The Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility voted against GU Fossil Free’s divestment proposal Monday night and instead recommended to the university’s board of directors a program of targeted divestment, strategic engagement and continuing assessment as an alternative course of action.
The decision, which was originally scheduled to be released after CISR’s meeting Jan. 16, came after months of negotiations between GU Fossil Free, CISR and the university on GU Fossil Free’s proposal for the university to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
CISR, which consists of 12 voting members including four students, three professors and five university administrators, will present its recommendation to the Committee on Finance and Administration of the board of directors in a meeting in February.
According to a document released by CISR last night and a separate statement from CISR Chair and Georgetown University Law Center Associate Dean for Transitional Programs Jim Feinerman, the majority of CISR members voted against full divestment, though no tally was released. However, a majority also supported an alternative approach to divestment that reflects the moral, environmental and fiduciary concerns of the university.
“After lengthy discussion, CISR concurred with the need to act in light of these concerns, but did not support the proposal for full divestment submitted by Georgetown University Fossil Free,” the release read.
Instead, CISR’s recommendation offers targeted divestment as an alternative, specifically targeting the top 100 companies that cause significant environmental damage from coal mining. Subsequently, the recommendation exempts oil and gas companies from divestment. The CFA and the university’s Investment Office will identify the specific companies for divestment.
“Over a reasonable time period and consistent with good stewardship, Georgetown should divest from energy companies with the worst environmental impact, least commitment to alternative energy and least responsiveness to engagement efforts,” the release read. “Specifically, the university should divest from companies whose principal business is the mining of coal for use in energy production because there are energy alternatives that have less harmful environmental impact.”
CISR’s recommendation also calls for strategic engagement, which advocates for Georgetown to leverage its role as a shareholder of energy companies and to engage in active dialogue to reduce these companies’ harmful environmental impact.
“These efforts should include not only voting on, developing or supporting shareholder resolutions consistent with our principles, but also working with others to develop shareholder resolutions, and to seek opportunities to raise these issues in dialogue and communications with companies as well as other policymakers,” the release read.
The last part of the alternate solution proposed by CISR is the continued assessment of advances in the university’s environmental objectives. CISR recommends the appointment of a working group to produce a full review of the impact of targeted divestment and engagement after three years.
Additionally, a statement released by CISR Chair Jim Feinerman also stressed the importance of the university’s continued efforts in researching solutions and raising awareness about environmental issues.
“CISR further acknowledges and supports the work of academic departments of the university with relevant expertise that continue to contribute to the advancement of these goals with their resources, research and engagement in the public discourse on issues related to climate change, global warming and sustainability,” Feinerman wrote.
Three hours after CISR announced its decision, GU Fossil Free published a response on its website on behalf of the organization expressing disapproval of the CISR vote.
“The CISR’s decision not to support full divestment is disappointing,” the response read. “Partial divestment is an insufficient tactic, and, in light of the challenges at hand, is ideologically inconsistent with the CISR’s mandate to align Georgetown’s investments with its ethical standards.”
In particular, GU Fossil Free criticized the alternative plan for targeted divestment recommended by CISR, citing the insufficiency of only divesting from coal companies.
“Divestment from only coal would effectively legitimize other fossil fuel sectors whose products pose just as severe a threat to global human rights,” the response read. “While we would encourage divestment from any fossil fuel companies, partial divestment does not recognize the severity of the injustices perpetuated by the sector as a whole.”
GU Fossil Free also labeled CISR’s recommendations for strategic engagement and continued assessment as unrealistic.
“[S]hareholder advocacy efforts with companies whose objectionable behavior makes up the core of their business will never bring about the kind of adjustment that urgently needs to take place,” the response read. “These companies’ entire business model revolves around the unethical extraction and combustion of the carbon reserves they profess to own; engaging with these companies will not change this fact.”
Despite its disappointment with CISR’s recommendation, GU Fossil Free expressed hope for the board of directors to vote in favor of full divestment in February.
“We hope that members of the board of directors will favor a more decisive commitment to moral leadership and opt for comprehensive divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies across all sectors,” the release read.
A statement released by Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh praised the collective efforts of CISR and GU Fossil Free in engaging the university community in this dialogue regarding the university’s environmental responsibilities.
“We are grateful to the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility for their work and to GU Fossil Free for the important contributions they have made to the question of how we make and meet our sustainability goals, as it relates to our endowment and investments,” Pugh wrote.