Board of Trustees adopts recommendations on climate change

Photo Courtesy of ||  In an email on Monday, President McCartney announced the college would take concrete steps to divest its endowment. 

Photo Courtesy of || In an email on Monday, President McCartney announced the college would take concrete steps to divest its endowment. 

Katherine Hazen ‘18 and Tyra Wu ‘19
Editor-in-Chief and Associate Editor

In a campus-wide email sent Monday, President Kathleen McCartney and Board of Trustees Chair Deborah Duncan ’77 that the college will adopt four strategic recommendations to divest the endowment of fossil fuels. The decision came at the Saturday meeting of the Board of Trustees.  

The recommendations came from a group of trustees, faculty, staff and students known as the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR). ACIR’s suggestions were largely informed by the Study Group on Climate Change from March and the “advocacy of Divest Smith College and the Student Government Association,” the email stated. 

The recommendations will influence how Smith’s $1.8 billion endowment will be invested. The first recommendation states that Smith will gradually increase its impact investments from $9.5 million to $30 million. 

The board also voted to increase the number of funds and managers who follow environmental, social and governance principles, according to the email. The Investment Committee, a subsection of the Board of Trustees, will avoid any future direct holdings in coal. 

As the recommendations are implemented, Smith will continue to report on the progress.

“I think the recommendations of the ACIR and the Trustees’ adoption of those recommendations are a good first step,” Professor Susan Sayre, who teaches Environmental Economics, said in an email to The Sophian . “We should continue to use our position as a purchaser of investment services to push for those opportunities and to encourage Investure [the college’s outsourced investment office] to be in the forefront of that development.”

“Given the landscape of investment opportunities today,” Sayre continued. “My sense is that immediate full divestment would likely impose financial costs on the college that exceed the benefit it would have in terms of reducing climate change.” 

Last week Divest Smith College, a student group that has led this charge since 2012, behind a protest outside Seelye Hall, coinciding with the arrival of the Board of Trustees. According to Divest, more than $100 million of the endowment is currently invested in fossil fuels. 

Divest Smith College told The Sophian via email that while “we are very pleased that the committee, after two years of deliberation, finally produced a concrete set of recommendations regarding climate change and that the board has approved them ... our goal remains the same as always: full fossil fuel divestment.” The group was specifically pleased with the recommendation to avoid future holdings in coal. 

“Taking a broader perspective, the college has a number of choices about how to contribute to reducing climate change,” Sayre said. “While I’m certainly not in a position to say so definitively, my rough sense is that dollar for dollar, we will have a larger impact from dollars spent on reducing our institutional carbon footprint and investing in regional carbon reduction activities than we will through immediate divestment.”

President McCartney signed off her email Monday by celebrating the accomplishment of aligning the endowment with the values of Smith’s mission in “educating women of promise for lives of distinction and purpose.”