UW Today

May 14, 2015

UW Regents vote to divest from coal companies

News and Information

The University of Washington Board of Regents on Thursday voted to prohibit direct investment of endowment funds in publicly traded companies whose principal business is the mining of coal for use in energy generation. The Board also reaffirmed the importance of the University’s wide-ranging sustainability efforts.

The vote is the culmination of a process that began in December 2012, when Divest UW, a student campaign representing more than 20 registered student organizations, sent a petition to then-President Michael K. Young requesting fossil fuel divestment. Over the past year, Regents have met with students and heard from them during public comment periods at regular Regents meetings. In March, Divest UW made a presentation to the Board of Regents in support of coal divestment in the Consolidated Endowment Fund.

“The Regents take very seriously their responsibility for managing the University’s investment portfolio,” said Board chair Bill Ayer. “It has made divestment decisions only a few times on matters it felt represented important values. That we decided to divest from coal companies today reflects the seriousness of the climate change problem. Our action today is the latest element of the University’s long-term commitment to improving the environment through world-class research and state-of-the-art sustainability practices.”

The Board’s vote means the UW’s investment managers will have until Dec. 31 to manage the orderly elimination of direct coal holdings. The definition of a coal company will be restricted to parent companies whose principal business is the mining of coal for energy generation. The UW will contract with an independent research provider to compile company lists and impartially analyze information on business activities.

Research at the UW and elsewhere confirms the urgent need for action on climate change. In March, the world passed the ominous milestone of 400 ppm in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and the UW’s mission as a public university demands that it promote sustainability. The UW is a signatory of the Washington Business Climate Declaration (sponsored by Ceres) and a charter signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Both agreements underscore the UW’s dedication to making a difference.

Coal divestment, while largely symbolic, is one of several ways the UW is upholding its commitment to a sustainable future. The UW offers more than 350 sustainability-focused courses, its Clean Energy Institute continues to research next-generation solar generation and storage, and 100 percent of the campus’ electricity sources are carbon neutral. The UW’s sustainability efforts have earned it wide acclaim and annual recognition as a Top Green College by the Princeton Review.