Naropa has joined only a handful of other colleges and universities in the United States in leading the charge toward more conscious investing, with the decision to fully divest from all holdings in the fossil fuel industry. This decision is in keeping with the university's history of socially responsible investing—for more than fifteen years, Naropa's endowment has included screens to eliminate companies in harmful industries, such as weapons, nuclear power, tobacco, and alcohol, as well as those with negative records regarding environmental impact and employee relations. It seems only natural, then, that when students presented the suggestion of fossil fuel divestment to the board of trustees this past spring, the board had already had some initial discussions considering that very decision.
In their presentation to the board in May, students suggested that Naropa divest from companies identified by 350.org as having the highest potential greenhouse gas emissions, based on their carbon reserves. "After concluding that divesting from those companies would not significantly increase the risk of volatility in our portfolio," explains trustee Christopher Hormel, "and that continued shareholder activism involving those companies would not likely yield substantial changes in their behavior, the endowment committee of the board of trustees chose to support the 350.org campaign and divest from these stocks." The committee vote was unanimous.
The divestment positions Naropa as a leader in higher education, among the ranks of only a few other sustainably minded educational institutions, with hopes that increasingly more will follow, sending a strong message regarding the importance of our environment. "Sustainable practices are both an outgrowth of, and a catalyst for, mindfulness/awareness and compassion engaged in worldly action, and, thus, an essential element of Naropa University's mission," reads Naropa's Statement of Commitment to the Practice of Sustainability—thus the decision to divest from fossil fuels has also brought the university's investments into closer alignment with institutional mission and values. And that is a commitment that the board intends to keep: "Going forward, we will continue to screen our stock portfolio and engage in shareholder activism through our portfolio managers," Hormel explains, "with the intention that the endowment will continue to provide needed scholarships and other support for our ongoing operations, while our investments remain consistent with the principle of not causing harm."