The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

New club wants university to pull support of fossil fuel companies

Experts say divestment would be a symbolic move with no real impact
Shae R.

DivestW&L is a new student organization founded to advocate for university-wide fossil fuel divestment and ambitious climate action goals.

Divestment is the opposite of investment, said Shae Reinberg, ’25, the main organizer of the club. Getting the university to divest from fossil fuels would mean removing endowment money that is invested into fossil fuel companies and reinvesting it elsewhere.

“I think [divestment] is the main step forward that the university can take towards climate justice,” Reinberg said.

Reinberg said that it is “contradictory” for the university to have the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050 while investing endowment money in fossil fuel companies.

Reinberg said the university is “very, very” behind other peer institutions when it comes to sustainability goals.

While DivestW&L is still having interest meetings and recruiting initial members, Reinberg is already the president of another environmental organization: the Student Environmental Action League. According to Reinberg, fossil fuel divestment was originally going to become a movement within SEAL, but she decided to spin off the idea into its own organization.

“We intend to approach and strategize our advocacy efforts in a different way than SEAL,” Reinberg said.

Another reason that Reinberg started DivestW&L is because she said that there is a lack of pressure to push the university forward in its climate goals. Reinberg said that DivestW&L is going to advocate for many environmental goals other than divestment, such as removing the influence of alums who work in the fossil fuel sector from the university.

However, even if the university were to divest in fossil fuels, it might not make much of a difference. Jamie Casey, ’91, a professor of environmental economics, said that while divestment is a very good symbolic action it doesn’t do much practically.

“If you just took W&L […] and it divested from the fossil fuel industry it would basically have no impact on the industry whatsoever,” Casey said.

However, Casey said that if multiple universities and other institutions start divesting from fossil fuels, it would help in a transition to renewable energy.

Fossil fuel divestment falls into an investment category called ESG, or environment, social, and governance. According to Deloitte, a consulting firm, some investors take these non-financial factors into account and some do not.

How the university invests

The university has an endowment of $1.35 billion, according to university Treasurer and Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve McAllister.

McAllister said that the university invests the endowment through McKenna Capital Management, an “outsourced investment office.” The university has been using McKenna since 2006 and pools its money alongside 14 other endowments, governments and wealthy individuals, McAllister said.

McAllister said that while McKenna does use ESG as a factor, the Board of Trustees itself takes no active stance on it and outsources all investing decisions. The university does not make any recommendations on what to invest in or what not to invest in, McAllister said.

It would be difficult for the university to divest even if they wanted to, McAllister said, due to the university’s contract with McKenna. One organization on campus that is more nimble in its investments is the Williams Investment Society. WIS is made up of 46 students who invest $23 million of the university’s endowment, according to Tanner Hurless, ’25, the director of the society.

According to January investment records on the WIS website, the society is currently investing into a number of fossil fuel companies including Shell.

Hurless said that the WIS does not look at ESG while investing, but instead simply chooses companies that they think are good investments.


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