Williams College to Address Climate Change Through Comprehensive Action and Investment of up to $50 Million

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., September 10, 2015—The Williams College Board of Trustees and President Adam F. Falk today announced an ambitious plan to address the urgent issue of global climate change by reducing the college’s greenhouse gas emissions even further, achieving carbon neutrality, and investing significantly in sustainable-energy and carbon-reduction projects and the enhancement of the college’s educational efforts related to the environment.

The plan comes after months of study and consideration by the board, prompted by student activism and a broad-based community effort to urge the college to assume a leadership role in the fight against climate change, as well as by the work of the college’s Campus Environmental Advisory Committee and Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility. In December 2014, the board received a petition from a group of alumni, students, faculty, and staff asking the college to divest its endowment of a set of 200 companies having large coal, oil, and gas reserves.

“We will invest, not divest,” Falk said. “Climate change is a crisis of great urgency and a global scale, and all of us—institutionally and individually—have a moral responsibility to take meaningful, substantive action toward a solution.”

Falk noted that, as a result of a long-term evolution of its investment strategy completed June 30, Williams does not have direct holdings in any companies, including those 200, nor does it have any plans to acquire any such direct holdings.

The college will not, however, abandon its overall investment strategy to comply fully with the divestment petition. Instead the college will seek to advance efforts to address climate change through a comprehensive set of initiatives and investments of as much as $50 million over the next five years.

“President Falk and the trustees have thought deeply about how we can ask more of ourselves and most effectively invest the college’s human and financial resources in this complex challenge,” said Michael R. Eisenson ’77, chairman of the Williams College Board of Trustees. “This plan represents a leadership response to climate change that we believe is worthy of Williams.”

The college will, in an effort to address the concerns of the divestment proponents, provide donors with a way to direct annual gifts to support sustainability efforts specifically and to direct major gifts to the endowment to a fossil fuel-free investment fund. Employees of the college will be able to invest their retirement savings in a low-carbon vehicle within Williams’ TIAA-CREF plan.

In a statement to the college today, on the first day of classes for the 2015-16 year, the board and President Falk outlined specific goals that include:

A more ambitious goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, the college committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The plan released today sets a new goal of reducing emissions to 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. To achieve this, the college will undertake new solar electricity projects on campus and college-owned land, purchase electricity from renewable sources whenever it can, and invest in sustainable design, building practices, and systems to increase energy efficiency and lower energy use in existing buildings.

Carbon neutrality by the end of 2020. The college will aim first and foremost to make significant progress toward net carbon neutrality through reduced consumption of fossil fuels. Beginning in 2020, Williams intends to take the further step of achieving carbon neutrality through the incremental purchase of carbon offsets on the global market and renewable energy credits.

Community-wide efforts to reduce fossil-fuel consumption. The plan calls for a partnership among students, faculty, and staff to explore ways to reduce energy use on campus. The Campus Environmental Advisory Committee will lead a process to develop recommendations in response to this challenge.

Investment in sustainable-energy and carbon-reduction projects. The college will use its endowment to invest in local and regional projects aimed at energy and carbon reduction. It also will seek opportunities to allocate a portion of the endowment to managers whose areas of expertise include companies, technologies, and projects aimed at reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Investment in educational efforts related to climate change. The college will create two new positions for faculty whose scholarship and teaching are focused on climate change and related public policy. In addition, Williams will plan a campus-wide theme of inquiry called “Confronting Climate Change,” for the 2016-17 academic year.

That work builds on existing educational efforts that included the April dedication of the college’s Class of 1966 Environmental Center. This year the center will officially begin its pursuit of the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous and advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment.

“As a Williams alumnus and an environmental advocate, it’s really exciting for me to see the college take such powerful and positive steps forward in addressing climate change,” said Mark Tercek ’79, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Devoting a year of inquiry to confronting climate change, creating faculty positions, calling on all members of the Williams community to work together to lower the campus’ carbon footprint, committing to carbon neutrality—these are the kind of concrete actions that colleges can take toward lasting change.”

William Moomaw ’59, a chemist turned policy scientist who has spent the last quarter-century working on climate issues—including serving as lead author of five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports—said of the college’s approach: “The Williams trustees have decided to divest from the use of fossil fuels starting immediately rather than to divest from fossil fuel stocks. Their decision to invest continuously in direct action that exceeds national and international climate goals addresses the most urgent need to reduce climate-altering emissions rapidly. The divestment movement has triggered a thoughtful, comprehensive response that integrates climate change actions into the educational and societal mission of the college by engaging students and the larger college community.”

The full statement is available online.

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Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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