Responding to a thoughtful campaign by students and citing the community college district’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the Board of Directors of the Foothill-De Anza Foundation has voted to discontinue direct investments in fossil fuel companies and minimize investments in comingled assets that include such companies.
The board set a deadline of June 30, 2014, to divest from companies with the largest holdings of unburned carbon reserves as determined using Fossil Free’s Carbon Tracker of the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
The unanimous vote Oct. 23 makes the Foothill-De Anza Foundation the first community college foundation in the nation to commit to divesting from fossil fuels, according to Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, a leader in the national divestment movement.
Foundation board President Kathleen Santora said divesting matches the values of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District and its history of leadership in “green” building, resource conservation and clean energy use.
“Our colleges support environmental stability, so this already is a shared value of our community,” Santora said. “Credit goes to De Anza students for raising our awareness by identifying ways the foundation can act in a more environmentally responsible manner. We appreciate the opportunity to learn from our students.”
Board member Martin Neiman, the foundation’s treasurer, said he doesn’t expect the changes to have a significant financial effect on the foundation’s investment returns. In fact, he said, divestment advocates make a case that in the long term, divesting may be a wise investment strategy.
As of this week, the foundation’s portfolio was valued at about $33 million. The foundation estimates that fossil fuel companies account for about 1 percent of the portfolio’s value.
The students’ divestment campaign grew out of a political science class in fall 2012 in which they were challenged to apply citizen advocacy and organizing skills toward the solution of an environmental problem. Organized by a handful of students, the resulting campaign gathered support across the campus and won endorsements from the student governments at both Foothill College and De Anza College.
“As an institution invested in future generations and our local community, we feel strongly that divestment is the next step in helping to create the world that we want to live in,’’ De Anza student Karla X. Navarro said in an August presentation to the foundation board. The students went on to speak about the overwhelming scientific evidence linking the burning of fossil fuels to melting Artic ice, rising acidity in the oceans and intensifying floods and droughts.
The students felt compelled to take action after learning more about the climate crisis and how it affects people and the environment, explained Karen Quigley, one of the student organizers. “The more you learn,’’ she said, “the more difficult it is not to do anything.”
Although the Foothill-De Anza Foundation’s holdings in fossil fuel companies aren’t extensive, Navarro said, divesting matters: “Why are we investing in things that aren’t aligned with our values?”
Santora and Neiman said foundation board members were impressed with how the students conducted themselves and the quality of their research.
“The students were articulate, passionate and very knowledgeable,” Santora said. Rather than coming in as firebrands, Neiman added, “they were measured in the way they presented their concerns, they listened to our concerns, and they handled themselves well.”
The Foothill-De Anza Foundation joins six other colleges and universities and more than 20 cities and counties that have made divestment commitments, according to 350.org’s Henn. Among those in the Bay Area are San Francisco State University Foundation, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the city and county of San Francisco, and the cities of Berkeley and Richmond (see gofossilfree.org/commitments).
Fossil Free campaigns are now under way in more than 300 colleges and universities and 100 cities and states across the country to encourage divestment from 200 fossil fuel companies that control the majority of the world’s carbon reserves. According to Fossil Free, analysis by top scientists and groups such as the International Energy Agency show that nearly 80 percent of those reserves must go unburned for the world to keep global warming below 2°C, a target the United States and most other counties have agreed to meet.
The Foothill De Anza Foundation (http://foundation.fhda.edu) changes student lives by raising and investing funds to support the educational excellence of Foothill and De Anza colleges. Located in Silicon Valley, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District serves more than 60,000 students a year at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills and De Anza College in Cupertino.
Posted Oct. 24, 2013