Over the summer, several alumni thought about divestment and reinvestment and the steps to take to get there. We did research, thought through outreach, and put together this website and other tools for people to learn and follow along.
The public campaign is starting with a letter. The Communications Team put together an initial draft and several volunteers poured time into revisions, making sure that this letter presents a strong case for divestment and reinvestment. When the smoke cleared, after around 30 hours of volunteer time, a solid letter emerged. We hope you'll share it with Ephs you know. Here it is:
Dear Williams friends,
Now is the time. Join a growing movement of Ephs who believe that Williams College’s investments should reflect the best climate science and the College’s core values of civic leadership, integrity, and service to society at large. Visit the Williams Endowment Initiative now to:
sign the petition urging Williams to lead our peers by divesting our endowment of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies and by re-investing in activities that support energy conservation, alternative energy, and healthy and resilient communities;
study the divestment issue;
learn ways to build the divestment movement;
and share your thoughts with us.
We understand that changing our investment strategy is not to be taken lightly. The College’s $1.8 billion endowment is one of our greatest assets: perhaps most importantly, it allows us to offer significant financial aid so that an increasingly diverse student body can access a world-class education. By investing in fossil fuel companies, however, the College is directly supporting climate change and profiting from activities that undermine future generations’ health, well-being, and economic and political stability. Plus, fossil-based investments simply aren’t necessary for generating the income that Williams needs to offer the best possible liberal arts education.
Here’s why we think Williams should adopt a forward-thinking and responsible investment strategy:
1. A Williams education should not depend on investments that pose significant risks to humans worldwide. By choosing to invest in the fossil fuel industry, we are financing and profiting from companies whose primary business activities—extracting and selling fossil fuels to be burned—are the largest global contributors to climate change. Scientists have meticulously detailed the expected consequences of climate change, including the flooding of cities and low-lying coastal areas, major new public health threats and difficulties controlling infectious diseases, habitat degradation and species extinctions, unprecedented food and water insecurity, and ensuing economic and political instability in some parts of the world (U.S. Global Change Research Program, UN IPCC, US Dept. of Defence). Williams can take our money out of the fossil fuel sector and reinvest in activities that promote a better future for students and alumni.
2. Divestment will make Williams stronger and more secure. Respected investment analysts predict that fossil-based portfolios will become more volatile as the world community begins to address climate change; by contrast, fossil-free portfolios often outperform their counterparts without increased risk (Aperio Group, MSCI, Impax, HIP). In their historical analysis of several large portfolios, Impax concluded that “removing the fossil fuel sector in its entirety and replacing it with ‘fossil free’ portfolios of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other alternative energy stocks… would have improved returns” (Impax). Williams should take advantage of opportunities to re-invest in initiatives that actually promote social and environmental well being while generating profits, as we’ve done in the past with Berkshire Capital Investors and energy efficiency on campus.
3. We need Williams to be a leader NOW. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise despite decades of scientific warnings and international political negotiations. Williams has done a great job of supporting research, teaching, and on-campus sustainability initiatives oriented toward climate change mitigation. Now we need to make our investments consistent with our knowledge and values. Fortunately, we already have a process in place to facilitate these changes. The Williams Investment Office performs a rigorous and continuous investigation of our 90+ fund managers in order to set reasonable guidelines and restrictions. We can work through this established process to help fund managers identify which sectors we cannot support and which new investment opportunities are best for the College. Once a major client like Williams clearly states that it cannot support fossil-based businesses, this will help lay the groundwork for other colleges, pension funds, and foundations who want to divest but have less clout. In short, Williams can blaze a path for the whole movement.
We love Williams and we appreciate the careful stewardship of resources that allows the College to excel in all it does. We also know that the College sometimes needs encouragement from key stakeholders like alumni and students in order live up to its mission and values. Responding to climate change will require more than simply changing light bulbs and building green buildings. It requires us to work through the institutions and communities that we are a part of to initiate larger-scale changes. That’s why we’re asking you to join this movement and help Williams become a leader. We can sit on the sidelines and watch the disasters unfold or we can jump in and use our resources to support real, meaningful solutions.
Sign up now at www.williamsendowment.org—let’s build the momentum for Williams to do the right thing!
Sincerely, the undersigned (and growing) list of alumni & students:
Alexandra Carr ‘13
Brian Burke ‘02
Christine Hunt Kearsley ‘06
Dana Golden ‘13
Daniel Shearer ‘04
Gaye Symington ‘76
Heather Foran ‘04
Jamie Hunt ‘03
Jen Lazar ‘04
Jesse Levitt '08
Jordan Goldwarg ‘03
Laurent A. Parks Daloz ‘62
Liz Gleason ‘08
Liz Kaplan ‘04
Maggie Potter ‘04
Mark Orlowski '04
Mike Eros ‘04
Mike Henry ‘04
Morgan Goodwin ‘08
Sophie Robinson ‘11
Williams College 2013 Convocation Speech by Bill Moomaw (Class of ’59, former Williams College Professor of Chemistry, lead contributor to the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaK5bbrfMTA
A New Divestment Focus on Campus: Fossil Fuels
Go Fossil Free campaign resources:
Resilient Portfolios and Fossil Free Pensions: http://631nj1ki9k11gbkhx39b3qpzua.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/files/2013/05/Resilient-Portfolios-and-Fossil-Free-Pensions.pdf
Aperio Group: Do the investment math [returns and risks of fossil-free portfolios]: http://www.aperiogroup.com/system/files/documents/building_a_carbon_free_portfolio.pdf
MSCI report on fossil-free investment:
Impax report showing fossil-free portfolios outperforming
Top 200 companies by estimated oil and coal reserves:
Williams students kick-off divestment campaign with College Council resolution
Williams Record editorial on divestment: