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Group of Foundations Unite in Divesting From Fossil Fuels

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A recent move by 17 foundations to stop investing in fossil fuels has added to a growing debate about "green portfolios."

The Educational Foundation of America is a charitable group with workers in Fairfield County and $172 million in assets. Last month, they were one of 17 groups deciding to divest nearly $1.8 billion from companies doing business in fossil fuels.

"You cannot have that lack of alignment if you're really behind the core goals."
Melissa Beck

Melissa Beck, their executive director, said divesting from fossil fuels is a moral imperative. "Otherwise," she said, "it's like tying a weight to your foot. You're trying to take all these great steps forward. ...Yet your assets are keeping those companies afloat. It can't be that way. You cannot have that lack of alignment if you're really behind the core goals, and the core mission, of your foundation."

Divestment isn't limited only to big foundations. Cities are getting on board as well. So far, 22 cities across the country have divested from fossil fuel technology. Some are names you'd expect in places like Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. But then there's New London.

Daryl Justin Finizio, the city's mayor, said, "The city of New London controls approximately $40 million in pension fund investments. The pension committee, which I chair, has voted to instruct our fund managers to divest any of those holdings from portfolios or corporations that have interests and investments in fossil fuel technologies."

Finizio said that about five percent of the city's overall investments will be shifted to more sustainable funds. "We've actually asked them to look at emergent technologies," he said, "which includes green tech, and to look at bioscience and medical technologies, which are the growing industries, particularly in the northeast and in the emergent markets. Those portfolios are performing as well as fossil fuel portfolios."
The divestment debate is also playing out at Yale, where a student petition last November called for the university to partially divest its $20 billion endowment from fossil fuels. University officials said they are exploring the idea. 

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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