Stanford University waves its coal mining shares good-bye

Stanford University waves its coal mining shares good-bye

Stanford Main Quadrangle.

Stanford University became Wednesday the largest and most prestigious US educational institution to join the growing number of colleges divesting from fossil fuels because of concerns about climate change, by announcing it is selling its shares in coal mining companies held by its almost $19 billion endowment fund.

The university’s trustees voted late Tuesday to stop investing in approximately 100 publicly traded firms whose main business is mining coal for power generation, following a campaign by students and a review by its advisory panel on investment responsibility.

Seven students at Washington University in St. Louis were arrested last week during a demonstration demanding Peabody Energy’s (NYSE:BTU) chief executive Gregory H. Boyce to resign from the university's board of trustees. Another student was detained at Harvard University for trying along with half a dozen other students to blockade the office of president Drew Faust. More than 100 faculty members have signed a letter to Faust urging the institution, which is the world’s richest university, to divest.

“Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small but constructive step while work continues at Stanford and elsewhere to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future,” Stanford’s president John Hennessy said in a statement. Stanford doesn't disclose its holdings, but as of Aug. 31, 2013, its endowment was worth $18.7 billion.

The university warned it would not sell its holdings in oil and gas companies, on the grounds that suitable alternatives to those fuels are not readily available.

The divestment movement has convinced Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and other cities to shed fossil fuel firms. Other colleges that have divested include Hampshire College, Pitzer College, and College of the Atlantic.