University also targets reversing all greenhouse gas emissions it has produced in its nearly 200-year history.
The George Washington University Board of Trustees pledged on Friday to not make any new investments in businesses that derive the majority of their revenue from the extraction of fossil fuels and agreed to eliminate 100 percent of all such investments from its endowment over the next five years.
Since 2015, GW has made significant progress in divesting the endowment from funds that focus on the extraction of fossil fuels, reducing the investments by 89 percent. The board also committed to working with investment managers to encourage investment in companies with environmentally sustainable business practices.
“With this decisive action, the George Washington University demonstrates its leadership in addressing the global threat of climate change,” said GW President Thomas LeBlanc. “Our students and the broader GW community have been very passionate about sustainability and climate change and have played an important role in shaping our commitment to meaningful action. In our investments and our operations, we will vigilantly focus on renewable and sustainable practices and industries, keeping the university environmentally and economically sustainable for years to come.”
GW has long prioritized sustainability on campus by piloting new curriculum, programming, technology, purchases and management processes, and scaling them throughout the university. The university’s progress has led to significant cost savings and has quickly made it a leader among other universities and institutions.
Earlier this year, the board created the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Responsibility Task Force to establish a long-term, proactive approach to managing ESG responsibility. In addition to recommending the board divest the university endowment from companies that focus on the extraction of fossil fuels, the task force made recommendations around campus sustainability, carbon neutrality, responsible investing and academics that the board has also accepted (PDF). The task force, made up of trustees, students, alumni, faculty and staff, sought out feedback from the broader GW community in a series of town halls and online forums.
“I applaud the work of the ESG Responsibility Task Force, led by Trustee Peter Harrison, for their inclusive approach to engaging hundreds of members from our campus community. Recent events have only served to heighten the importance of environmental, social and governance responsibility and GW has an incredible opportunity to leverage its endowment as a force for good,” said Grace Speights, the chair of the Board of Trustees.
In response to the ESG Responsibility Task Force proposal, GW also committed to accelerating plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and release a plan for climate resilience for the university’s operations. Previously, GW had targeted 2040 for carbon neutrality. As part of the school’s bicentennial celebration in 2021, GW is aspiring to go beyond carbon neutrality post 2030 and remove all the greenhouse gas emissions the university has produced since its 1821 founding.
The board has also committed to developing a prominent transdisciplinary academic home that brings together and elevates the university’s research, undergraduate and graduate degrees and innovative courses for students, faculty and staff in key areas around sustainability and related areas.
As part of the decision, the university pledges to provide regular updates to the GW community on its investments in businesses that embrace environmentally sustainable business practices as well as on fossil fuel exposure in the endowment.