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Divesting from fossil fuels: A progress report

November 05, 2019

Lewis & Clark has long embodied a spirit of curiosity and adventure linked to our location in the Pacific Northwest. Our study of and commitment to sustainability and the natural environment is tied to our unique place in the world.

In February 2018, Lewis & Clark College’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to divest from fossil fuel holdings in the endowment, approving the recommended policy changes prepared by a subcommittee formed to study the matter. Passing the resolution after multi-year conversations and study, the trustees affirmed that Lewis & Clark could simultaneously meet the critical objectives of best-in-class endowment management as well as environmental leadership. To reiterate, Lewis & Clark’s fossil fuel divestment policy states:

  • Lewis & Clark’s endowment shall not directly own any securities publicly issued by companies in the fossil fuel industry, specifically the largest owners of coal, oil, and natural gas reserves (“fossil fuel companies”).
  • Starting immediately, Lewis & Clark will make no investments in any new fund that has exposure to fossil fuel companies.
  • Over the next five years (before Dec. 31, 2022) Lewis & Clark will eliminate exposure to fossil fuel companies held indirectly through public commingled strategies. In addition, the college will exit all private limited partnership investments holding fossil fuel companies as they mature, which will take more than five years.
  • Consistent with the college’s existing ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] policy, Lewis & Clark will actively engage with existing investment managers to encourage them to adopt fossil fuel free investment options.
  • Lewis & Clark will provide an annual update to the broader campus community on holdings of fossil fuel securities in the endowment portfolio.

In many ways, Lewis & Clark has been on the path toward divestment for more than a decade—at least since the college signed onto the 2007 American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. That accord called on higher education institutions across the country to redouble their efforts to embrace environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions and doing more to combat climate change. The decision reinforces the vision statement laid out in Lewis & Clark’s recently adopted strategic plan, Exploring for the Global Good:

Lewis & Clark will be a national leader in higher education that prepares students for meaningful careers, civic engagement, and lifelong discovery. Together we seek a just and sustainable society here in Portland, across our nation, and around the world.

When formulating the divestment policy, the College made the conscious decision to monitor exposure to fossil fuels beyond just the largest publicly traded companies. This comprehensive approach differs from some institutions that have focused on a limited number of companies. 

The Board committed to full divestment from the college’s publicly traded investment strategies before December 31, 2022. As of December 31, 2018, following the first year of our divestment process, we reduced the exposure to publicly traded fossil fuel companies by over 50 percent, including fully exiting a fund investment that was dedicated to natural resource stocks, including many fossil fuel companies. We estimate the remaining exposure to publicly traded fossil fuel companies to be approximately 1.5 percent of total assets.

 

Pre-divestment

(12/31/2017)

After Year One

(12/31/2018)

Change

Public

$6.6m

2.8%

$3.1m

1.4%

($3.5m)

-53%

Private

$5.1m

2.1%

$5.2m

2.4%

$0.1m

2%

Total

$11.7m

4.9%

$8.4m

3.8%

($3.3m)

-28%

Lewis & Clark also has exposure to fossil fuel reserves owners through private investment funds, which are more challenging for the college to sell in the near-term without incurring a significant negative impact to performance.  As such, the college committed to make no further commitments to private investment funds with fossil fuel exposure, and will allow the existing investments to gradually mature with proceeds distributed according to industry practice, which could take longer than five years (as noted in the divestment policy). 

While much of the divestment conversation is focused on the strategies that Lewis & Clark is exiting, an equally important component of the college’s approach relates to where capital is re-deployed.  Since the divestment policy was enacted, the College has made commitments to strategies across multiple asset classes that have the potential to benefit from the transition to a low carbon economy. The college has committed $9 million to three different private investment funds focused on cleantech venture capital, renewable energy infrastructure, and other sustainable real assets.  Additionally, the college redeployed divestment proceeds with a global equity strategy focused on the water sector, and two diversified public equity strategies screened to remove fossil fuels owners and other companies with weak environmental, social and governance (ESG) characteristics. In total the college has approximately 25 percent of the endowment invested in sustainability-related funds.

In conclusion, Lewis & Clark is on track to meet its divestment goals and timelines, divesting from fossil fuels by December 2022. The college will provide its next annual progress report in the fall of 2020, based on the data made available after the 2019 calendar year end.

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