Smith Moves Forward with Mixed Efforts for Sustainability

Veronica Brown '17 Assistant News Editor

After extensive campaigning from Divest Smith College and a landslide vote in favor of divestment from fossil fuels last April, President Kathleen McCartney announced on September 8 that the Board of Trustees has decided to re-invest Smith’s endowment of over $1.5 billion in fossil fuels to a sustainable global equities fund. The college will simultaneously move forward with several on-campus sustainability initiatives.

The endowment currently has a total fossil fuels exposure of 6.5%, 2.7% of which is in publicly traded investments and 3.8% of which is in private equity holdings. According to the president’s announcement, “nearly 9% or $150 million of the college’s endowment portfolio is invested with managers whose decisions are guided by environmental, social or governance factors.”

Divest Smith College sees the $1 million re-investment as a promising sign, explaining the decision “reminds us that student activism is not only extremely important, but also effective.”

Complete divestment remains Divest Smith College’s ultimate goal. Smith maintains that full divestment would not be an economically advisable practice, citing studies that show “an estimated $140 million impact on endowment returns over a 10-year period — or, on average, $14 million less per year for the college’s operating budget.”

Unity College, a small environmental science school in Maine, has fully divested without seeing any detriment to its endowment, but no college with an endowment over $1 billion has yet committed to full divestment. Unity has an endowment of $15 million while in 2013, Smith had an endowment of $1.557 billion. The college with the largest endowment to commit to full divestment is currently Pitzer College, with an endowment of $125 million.

The Pioneer Valley has led the country in divestment from the fossil fuel industry. Both Hampshire College and the city of Northampton also committed to full divestment.

In her email, President McCartney emphasized Smith’s commitment to fostering the creation of an environmentally sustainable campus. The efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the campus include co-generating power, increasing solar power and the local sourcing of food in dining services.

Although on-campus initiatives help reduce Smith’s carbon footprint, Divest Smith College explains, “divestment is not just an environmental issue, it is a social justice issue. It is a human issue.” The fossil fuel industry often creates harmful conditions for workers and communities. In Holyoke, the site of a coal-fired power plant, one in four children has asthma.

As a new year begins, Divest Smith College looks forward to continuing “to pursue a diverse and dynamic conversation about the benefits and tradeoffs of aligning our money with our morals.”