Divest-Invest: Divesting from the past and Investing in the Future

Over the last three years, a global climate change movement has called on all institutional investors to divest from fossil fuels and has focused on exposing the problem of ‘unburnable carbon’, alerting investors to the risks of stranded assets, and calling for urgent action on financial and ethical grounds. For the philanthropic sector, the social, human, and ecological impacts of climate change significantly impacts our missions and programmatic activities. Climate change also introduces serious ethical and financial risks to our investment portfolios.

In January 2014, a coalition of 17 foundations with $1.7 billion in assets launched Divest-Invest Philanthropy to address the challenges of climate change and to catalyze the philanthropic community to action. Divest-Invest Philanthropy believes that foundations should move quickly, as the science compels us to act with urgency and at scale. Our primary objective is to grow the number of foundations committed to divesting away from carbon intensive fossil fuels and reinvesting a portion of their portfolio in climate solutions such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean tech, and energy access for the world’s poor over a five-year time period.

A secondary objective is to build a community of practice where we share information about investment mechanics, products, trends, and partnership opportunities. By working together, we can identify and remove barriers to divestment and direct our resources to the most promising investment opportunities. We also operate in partnership with members from the broader divest-invest movement that encompasses universities, faith groups, hospitals, pension funds, cities, and individuals.

Signatories to Divest-Invest Philanthropy share a set of common values; foremost is the principle that philanthropic organizations have an ethical imperative to divest from harmful industries that damage the environment, impact vulnerable populations, and put our planet and children’s future at risk. In the broadest sense it means using all of our assets to advance our goals, values, and beliefs. At a minimum, it means ensuring our investments do not drive the very problems we ask our grantees to solve. Investments cannot undercut our philanthropic mission – serving the public good. Our investment portfolios are being used to catalyze financial and technological innovation, develop sustainable investment models, and push for mainstream financial institutions to develop new investment instruments that incorporate financial, social, and environmental factors. We can do well, while doing good.

The mission and values of Divest-Invest Philanthropy has resonated throughout the philanthropic community. Over the last 13 months we have grown to 73 foundations worldwide – a four-fold increase – with $4.4 billion in pledged assets. Our members include leading foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Goldman Environmental Foundation, Sierra Club Foundation, Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, Wallace Global Fund, Trust Africa, and the Russell Family Foundation.

We announced our last round of signatories at the UN Climate Summit in September 2014 alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mark Ruffalo. We also shared our goal of tripling the number of signatories by the COP 21 in December 2015 where a binding and universal global agreement will be negotiated in what may be the last opportunity to do so to avert the worst impacts of climate change. This year is perhaps the most significant for demonstrating both the will and capacity to orchestrate an energy transition. We very much hope that institutions and individuals will join from Canada and around the world.

If you are interested in learning more or have any questions please contact Jenna Nicholas at jensta27@gmail.com.