Tag Articles: Matthew Derr

Sterling College: Aligning Our Investments with Our Values

Matthew Derr, President, Sterling College: July 2013

Founded in 1958, Sterling College is a leading voice in higher education for environmental stewardship and the liberal arts, located in Northern Vermont. Sterling was among the first colleges in the United States to focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship through academic majors in Ecology, Environmental Humanities, Outdoor Education, and Sustainable Agriculture.

We believe that colleges and universities across the United States have an obligation to speak out on the critical environmental and social issues facing our country. Recognition of the calamitous effects of climate change is directly linked to the educational mission of Sterling College and its focus on ecology and sustainable agriculture. For this reason, we are proud that we were first college in Vermont and the third in the United States to plan to divest its endowment from the two hundred fossil fuel companies identified by 350.org in its effort to move higher education toward fossil free investment.

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously at its February 2, 2013 meeting to instruct the investment team to take this action and to move swiftly to divest. Unfortunately for fans of reality television, there were no fights, shouting matches, or even a raised eyebrow. We decided to divest without drama. As Board member Rian Fried said recently, “My fellow board members and I couldn’t have agreed more that this action would be a logical expression of our values, and a way to help strengthen the movement for action on climate change.”

At Sterling, everything about what we teach – and how we teach -­ is geared towards building a world that works. Our leadership team is inspired daily by the values and integrity of our faculty and students, and we want to do our part to make sure the planet we all inherit is not too hot or dry or stormy for us to farm, and that the shift to sustainable, local economies will not be undermined by the extreme weather that comes with climate change.

The Board wished to work with an asset manager that specializes in socially responsible investment, so that a broad range of environmental, social, and governance criteria could be applied to stock selection. We want to be conscientious investors, not just to have our investment strategy fully informed by our values, but also to aid in reallocating capital to the alternative energy sector and encourage others to do the same.

We chose to move our endowment to Trillium Asset Management which has been managing fossil fuel free investment portfolios for years, with long-term performance that is comparable to standard benchmarks. I am pleased to relay that we completed the fossil fuel divestment of our endowment on July 1, 2013.

In taking this important action, the College and its Board of Trustees is affirming its commitment to its mission to educate problem solvers. Our legacy and focus on protecting the environment and sustainable agricultural practices absolutely compels us to take this action. We hope that we inspire other colleges and universities to take this important next step toward divestment in fossil fuels, because higher education is an important platform for this dialogue and we need to bring the nation’s attention on this critical issue.