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March 10, 2016

George Washington University Rejects Divestment

On Thursday, March 3rd officials from George Washington University (GW) informed Fossil Free GW that they will not be recommending divestment to the Board of Trustees.

Anne McCorvey, GW’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer, noted that divestment is not part of GW’s investment strategy, and that the university believes that it is more productive to maintain a “sustainable endowment profile” which adheres to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment Initiative. McCorvey stated:

“The university does make sustainable investments as part of its investment practices, and in its operations, teaching, and research.  As part of the endowment profile, GW is investing in promising sustainable industries of the future.”

Despite this commitment, GW Fossil Free issued a strong condemnation of the University, claiming that:

“The administration believes that students are incorrect in their assessment the unprecedented threat to human survival posed by climate change requires bold action and a reorientation away from destructive fossil fuels towards a more equitable future.”

This statement is misleading to say the least. It deliberately clouds the Administration’s position but more importantly fails to acknowledge the progress that have been made. In the words of the University’s Director of Sustainability:

 “GW now receives 50 percent of its electricity from renewable resources and invests in its students as agents of change for the future of public policy, engineering, business, health and international affairs.”

Unhappy with its own administration, GW Fossil Free touts neighboring Georgetown University as an example of a university that successfully divested from coal.

Again, this is misleading. Georgetown’s divestment is now widely seen to be a PR stunt, rather than a real initiative combatting climate change.  For example, an article published last June in The Hill revealed that Georgetown didn’t have many coal assets in its $1.5 billion endowment to begin with.  And even Georgetown University Fossil Free recognized that this was “not a victory.”

There is unfortunate irony in the fact that GW Fossil Free is discounting the very real steps its university is taking to address student concerns and instead elevating Georgetown’s empty gesture.

Furthermore, the very companies that GW Fossil Free wants its university to divest from are actively investing in renewables.  Energy companies are currently among the biggest investors in renewable energy; in fact the top five energy companies have more than $20 billion committed to alternative energy research development.