Northland College divesting oil, coal and gas investments

The small college’s board of trustees last week voted to fully divest all of the school’s endowment funds from fossil fuel related investments — coal, oil and gas companies — within five years.

The move comes after student activists have been pushing for the action since 2012.

Nearly 3 percent of the school’s $28 million endowment, about $823,000, is currently invested in fossil fuels, according to the group Carbon Underground 200.

The college, which focuses on environmental studies and sustainability, vows to replace oil, coal and gas investments with “more socially responsible investments with no new endowment funds invested in fossil fuel companies.”

“To truly embrace our environmental mission, it is incumbent upon us to mindfully remove fossil fuel companies from our endowment portfolio,” said Mike Fiorio, a Northland College trustee and alumnus and a 32-year veteran of the financial services industry and a partner of Fiorio Wealth Advisors. “I’m proud to say that the Northland College board of trustees has embraced this initiative.”

Based on data from the last 25 years looking at portfolios that incorporate fossil fuels and those that don’t, Fiorio, who sits on the college’s Investment Committee, said that there would be little or no long-term impact on returns for the school.

Northland College is following a national trend. According to 350.org, an international organization tracking and advocating for divestment, 746 institutions — including churches, cities, corporations, nonprofits and schools — representing more than $5.2 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment.

According to the website gofossilfree.org, Northland joins institutions like the cities of Oakland, Calif., and Portland, Ore., in going fossil-free. Oregon State University and the University of Maryland have fully divested fossil fuel investments, Boston University has divested from coal and tar sand oil investments and Stanford University has dropped all coal investments.

Northland College’s student-run Environmental Council had been leading the effort, said Emily Donaldson, a 2017 graduate, who spoke before the board of trustees. Donaldson is a research assistant at the Northland College Center for Rural Communities and previously directed the Environmental Council.

“This is one small step toward a more sustainable future that combats climate change and those culpable in perpetuating it — and one that is attainable and fitting for us as an environmental liberal arts college,” Donaldson said. “However, as we join other institutions in this global movement of environmental and social justice, we will step into larger strides, until we’re leaping toward carbon neutrality.”

Northland College is one of 361 “environmentally responsible” colleges, according to The Princeton Review, and a member of EcoLeague, a consortium of six colleges and universities that share a mission based on environmental responsibility.

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