Middlebury commits to divesting $1 billion endowment from fossil fuels

Divest Midd

Middlebury College students rally for fossil fuel divestment in this undated photo. Middlebury College photo

[M]iddlebury College will divest its $1 billion endowment from fossil fuels within 15 years.

The commitment is part of larger package of environmental reforms the college announced on Tuesday. The school has also promised to transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources – not derived from fossil fuels – for electric and thermal power at its main Vermont campus by 2028, and to reduce its overall energy consumption by 25 percent in that same time period. The school will also expand its climate-focused academic and research programming.

Bill McKibben

Environmental activist Bill McKibben speaks during a livestream event where Bernie Sanders addressed supporters.

On Twitter, environmentalist and Middlebury professor Bill McKibben, who founded 350.org, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting climate change, celebrated the school’s “big beautiful breaking news.”

“This is great news because it’s a billion dollars – but also because it’s one of the first institutions to reject divestment and then change its mind,” he said. “The school with the first-ever enviro studies program (and the birthplace of @350) is now back among the very greenest institutions in the world.”

The initiative, dubbed “Energy2028,” was unanimously endorsed by the school’s board of trustees over the weekend, and follows a multi-year campaign by student activists. Middlebury officials had first considered – and ultimately declined – to divest from fossil fuels in 2013, saying at the time the move was mostly symbolic and too practically difficult. It announced in October it was once again considering divestment, as well as additional environmental initiatives.

Bill Burger, Middlebury’s vice president for communications and chief marketing officer, said the school waited until now because it wanted to advance a broader packet of concrete reforms.

“This really had to be done comprehensively. It’s also the case that six years ago, or a little more than five years ago, this would have been mechanically much more difficult to do,” he said, adding that Investure, the school’s endowment manager, had since developed new options for managing investments in a more granular way.

Middlebury’s announcement commits the school to divest from all “direct” fossil fuel investments, which include investments held by specialist managers who maintain an investment focus on fossil fuel companies and specialist fossil fuel index funds. Such investments account for about 4 percent of the school’s endowment.

The school has promised to reduce its holdings in such investments by 25 percent within five years, 50 percent within eight years, and to be completely divested within 15 years.

The school is not committing to divesting from general equity funds that may contain small holdings of fossil fuel investments, or to broad-based market index funds, which also tend to include some fossil fuel investments. Such investments total about 1 percent of the school’s endowment.

Over 1,000 institutions, with investments worth nearly $8 trillion, have so far committed to divestment, 350.org reported in December.

Middlebury junior Cora Kircher, an organizer with the student group Divest Middlebury, said she and her fellow activists were “really, really proud to be Middlebury students today.”

And she added that while activists had hoped for a shorter divestment timeline, they were glad college officials have promised to act more quickly if possible. And she said the group was particularly pleased that the school had made additional energy commitments, and that it would divest from the fossil-fuel industry in general, instead of just the so-called top 200 companies that are typically the main targets of the divestment movement.

“We’re super psyched about the whole plan. It’s more than we could have asked for even a year ago,” she said.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: lduffort@vtdigger.org

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