Colleges Committed to Sustainability – 10 Amazing Schools Practicing Divestment

Colleges and universities are the intellectual epicenters of our world.

As such, they have a deep, profound responsibility to be the leaders of the 21st century world in action, ethics, and sustainability.

A number of higher education institutions have made one thing clear: they want no part of fossil fuel money funding their programs.

The motivations for divestment make sense: schools want to reduce their carbon footprint, maintain the integrity of the earth’s ecosystem, and keep fossil fuel prices from skyrocketing.

A carbon-free investment portfolio for colleges not only makes ethical sense, but also makes financial sense for universities as well.

Not all schools have embraced divestment, and that is a choice for every institution to make.

However, a number of prominent higher education institutions have paved the way for saving the environment through divesting fossil fuel funding.

Here are 10 amazing schools, presented alphabetically, that have demonstrated a profound sustainability commitment to the future of our world.

California State University – Chico (Chico, California)

Public domain photo by Emily Bryden via Wikimedia Commons

We start at one of California’s premiere public schools, CSU Chico. With over 17,000 students, CSU Chico is an example of a large university taking a very active stance in favor of divestment.

In 2014, CSU Chico embraced a strong position; by pledging to divest, over four years, all money funding fossil fuel companies, they promote a long-term vision of a sustainable future.

And what a future CSU Chico promotes. Widely regarded as one of the leaders of sustainability, CSU Chico actively promotes a “Green Campus” initiative.

CSU Chico’s effort for the environment does not end at an administrative initiative or with fossil fuel divestment.

In 2007, one of CSU Chico’s professors, Jeff Price, was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a program of the United Nations, that won the Nobel Peace Prize for taking action on environmental issues.

College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, ME)

All the way back in 2004, College of the Atlantic (COA) was the nation’s first school to enter into a decade-long contract with a company focused entirely on renewable energy. 

Nearly one decade later, in 2013, COA divested its funds away from fossil fuel, which represented approximately 3 percent of their endowment at the time.

One of the top liberal arts colleges in the northeast, COA consistently showcases its strong commitment to environmental sustainability and ethical progression.

The newest student housing facilities at COA are among the most forward-thinking in the country, created in part from recycled materials complete with composting lavatories. 

In 2018, the Princeton Review named College of the Atlantic the #1 Green School in the country.

Goddard College (Plainfield, VT)

Goddard College
Progressive Ed, Goddard College Campus, CC BY-SA 2.0

Vermont is a state known widely known for embracing sustainable and ethical initiatives. After all, Bernie Sanders is the current senator for the state!

Vermont’s greater culture has impacted a number of the state’s own colleges, including Goddard College, one of the most unique institutions of higher education in the world.

What makes Goddard so unique? It is most widely known as a low-residency school. Essentially, students learn mostly away from campus either in a private, self-directed setting or in a hands-on experiential opportunity. Students then send updates of their work to faculty at the school who evaluate their grade based on the work.

Although unconventional, it is entirely progressive, which makes Goddard’s choice to completely divest its investment portfolio away from fossil fuels a natural fit for this unique institution.

In addition to Godddard, two other institutions of higher education in Vermont have also divested their fossil fuel accounts.

Hampshire College (Amherst, MA)

Hampshire College
MonsieurNapoléon, Hampshire College’s solar panel field, CC BY-SA 4.0

A leader within socially responsible investing, Hampshire no longer takes any money from the fossil fuel industry, having divested any previous funds from fossil fuel companies.

In fact, they divested back in 2011, and thus were the first college in the world to do so.

Instead of using fossil fuels, Hampshire is on track to become the very first college in the United States to be 100% solar-powered. This move by itself is not only the right move towards an environmentally sustainable future, it saves the college itself millions in the cost of electricity, making it a win-win for both ethics and capital logistics.

Hampshire is a leader not only in sustainability, but in social liberalism. Consistently ranked among the most liberal colleges throughout history, Hampshire is a college with a total enrollment of just 150 or so students at any given time.

Humboldt State University (Arcata, CA)

Jaradpetroske, Humboldt State University Founders Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Humboldt has been a sustainability leader in higher education for well over a decade. In 2014, the school made an announcement that would strictly limit the amount of funding the school holds in fossil fuels.

Along with this announcement, the school committed to a bold action: they will invest funds and resources into environmentally friendly, sustainable options.

Since then, Humboldt’s investment portfolio has shifted to 10% green funds, helping to support companies and initiatives serving a better tomorrow for both their school and for a greater ethical cause.

Based in Northern California, Humboldt State houses significant “natural real estate.” Complete with a public art gallery, aquatics facility, mountain-top astronomy laboratory, a forest, and a wildlife care facility, Humboldt is one of the premiere schools for energy and environment studies in the country.

San Francisco State University (San Francisco, CA)

Prayitno, SFSU apartments, CC BY 2.0

Nearly a decade ago, Forbes ranked SFSU one of the most diverse colleges nationwide with 51% of students identifying as minorities.

With an emphasis on social consciousness, it is no wonder San Francisco State University is also one of the handful of schools in the country no longer investing money into fossil fuel companies. 

SFSU has made considerable strides in divesting funds they once had in fossil fuels. Within the last few years, they have divested funds from both coal as well as tar sands, two major energy sources directly impacting the environment.

Based in Silicon Valley, a hotspot for creating technologies in sustainable energy (think Tesla and SolarCity), SFSU is a great choice for the aspiring college student choosing to enroll in a diverse college institution with a top-tier reputation for environmental preservation.

Seattle University (Seattle, WA)

Joe Mabel, Seattle U Fountain, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2018. Seattle University made a groundbreaking commitment: to be the first university in the state of Washington to divest all of its holdings in fossil fuel funds by 2023.

President of Seattle university Stephen Sundborg made his announcement clear, saying in a public statement “by taking this step we are acting boldly and making an important statement … We join with others also at the forefront of the growing divestment movement and hope our action encourages more to do the same.”

Seattle University’s commitment to environmental sustainability extends back many decades.

In 2007, SU won a Sustainability Innovator Award from Washington CEO Magazine. Additionally, the school was the first to build a composing center on an urban campus in the entire state back in 2003.

Decades before these awards, SU instituted a pesticide-free initiative in which they substituted chemical spraying with beneficial insects to eat aphids that had taken over campus gardens.

With its commitment to environmental innovation, SU is a leader throughout the world in its commitment to sustainability.

Sterling College (Craftsbury, VT)

One of the smallest colleges nationwide, Sterling College employs just 45 staff for 125 total students. 

Based in Vermont, one of America’s most sustainable-friendly states, Sterling College committed in 2013 to divesting all fossil fuel investments in its portfolio. Within six months of the pledge, Sterling succeeded in its mission with a portfolio completely fossil free.

Sterling’s decision to divest stems organically from the school’s own curriculum, heavily based in environmental sciences. Programs at Sterling include Ecology, Sustainable Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture, and Outdoor Education.

One of seven colleges in the Work College Consortium, Sterling prides itself on an education experiential in nature.

Unity College (Unity, ME)

Unity is one of the top colleges nationwide for students seeking an education in environmental sustainability. In fact, Unity’s motto is simply “America’s Environmental College.”

In 2012, approximately 3% of the school’s investment portfolio was invested into fossil fuel companies. At the time, they decided to divest entirely from fossil fuels by 2017.

However, in 2014, they were three years ahead of schedule and successfully completed this mission entirely.

Set on a picturesque campus of 240 acres, just 710 students call Unity College home. The school offers an undergraduate education both residential and online for sustainability science.

University of Massachusetts (Amherst, MA)

Public domain photo by Lion Hirth via Wikimedia Commons

When UMass made the decision to divest from fossil fuels, the announcement was one of the most important in the history of sustainability practice in America.

That’s because when the school made the announcement just a few years ago in 2016, it was the first major public university school system choosing to do this.

Many smaller schools are able to maneuver into 100% fossil fuel divestment due to less holdings in energy corporations. However, UMass is a system with over 72,000 total students and an endowment close to $1 billion dollars.

This decision by UMass will certainly have a ripple effect in the university community, influencing other schools to commit to a better, more sustainable tomorrow.

UMass’s commitment to sustainability hardly ends at fossil fuel divestment; the school has employed LEED-certified buildings, spends over $20m annually in environmental research, installing solar panels, and even launched the world’s first doctoral program in Green Chemistry.

In 2015, UMass Amherst ranked in the top 25 most environmentally sustainable schools in the Princeton Review guide to Green Colleges.

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