Update: On June 8, 2021, the “Final Report of the University of Utah Academic Senate Ad Hoc Committee for Divestment and Strategic Reinvestment Investigation” was acknowledged by the university’s Board of Trustees. During the meeting, the board released the following statement:
Statement from the University of Utah and its Board of Trustees
We respect and appreciate the many months the University of Utah Academic Senate has spent evaluating the regional and national landscape; garnering input of students, faculty, and staff; and developing a thoughtful analysis.
We believe the University of Utah Board of Trustees should strive to be equally methodical and exhaustive in its evaluation of the Academic Senate’s report and actions going forward, while ensuring any decisions maximize benefits and minimize any unintended consequences.
We will ask a subset of the board to:
- Assess current university actions and activities related to environmental sustainability.
- Identify those actions and activities with the largest positive and sustained outcomes.
- Identify potential unintended consequences associated with current and possible actions and how those consequences might be minimized, and task this group with crafting recommendations for timely consideration by the full Board of Trustees.
The Academic Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Divestment and Strategic Reinvestment Investigations, after considering feedback from nine town hall meetings and numerous written comments, has revised and finalized its preliminary recommendations. Find the committee’s final report on the Academic Senate website here or a direct link to the report here.
The report contains an analysis of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, previous actions exploring divestment at the U, an overview of university investment strategies and recommendations for realigning the university’s investment management strategy toward holdings in sustainable companies and away from holdings in companies that produce, refine or distribute fossil fuels.
The committee recognizes that the lifecycle of all energy sources include some greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact and that there is no energy technology that is completely greenhouse-emission-free. The goals of the report and recommendations, they say, are not to completely reduce all of the U’s greenhouse gas emissions, but to reinvest the endowment towards positive sustainable investments that will contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions globally.
The University of Utah has made significant progress toward its goal of carbon neutrality, according to the Sustainability Office. Greenhouse gas emissions from university operations were more than one-third lower in 2020 than they were in 2007. The most significant reductions have come from improving building energy efficiency, bringing online a combined heat and power plant and sourcing over half of the university’s electricity from renewable sources. In 2022, the U will begin updating its climate action plan, initially adopted in 2010. Read more from the Sustainability Office on the U’s commitments, plans and progress.
The report and recommendations will be considered by the Academic Senate on April 26, 2021. Academic Senate meetings are held on Zoom. Instructions for virtually attending the meeting can be found here.
In March 2021, the committee released a preliminary draft report. Members of the U community submitted eight written comments on the draft (some submitted by more than one individual) and presented seven comments at a town hall meeting held April 12. The university administration also offered comments, as did the Investment Office.
“The feedback gathered from within the campus community helped the committee refine two of the recommendations on implementation,” says Allyson Mower, committee chair. “We clarified the type of lists the Investment Office might utilize and strengthened the reporting process by aligning it with current procedures.”
The final report includes eight recommended changes that could realign the University’s endowment investment strategy in line with the U’s mission. One step of this realignment would be to sell all public equity assets in the U’s endowment from companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list, which includes the 200 companies with the highest quantities of fossil fuel reserves, the report says. Another step would be to sell private equity assets from all companies that produce, refine and distribute fossil fuels.
Further, according to the recommendations, the university should set policies to prevent future investment in Carbon Underground 200 companies, should reinvest the proceeds from divestment sales in sustainable investments and should retain investment fund managers who will advocate for sustainable practices in the companies that comprise the university’s investments.
Finally, the committee recommends regular reports on the progress of divestment and reinvestment actions and including the university’s chief sustainability officer on the Investment Advisory Committee. A proposed transition team would mitigate any unintended short-term consequences of these actions.
“I want to thank the ad hoc committee for the thorough and thoughtful analysis of a very complex and nuanced issue and for their inclusive feedback process” says Randy Dryer, academic senate president. “The committee’s report was not the result of an ideologically driven process and provides the Senate with ample information to make an informed decision on this issue."
Paul Gabrielsenresearch/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
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