UMass Becomes First Major Public University to Divest from Direct Fossil Fuel Holdings

Divestment

BOSTON – The University of Massachusetts today became the first major public university to divest its endowment from direct holdings in fossil fuels. The decision was made by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation, a separate not-for-profit corporation that oversees an endowment whose value was $770 million at the end of the last fiscal year.

The decision followed a series of developments that signaled the University community’s desire to fight climate change. Last year, the Foundation voted to divest from direct holdings in coal companies in response to a petition from the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, a student group. The UMass Board of Trustees later endorsed the Foundation’s decision and described climate change as “a serious threat to the planet.” Last month, the Campaign staged a series of demonstrations at UMass Amherst to call for divestment from all fossil fuels.

“This action is consistent with the principals that have guided our university since its Land Grant inception and reflects our commitment to take on the environmental challenges that confront us all,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “Important societal change often begins on college campuses and it often begins with students. I’m proud of the students and the entire University community for putting UMass at the forefront of a vital movement, one that has been important to me throughout my professional life.”

During last month’s protest at UMass Amherst, Meehan met with two representatives of the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, Sarah Jacqz and Kristie Herman. After that meeting, he said he was prepared to recommend that UMass build on its coal divestment by removing from its endowment direct investments in fossil fuel companies and making additional investments in clean/sustainable energy.

To accomplish the latter, Meehan also announced today that he planned to tap the President’s Science and Technology Initiative Fund, which last year provided more than $900,000 in grants to UMass faculty researchers, to ensure future funding for sustainability/green technology projects. He said that UMass is also set to boost its academic and financial involvement in offshore wind energy.

“The Foundation’s action today makes a powerful statement about UMass’s commitment to combatting climate change and protecting our environment,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “It also speaks volumes about our students’ passionate commitment to social justice and the environment. It is largely due to their advocacy that that this important issue has received the attention that it deserves.”

UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Victor Woolridge said he would ask the Board to endorse the Foundation’s decision when it meets on June 15.

“With this vote, the UMass Foundation adopts a divestment position that is among the most aggressive established for any major university—public or private—in the United States,” said Woolridge. “We do so, in part, because members of the UMass community have urged us to consider divestment in moral terms. Since we acknowledge the moral imperative, we are willing to go beyond last year’s action and take this additional step, but we’re also mindful of our moral and fiduciary obligation to safeguard the University’s endowment, which provides critical funding for faculty research and student scholarships, and must be protected against losses. We believe this conclusive action balances those two priorities.”

“Divesting from investments in any particular sector is not done lightly and we have done so rarely,” said Foundation Treasurer and Investment Committee Chairman Edward H. D’Alelio. “The Foundation’s primary responsibility is a fiduciary one. Its primary mission is overseeing the endowment in an effort to maximize returns on funds donated for research, academic programs, financial aid and other purposes. That we took this step reflects not just our comfort as fiduciaries but the seriousness with which we see climate change.”

In addition to its divestment moves, the Foundation has taken a series of other steps to promote socially responsible investing. These include:

  • Becoming a founding member of the Intentional Endowment Network, which supports colleges, universities, and other mission-driven tax-exempt organizations in aligning their endowment investment practices with their mission, values, and sustainability goals without sacrificing financial returns.
  • Formally incorporating into its investment policies Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria.
  • Establishing a Social Choice Endowment option for donors.
  • Becoming a signatory to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which provides a global system for organizations to measure, disclose, manage and share environmental information.

The Foundation’s efforts are part of a broader University commitment to sustainability—grounded in its origins as a land-grant university and its original mission as an agricultural school—that is reflected in the following achievements and initiatives:

  • UMass conducts more than $20 million in environmental science research annually, and is recognized as a leader in areas including wind energy, climate science, marine science and biofuels.
  • UMass Amherst ranked 21st in the 2015 edition of The Princeton Review’s Guide to 353 Green Colleges.
  • UMass Boston launched the world’s first doctoral program in Green Chemistry.
  • At UMass Dartmouth, researchers are developing technology to generate power from ocean and tidal currents.
  • UMass Lowell’s National Science Foundation-supported research center brings together wind-energy industry and research experts to create next-generation thinking and technology.
  • UMass Medical’s Albert Sherman Center, a LEED Gold research and education center that opened in 2013, employed an energy-efficient design and advanced technologies that make it 25 percent more efficient than similar buildings.
  • Since 2007, the UMass system has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent, with UMass Amherst reducing its emissions by 23 percent.
  • The University has aggressively increased the use of renewable energy, entering into 15 separate solar contracts with 10 different solar developers, with the vast majority already operational. When all fully on line, they will generate 59 million kilowatt hours and help the state’s electric grid avoid 28,500 metric tons of CO2. Over 20 years, UMass solar operations will allow the grid to avoid more than 544,000 metric tons of CO2.
  • The University is a founding member of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, a data center that supports the computing needs of the state’s five most research-intensive universities. The facility is the first university data center in the U.S. to be LEED platinum certified.

About the UMass Foundation

The UMass Foundation is a private, non-profit corporation founded in 1950 to foster and promote the growth, progress and general welfare of the University of Massachusetts, recently ranked as the No. 1 public university in New England in the World University Rankings. The Foundation provides a depository for charitable contributions to UMass, manages the University’s endowment, promotes private support of public higher education, and supports the fundraising efforts of the five UMass campuses—UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School.