GWU becomes latest DC university to promise divestment from fossil fuels

Another D.C. university has announced its commitment to stop investing in companies that deal in fossil fuels.

George Washington University’s Board of Trustees voted Friday to make no new investments in fossil fuel-related businesses and divest in those types of investments, which remain part of its endowment.

“I think it is a really important step that the board has taken,” said GW President Thomas LeBlanc.

This is the first time the school’s trustees have made a formal announcement on divesting, but LeBlanc said the school has been reducing the number of fossil fuel-related investments it has for some time. Now, he said, only about 3% of the investments remain.

The school pledged to move on from those holdings over the next five years.

“Symbolically, that last 3% is important, to say that we’re getting out of it entirely,” LeBlanc said.

Sophia Halloran, 19, is a freshman at the school and a member of Sunrise GW, a group that has pushed for the divestment. She said students have been working toward that goal for eight years, and she called Friday’s announcement a “huge win.”

“We didn’t want to attend an institution that was actively investing in the destruction of our future,” Halloran said.

The group, and other iterations of it, have organized protests at the school, many occurring over the past six months, before pandemic stay-at-home orders kicked in.

Halloran said GW and other schools making similar pledges, including American University and Georgetown University, are sending a powerful message across the nation.

“It is tied to basically putting your money where your mouth is and making sure institutions are really aligning their investments with their values,” Halloran said.

LeBlanc said a task force made up of current and former students, trustees and other university stakeholders was convened to come up with a long-term plan for separating from businesses that make money from the extraction of fossil fuels.

LeBlanc said the five-year horizon on full divestment is to be sure the school isn’t penalized for immediately unloading the investments.

In addition to protests, students had a referendum, which formally urged the school to cut the investments out of its endowment.

“The students are very active on this issue, and understandably so,” LeBlanc said. “Climate change is the defining issue for this generation.”

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