — prioritizing green investments over non-renewable ones.

The proposal, if ratified by the Board of Trustees, would require the University to “stop future investments (in fossil fuel companies), implement a five-year plan to phase out existing ones and roll out a reinvestment strategy for green energy,” Laguna said.

“Investing in fossil fuels is simply not compatible with socially responsible investment,” Laguna said. “How is it possible that we are preaching and publicizing our commitment to end climate change while investing millions into an industry that is directly causing it? This is hypocrisy.”

Communications senior Leo Gallagher said he and other members of Fossil Free Northwestern submitted the proposal to the ACIR in January. He encouraged the committee to be transparent about its consideration of the proposal, pledging to a concrete, clear timeline for making headway on the plan.

“I know there’s no date set for when ACIR is going to decide whether to give a final recommendation to the Board of Trustees for action on this proposal, but I want a date on the books for when you’re going to review this,” he said to the group. “I want to know you’ve all read it. I want to know you’re meeting on it. And I want to know when those dates are.”

ACIR secretary Jared Spitz said the committee “fully respects” the time students have put into the proposal and that he hopes to have a final recommendation by the end of the academic year. He added that the ACIR is currently in the process of soliciting community feedback by publicizing the proposal on its website to drive further conversation.

“We’re going to try as hard as we can to go as fast as we can,” he said. “Ultimately, though, we are beholden to the Board of Trustees’ schedule.”

Indeed, even if the ACIR’s final recommendation on Fossil Free Northwestern’s proposal does arrive by the end of the year, the committee has no enforcement power; the decision to actually approve and follow through on the plan lies with the Board of Trustees.

In that interim, students are concerned.

Gallagher said Northwestern’s failure to act places it behind other peer universities — like the University of California school system, which has already divested $200 million — and runs contrary to its dedication to sustainability.

“Not a day goes by where we don’t witness the disastrous effects of climate change,” Medill senior and Fossil Free Northwestern member Audrey DeBruine said. “As a planet we have passed the threshold of what is considered catastrophic environmental damage. Any financial incentive to fossil fuel companies is antithetical to what we need to be doing.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @pranav_baskar

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