Is Stock Divestment the New Activism? Fossil Fuels and GMO Stocks Losing Value


Forget picketing. If you really want to make companies change their ways, you’ll turn to stock divestment.

How big of an impact are fossil fuels having on climate change? Big enough for Stanford University to divest close to $19 billion worth of stock in coal-mining companies. The announcement came just after the White House released an 840-page report on climate change earlier this week. It makes Stanford the first major university to divest its fossil fuel funds. But not the only one.

According to the New York Times, the university said that the stock divestment move was in accordance with its guidelines that allow the school’s trustees to consider “whether ‘corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury’ when choosing investments.” The university has removed companies “whose principal business is coal” from their investment portfolio.

The move involves close to 100 companies around the world that depend on coal extraction as their core source of revenue. “Not all of those companies are in the university’s investment portfolio, whose structure is private,” Stanford’s associate vice president for communications, Lisa Lapin, told the Times. And over all, the university’s coal holdings represent “a small fraction of its endowment.”

“But a small percentage is still a substantial amount of money,” Ms. Lapin added.

Stanford’s decision now leads the way in a stock divestment movement actively happening on approximately 300 university campuses, reports the Times. “At least 11 small universities have elected to remove fossil-fuel stocks from their endowments, but none approaches Stanford’s prestige or national influence.  Tuesday’s decision seems likely to increase the pressure on other major universities to follow suit.”

Stanford “knows the havoc that climate change creates around our planet,” Bill McKibben, the president and co-founder of the environmental group, said in a statement. “Other forward-looking and internationally minded institutions will follow, I’m sure.”

The anti-GMO movement is utilizing stock divestment as well. A recent video released by the faceless organization, Organic Spies, calls for consumers to petition mutual funds managers to drop Monsanto from their portfolios. “Who owns Monsanto stock?” The video asks. “You do. The time is now for Fidelity, Vanguard and State Street, who each own billions of dollars in Monsanto stock, to dump it.”

Friday May 9th is being dubbed the “National Day of Action” to divest Monsanto stocks. Groups including the Cornucopia Institute, Food Democracy Now! and the Institute for Responsible Technology are all supporting the campaign. Protests will be held at Fidelity locations across the country.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.