Spelman College’s strategic plan to create a greener community recently took home a coveted sustainability award.
8.15.2016 / By Alexa B. White
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have begun to more deeply investigate and make commitments to addressing climate change. There are several methods that HBCUs have been using to combat greenhouse gas emissions, but one in particular has not been adopted: complete divestment from fossil fuels.
The strategic act of divestment would not be new to HBCUs. In April of 2007, Howard University completely divested from Sudan due to multiple reported human rights violations, particularly in Darfur. This marked one of the first times that an HBCU took action through divestment.
Perhaps part of the hesitation to divest from fossil fuels is that climate change is not seen as an immediate social or human rights threat for HBCUs and their communities. This incentivizes HBCUs to create programs less focused on fossil fuel divestment and more focused on community awareness campaigns, clean energy, and sustainability efforts.
This can be seen in the 2015 G.O.A.L.S strategic plan at Spelman College in Atlanta. G.O.A.L.S. – Global perspective, Operational excellence, Accountability, Leadership opportunity, and Service and community engagement – is part of a Spelman’s strategic plan to create a greener community.
On July 12, Spelman received the Leadership in Educational Facilities’ (APPA) 2016 Sustainability Award. Other 2016 recipients included the University of Michigan, George Washington University and Ohio University – all have prominent student-led fossil fuel divestment groups – Spelman was the only HBCU recognized for this award.
The key to Spelman’s G.O.A.L.S. is creating partnerships and networks to tackle issues of funding support that transitioning to clean energy brings.
“We have a proposal to use some funding from one foundation to do a joint energy efficiency program between various colleges,” said Arthur Frazier, III, director of facilities management and services at Spelman.
“Then, through the Atlanta University Center at Vine City and English Avenue Eco-district Initiative, we are beginning to identify buildings that would complete an energy audit of and identify opportunities to reduce energy and utilities.”
Another key to Spelman’s plan: engaging with local fossil fuel companies.
“We are always in conversation with Georgia Power,” said Frazier. “The biggest component of our greenhouse gas inventory is electrical consumption. So we have met with them [Georgia Power] and explored renewable energy options.”
Although Spelman has not committed, nor stated any plans to divest from fossil fuels, there are groups that believe HBCUs should dive into the movement.
Lindsay Meiman, U.S. Communications Coordinator for 350.org and 350 Action, a fossil fuels divestment advocacy group, believes there would be a greater benefit if HBCUs took the plunge and simply divested. “Through fossil fuel divestment, HBCUs can choose to stand on the right side of history and prove that their students, youth and the public are greater than the fossil fuel industry,” said Meiman.
“Multiple reports have illustrated financial hits that endowments and pension funds are taking from continued investments in coal, oil, and gas companies. Not only are fossil fuel companies morally bankrupt, but the industry as a whole is in a dire financial state.”
Last month, Exxon Mobil Corp and Dutch Shell Plc reported their lowest quarterly profits since 1995 and 2005, according to Bloomberg.com. However, the drop probably has less to do with the Paris agreement’s clean energy transition plan and the divestment movement than with cheap oil prices.
“We know that, to this day, companies like Exxon still fund climate denial groups. These are absolutely not companies that our institutions should associate or have financial ties with,” said Meiman. “If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong for our institutions to profit from that wreckage.”
Alexa White is a biology major at Howard University and a 2016 HBSciU fellow.
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