Middlebury College will begin to divest its billion-dollar endowment from fossil fuels, the college announced on Tuesday. The decision is part of a four-step environmental plan, called Energy2028, that the Middlebury Board of Trustees approved last weekend.
The decision follows broad expressions of support from both Middlebury students and faculty. Last April, nearly 80 percent of students supported divestment in a vote led by the college’s Student Government Association, according to the Middlebury Campus. In November, 92 percent of faculty voted in favor of divestment.
Fossil-fuel investments currently comprise around four percent of Middlebury’s $1.06 billion endowment. In a statement, the college said it will work with Investure, the Charlottesville, Virginia-based firm that manages the endowment, to phase out direct investments, with the goal of complete elimination within the next 15 years. The college does not have plans to cease its holdings in general equity market index funds, which make up a smaller portion of the endowment and sometimes contain oil and gas investments.
In addition to ending its fossil fuel investments, the college announced plans to shift to 100 percent renewable energy and reduce campus energy consumption by 25 percent by 2028. The fourth pillar of its plan involves environmental education.
Middlebury becomes the first NESCAC school to announce a divestment plan. Among Maine institutions, Unity College decided in 2012 to divest its endowment from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The trustees for the University of Maine system voted in 2015 to divest from coal investments.
While Bowdoin has had active protests in favor of divestment in the past, momentum for the cause on campus has declined in recent years.
In 2013, in response to a student petition from Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA) calling on Bowdoin to divest from fossil fuel companies, Barry Mills—president of the College at the time—and Senior Vice President for Investments Paula Volent said that 1.4 percent of the College’s endowment was invested in fossil fuels and that divestment would cost Bowdoin $100 million over the next ten years.
BCA met with the Board of Trustees about divestment in the fall of 2014 but did not make headway on the issue. Critics of divestment have argued that it is a largely symbolic gesture that would hurt the College’s finances. In the spring of 2015, BCA staged a sit-in at Mills’ office in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. Members said the protest was necessary because the Board of Trustees had not taken their calls for divestment seriously.
When President Clayton Rose took Mills’ place in the summer of 2015, he said he agreed with his predecessor’s judgment that Bowdoin should not divest.
After floating a student petition on divestment again in the fall of 2016, BCA—known for its strong stance on divestment—announced in April 2017 it would be ending that campaign to better focus its energy on local politics.
Since then, Bowdoin has declared itself carbon neutral—a plan that had been in the works for nearly a decade—and opened the Roux Center for the Environment, which meets the requirements for Platinum LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Still, Haley Maurice ’20, a BCA co-leader, said she sees a key difference in Bowdoin and Middlebury’s respective attitudes toward the environment.
“Divestment is a core part of Middlebury’s commitment to the environment,” she said. “The thing that separates Bowdoin from Midd is [that] they are willing to look into their functioning as an institution.”
Another petition for divestment at Bowdoin, Maurice added, is “not off the table.”