Divestment not our only option

Letter to the Editor

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By Richard Cate, vice president for finance and University Treasurer 

Global climate challenges are capturing headlines around the world, and rightly so, as environmental concerns are among the most pressing issues of our time.

Members of the UVM community are finding various ways to call attention to these issues and push toward achieving carbon-neutral goals. I applaud their commitment, dedication and enthusiasm.

President Suresh Garimella has designated me responsible for UVM’s sustainability and climate action efforts.

At UVM, we have a long history of environmental initiatives and, as we continue to move forward, it is worthwhile to consider some of what we have done thus far:

1. Efficiency upgrades over the past decade have reduced energy use by 16%, even while the campus has grown by 10%.

2. Since 2015, the University has been consuming 100% certified, carbon-neutral renewable electricity.

3. From 2007-2016, UVM’s total emissions decreased 52% per capita and 48% per square foot of building space.

4. Collective efforts across the University have earned us a Gold Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System designation from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

5. The University has created and funds a Sustainability Faculty Fellows Program.

6. Nearly two-thirds of all departments now offer sustainability courses.

7. Since 2006, UVM requires that new construction and major renovation projects achieve U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver designation.

As a result, UVM has one platinum, seven gold and six silver projects on our campus.

8. UVM offers sustainability themed housing in LEED-certified residence halls.

Much more can and will be done. These are complex problems that involve extensive use of resources, often calling for large financial commitments to be balanced against other priorities to ensure affordability and financial access for our students and the success of UVM as a whole.

Endowment investment and divestment strategies are complex, and ultimately reside with the University’s board of trustees.

The endowment portfolio currently includes about $27 million of direct investments in fossil fuel companies, or about 5% of the endowment value. None of the University’s over $200 million of cash is invested in fossil fuels.

I look forward to continued dialogue and engagement on this pressing issue, including my meeting this week with the SGA Committee on the Environment. I believe we can accomplish much if we work together.