Fossil Fuel Divestment and Socially Responsible Investing

A UU Response to the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement
 

Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Builds Across Faith Communities

(May 18, 2014 – Pre-General Assembly update)

     The movement to divest from fossil fuel holdings and reinvest the proceeds in renewable energy holdings and other climate solutions continues to gather steam in our own UU denomination and across multiple faiths. As a 2014 GreenFaith Fellow, I’ve been following developments in their Divest and Reinvest Now! program and am heartened to see that our liberal faith is among the most actively engaged in campaigns at the congregational and denominational levels. Just this past week, resolutions calling for divestment passed overwhelmingly in UU congregations in Newburyport, MA, Northampton/Florence, MA, Ames, IA, and Corvallis, OR!

     A Business Resolution calling for fossil fuel divestment of the UUA Common Endowment Fund has been admitted to the formal agenda of the 2014 General Assembly, coming up June 25-29 in Providence, RI. The resolution was carefully crafted by a committed group of activists known as UU Divest (formally, Unitarian Universalists for Fossil Fuel Divestment and Sustainable Reinvestment) in collaboration with members of the UUA Committee on Socially Responsible Investing and Investment Committee. It calls upon the UUA to cease purchasing securities of the “Carbon Tracker 200” companies, divest of direct and indirect CT200 holdings over a five-year period, invest in securities that will support a swift transition to a clean energy economy, and allows for the retention of minimum number of CT200 shares sufficient for shareholder advocacy on environmental justice issues or the just transition to clean and renewable energy.

     The UUA Board of Trustees endorsed the resolution as written in its April 13th meeting, with the official Board statement forthcoming. The UU Ministry for Earth Board and members of UU Young Adults for Climate Justice have both previously issued endorsements

     Onsite and off-site delegates will have the opportunity to vote on the resolution during one of the plenary sessions on Saturday or Sunday, so be sure to check the final agenda and program booklet for complete details. (If you aren’t able to attend General Assembly this year, we encourage you to participate as an off-site delegate.) The mini-assembly has been scheduled for Friday evening, from 5-6:15pm. UUMFE urges all congregational delegates to support the resolution as it currently stands.

     Please be sure to take advantage of these resources and opportunities to become fully informed about the resolution, if you have not yet already done so:

  • The UUA Board of Trustees will be including the fossil fuel divestment resolution in their upcoming “What to expect at GA” webinar on June 5th (6-7pm PDT/9-10pm EDT). (Click here to access registration portal.) Post-event, look for the recorded webinar on the General Assembly website.

  • Comprehensive information and resources about fossil fuel divestment, clean energy investing, and related topics can be found on the UU Ministry for Earth website in our 2014 Earth Day materials on Socially Responsible Investing.

  • At General Assembly, be sure to visit the UU Ministry for Earth booth in the exhibit hall, where UU Divest will have materials available and volunteers on hand for conversation. Please contact Terry Wiggins (terry.wiggins50@gmail.com) or Wes Ernsberger (wesernsberger@gmail.com) if you have interest in tabling, and sharing with others what you know about divestment.

     We are grateful for the energy, enthusiasm and tenacity of the many UUs who have worked hard to bring forth divestment conversations and resolutions that are both prophetic and actionable. We look forward to “UUA Divests” being a top headline in the press this June!

Fossil Fuel Divestment Update: March 2014

     Since June of 2013, the campaign to divest endowments at colleges, universities, and religious institutions from fossil fuel holdings has continued to gather momentum and inspire debate. Within the UU denomination, a committed group of pro-divestment activists, now know as Unitarian Universalists for Fossil Fuel Divestment and Sustainable Reinvestment, has worked hard to develop a proposed Business Resolution calling for Fossil Fuel Divestment of the UU Common Endowment Fund. The Business Resolution (PDF, see pages 15-16) was submitted to the UUA with signatures from 100 congregations – far more than the number required – and has been formally admitted to the Agenda of the 2014 General Assembly. Registered delegates from congregations will have the opportunity to vote then; be sure to check the official Agenda when it is released in May to learn when this is scheduled to take place.

     The UU Ministry for Earth Board and members of UU Young Adults for Climate Justice, our young adult network, have both endorsed the Business Resolution and urge your careful consideration. Please see our letters (UU Ministry for Earth and UU Young Adults for Climate Justice) to hear our thoughts.

     Additional and updated resources on Fossil Fuel Divestment can be found on our website as part of our Earth Day 2014 materials on Socially Responsible Investing. Resources there include background information, online resources to learn more, and suggested actions in the areas of socially responsible investing, understanding shareholder advocacy, fossil fuel divestment, clean energy investment and related topics. You will find materials to use to inspire personal reflection and productive, meaningful conversations within your congregation and groups on the topic of fossil fuel divestment in the last section of the SRI resources, Socially Responsible Investing, Climate Change and Environmental Justice.

Fossil Fuel Divestment Update: GA 2013 and Beyond

     Climate activists in the UU denomination and others continue to promote the divestment of fossil fuel stocks from institutional and personal investment portfolios as an urgent and sound strategy to address climate change. Supporting and dissenting views surfaced in May’s “Divestment Forum” held in Boston (see next section) and in published position statements in the Summer 2013 issue of UU World by Rev. Fred Small and UUA Treasurer Tim Brennan. The topic continues to generate much discussion, including amongst panelists, organizers, and delegates who attended General Assembly 2013 this past June.

     At GA, the Socially Responsible Investing Committee held a workshop, “The Climate Change Challenge to Faithful Investing.” Committee chair Rev. Glenn Farley (now former chair), Rev. Jim Sherblom, UUA treasurer Tim Brennan, and UUMFE Board member Cindy Davidson served on the panel and shared philosophical viewpoints of the value of shareholder engagement/advocacy, details of recent accomplishments, and concerns about divesting the Common Endowment Fund. Conversations in response to questions from the floor rounded out the session. Read blogger Sonja Cohen’s coverage of the workshop and the SRIC Committee’s annual report at the plenary and listen to the audio recording of the workshop.

     Speakers Wendell Berry and Tim De Christopher, in their addresses preceding the GA’s Public Witness Event (a clean-energy rally), both endorsed the call for divestment in their own words. Berry urged listeners to “understand that fossil-fuel energy must be replaced not just byWendell Berry at Public Witness clean energy, but also by less energy.” He admonishes us to consider that “If we're not in favor of limiting the use of energy, starting with our own use of it, we're not serious. If we're not in favor of rationing energy, starting with the fossil fuels, we're not serious. If we have the money and we're not willing to pay $2 to keep the polluting industries from getting $1, we're not serious. If, on the contrary, we become determined to keep the industries of poison, explosion, and fire from determining our lives and the world's fate, then we will steadfastly reduce our dependence on them and our payments of money to them. We will cease to invest our health, our lives, and our money in them.” Photo of Wendell Berry © 2013 Nancy Pierce/UUA

     Meanwhile, an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) titled “Consider Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry” was one of three proposed AIWs admitted to the plenary floor. The proposed AIW, crafted under the leadership of former UUMFE Board member Terry Wiggins, was then amended during a mini-assembly, and later presented for vote, where it was passed nearly unanimously. Watch the debate and vote on the UUA website (start at 1:21). The AIW calls upon delegates “to begin a denomination-wide conversation within their congregations about divesting from fossil fuels or exercising shareholder influence” and suggests actions for discussion.

     Looking ahead, UU divestment proponents are organizing to present a Business Resolution at GA 2014 to divest the UUA’s Common Endowment Fund, with an allowance for minimal direct holdings for shareholder advocacy purposes and increased investments supporting a transition to clean energy. The proposed resolution is in the final draft stage, and organizers will be collecting required signatures this fall to meet the filing deadline. For more information, join the uudivestment yahoo group by emailing Wes Ernsberger (wesernsberger@gmail.com) or Nick Laiacona (nicklaiacona@gmail.com).

     UUMFE has assembled resources on socially responsible investing and the fossil fuel divestment campaign – see section following Forum video. We encourage readers and congregations to make use of them to guide your discussions and actions in these important areas this coming year.

Please help us offer the best resources possible by contributing resources you might have developed or found useful, your best practices and success stories. If you have a specific request, please let us know! Contact Cindy Davidson at cynthiadavidson@verizon.net.

“To Divest or Not to Divest: What are the Moral and Practical Considerations of a Fossil Fuel Divestment Strategy?”

The video below is from the above titled forum on May 13, 2013 in Boston, MA. The forum flyer includes the key questions addressed in the forum and biographies of the participating panelists.

  • Tim Brennan, Treasurer and CFO of the UU Association of Congegations
  • Chuck Collins, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies
  • Stephanie Leighton, Senior Portfolio Manager and Research Analyst at Trillium Asset Management LLC
  • Bob Massie, President and CEO of the New Economics Institute
  • Lauren Ressler, National Organizer at the Responsible Endowments Coalition
  • Jim Sherblom, Senior Minister at First Parish, UU, Brookline, MA
  • Tim Smith, Senior VP, Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Walden Asset Management, a division of Boston Trust, Boston, MA
  • Barbara Simonetti, moderator
     

Considering fossil fuel divestment? Here some useful resources.

“Divest from Fossil Fuels. Invest in Love,” a sermon by Rev. Fred Small
     First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, May 19, 2013

UUA Committee on Socially Responsible Investing:
     “Fossil Fuel Statement” and “Frequently Asked Questions”

Divest and Reinvest program at Green Faith.org:
     Religious Education resources, good collection of pros and cons media coverage and reports, and resolutions from faith communities.

"uudivestment" Yahoo group
     This is "a private group for individuals who are working on divestment from fossil fuel companies in UU congregations. We are also working to have the UUCEF similarly divest." Moderated by Terry Wiggins, First Unitarian of Milwaukee, and former UUMFE Board member. To join, email Wes Ernsberger (wesernsberger@gmail.com) or Nick Laiacona (nicklaiacona@gmail.com) with the name of your congregation and your role within the congregation. The group is currently working on a Business Resolution related to divestment for General Assembly 2014.

Putting the Big Squeeze on Big Oil, Coal, & Gas, Green AmericaGreen American Cover
     Fossil fuel divestment was the theme of the Feb/March Green American magazine, with several feature articles. Download Green America's "Guide to Fossil Fuel Divestment" and learn more on the Go Fossil Free page on the website. More from Green America in the next section.

Hear UU leader Terry Wiggins and UCC Rev. Jim Antal speak about the “divest and reinvest” motions passed at the national assemblies at a webinar convened by GreenFaith.

"11 Reasons to Divest from the Fossil Fuel Industry" post  by UU Chuck Collins at Common Dreams.

Learn more about Socially Responsible Investing

UUA’s Socially Responsible Investing webpage:
     Introduction to SRI, community investing, and resources for congregations.

“Values-Based Financial Practices for Unitarian Universalists”
     A four-session curriculum exploring the three main branches of values-based financial practice: shareholder activism, choices in purchasing & investing, and community investments. Authored by Rev. Dr. Sydney Morris in 2010, drawing from her participation in ethical economics since 1981.

The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (USSIF)
     SRI Basics, How Do I SRI? and publications, including “Community Investing Toolkit for the Faith Community” Sustainable and Responsible Mutual Fund Chart

Green America
     SRI Basics, community investing, shareholder activism, Banking, Socially responsible mutual funds and fund managers; Guide to Socially Responsible Investing