WALKING THE TALK?: Jesuit Universities and Fossil Fuel Investments

MARINILKA BARROS KIMBRO, RUBINA MAHSUD, DAVIT ADUT

Abstract

The student-led fossil fuel divestment (FFD) movement urges universities to remove investments in fossil fuel firms from their endowment portfolios to inspire reductions in carbon emissions  and help control climate change. This article explores the movement in U.S.-based Jesuit universities by documenting their endowment size, current divestment status, and rationale for or against divesting. These institutions held a total of US$13.8 billion in their endowments as of 2019, making their investment decisions relevant and material. The article in general examines the alignment of divestment actions with the commitments of Jesuit universities to environmental stewardship and social justice as expressed in their mission statements and Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Two out of the 27 Jesuit universities in  the U.S., namely, Georgetown and Seattle University, were already committed to FFD by April 2020; after accounting for branch campuses, this represents a commitment of 13.3% among all U.S.-based Jesuit universities. This is appreciably higher than the 4.12% divestment rate among all private 4-year universities in the United States. Each of the 27 U.S.-based Jesuit universities was contacted to verify their endowment size, divestment status, and position on FFD. The 13 who responded stated their commitment to environmental protection and sustainability, and some reported their rationale for or against divesting. Results suggest that the investment strategies of Jesuit universities are a “work in progress,” and are likely to evolve as they align with their common Roman Catholic and Jesuit identity and mission. The reasons stated for deciding not to divest, moreover, are consistent with previous literature. A second article in this issue of the Journal of Management for Global Sustainability explores those reasons in detail and broadens the theme of divesting to encompass any organization.


Keywords

investments of Jesuit universities; divestment from fossil fuel firms; fossil fuel-free endowments; socially responsible investments in higher education; environmental justice and ethics; Laudato Si’

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/JM2020.08105