Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Students succeed in convincing the Pratt Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels

Posted 21 Mar 2016 / 0
2016-03-21aHistorical photo of the Pratt Steam Power Plant courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This morning the Pratt community received a heartening message from our Board of Trustees:

Dear Members of the Pratt Community,

At its meeting on March 9, Pratt’s Board of Trustees took another major step in the Institute’s overall commitment to environmental sustainability by agreeing to reduce and work toward fully divesting all fossil fuels from its approximately $150 million investment pool. Pratt will fully divest itself of all coal investments.

This important decision comes in response to requests from student government and senior administrators concerned about the environmental and economic consequences of climate change. It also acknowledges the clear existential threat of climate change and underscores the efforts by the Institute to address environmental sustainability on its own campus and through its academic programming, which has been an important initiative at Pratt for more than a decade.

Our President, Thomas F. Schutte, was one of the earliest signatories to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007 and has shown tremendous leadership and support on this issue. That same year, Pratt accepted New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s 30/10 Challenge to reduce greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2017. Following the opening of Pratt’s Myrtle Hall, which meets the standard for the U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification, Pratt was named one of the country’s most environmentally responsible colleges by The Princeton Review in 2014. The Institute continues to be a leader among art and design colleges in creating programs to reduce the Institute’s own carbon footprint and to ensure that students in all programs have an understanding of the environmental impact of their decisions as responsible citizens as well as creative professionals. This new policy further stresses Pratt’s important role in ensuring that our planet is habitable for future generations.

The Board believes the comprehensive approach that the Institute is taking toward divesting from coal immediately and other fossil fuels over time will allow it to be both environmentally and financially conscious with modest impact on overall investment performance. The March 9 action will begin a long-term process, which may take up to five years to complete. This phased approach will ensure that the Board can fulfill one of its primary responsibilities, which is the sound investment of Pratt’s endowment to ensure that funds are available for student scholarships and other vital needs.

I’d like to thank Pratt’s Student Government Association, particularly President Emma Colley and Sustainability Chair Lucy Davis, for their perseverance and leadership in helping to implement this new policy. We look forward to updating the campus community on our progress toward full divestment in the years to come.

Sincerely,

Mike Pratt
Vice Chair, Board of Trustees, and Chair, Investments Subcommittee

As you might imagine, I consider this wonderful news. The fossil fuel divestment movement has been picking up speed on college campuses in recent years, and it is amazing that Pratt has joined the growing ranks of higher education institutions to divest from fossil fuels. We sometimes bemoan the fact that Pratt’s endowment is so small (and on so many levels, wouldn’t it be amazing if we were divesting billions instead 150 million dollars?), but assuring that none of that endowment is invested in the fossil fuel industry is a small step in pushing our economy away from a carbon-based model. And I think that the history of Pratt — founded by an oil industry tycoon — makes it particularly significant that we are divesting. Mike Pratt is the direct descendant of our founder, and I see this decision as an acknowledgement that the industry that originally made Pratt possible is not congruent with Pratt’s future.

And what makes me most proud of this campus change? The people who made it happen! Although it clearly took an enlightened Board of Trustees to make the final decision, it was student activism that inspired this decision. Notice that Envirolutions member Lucy Davis is directly thanked for her work towards achieving divestment. Way to go Lucy!

A Minor Post, Activism, Anthropogenic Change, Climate Change, Economics, Envirolutions, Higher Education, Pratt Institute, Sustainability, Sustainable Energy

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