Amherst College vows divestment from fossil fuels by 2030

  • Amherst College GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2021 7:42:33 PM

AMHERST — Amherst College is pledging to make no new investments in gas and oil and fully divest its nearly $2.5 billion endowment from fossil fuel investment funds by around 2030.

In a letter sent to students, faculty, staff and alumni Wednesday, board of trustees Chairman Andrew J. Nussbaum announced the decisions made by the board to bring the college closer to sustainability and meeting the goals of its Climate Action Plan.

“This announcement largely formalizes actions that have been in place for years,” Nussbaum wrote. “We have neither held direct investments in fossil fuel companies nor made new commitments to fossil fuel funds in over two years.”

By 2025, the college anticipates that these investments will be reduced by 60% from existing levels, according to Nussbaum’s letter.

Since the board released its statement on Sustainability and Investment Policy in 2015, the direct and indirect investment in fossil fuels has declined from 6% to 3% as a proportion of the endowment. But that statement didn’t include a requirement to divest from gas and oil holdings.

The Climate Action Plan released in 2019 previously accelerated the timeline of the college’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality from 2035 to 2030, transitioning campus energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, including using electric heat pumps and geothermal energy sources to power campus buildings.

A cornerstone of this plan is an investment of $80 million in the conversion of the college’s power plant to run entirely with geothermal energy.

Amherst College students have been pushing for divestment since 2012, and the then-Divest Amherst group in 2016 asked Amherst Town Meeting to put pressure on the college to divest through a resolution.

Sunrise Amherst College last November joined 10 other student organizations asking the trustees to divest from fossil fuels and the prison-industrial complex. A statement released Thursday by Sunrise Amherst, which was formed by both Amherst College and Amherst Regional High School students, demonstrates their full support for the divestment.

“Amherst College is a blueprint for how the town of Amherst and the country should respond to this climate crisis. We must declare climate change a national emergency and divest from fossil fuel companies that heavily influence the politics of the United States,” the group stated.

In 2019, Smith College’s trustees announced all of its fossil fuel investments would be divested within 15 years. Three years earlier, the University of Massachusetts board of trustees voted to endorse a decision made by the UMass Foundation, which manages the university’s endowment, to divest from direct holdings in fossil fuel companies.

Nussbaum observes that the investment policies related to the endowment are important, especially for Amherst College where the endowment is funding almost two-thirds of the operating budget and provides the college more than double the revenues it receives from tuition, room and board fees. In addition, the endowment has allowed the college to continue its need-blind admissions practice for all applicants, domestic and international.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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