The Whitman College Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to begin the process of reducing investment in fossil fuels as part of a comprehensive commitment to sustainability.
"The Board's decision reflects our belief that global climate change presents a uniquely serious threat to the well-being of both the Whitman community and the world, and that fossil fuels are a major contributor to that change," said Nancy Serrurier, Chair. "We are pleased to put Whitman on a path to divestment from fossil fuels in a way that honors the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board of Trustees."
This action, approved on Friday, Nov. 9, and announced to the Whitman community soon after, was taken in response to a proposal submitted earlier this year by Divest Whitman, a student-led organization. While the proposal asked for divestment from coal as a first step, the Board of Trustees decided that the urgent issue of climate change necessitates eventual divestment from all fossil fuels, and that setting such a trajectory now is the right move.
"None of us could believe the news, I got phone calls asking whether or not I was joking and texts flooded in from alumni who worked so hard on this campaign," said Divest Whitman leader Genean Wrisley, a senior politics-environmental studies major. "This is a testament to student action and the power that students, collectively, have to enact change on campus."
While Whitman's current holdings in fossil fuels represent only a small percentage of the college's overall endowment, the Board believes that Whitman's efforts to divest, in conjunction with those of other colleges and universities, can spur meaningful long-term change in the energy industry. The college will therefore not invest in any new funds that at the time of the investment include securities in any companies listed in the Carbon Underground 200, an index of the top publicly-traded fossil fuel reserve holders globally.
In addition, Whitman will phase out existing holdings in non-marketable private funds that include companies owning fossil fuel reserves, and will continue to monitor the environment related to fossil fuel-free investments while searching for new funds that invest in companies developing alternative energy sources.
"The Whitman community has long worked to reduce the college's carbon footprint," said President Kathleen Murray. "I am confident that this commitment from the Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels will help to energize other ongoing campus sustainability efforts and inspire new initiatives."