Seattle University Board Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuels

September 19, 2018

Dear Seattle University Community,

As we prepare to welcome all our new and returning students to campus, I am pleased to share with you a significant decision by the Seattle University Board of Trustees in solidarity with students, faculty and staff in addressing climate change.

Last Thursday, the board voted to adopt both recommendations on fossil fuel divestment from the university’s Socially Responsible Investments (SRI) Advisory Working Group. The university will now move forward firmly committed (1) “by June 30, 2023, to fully divest the marketable portion of the endowment from any investments in companies owning fossil fuel reserves,” and (2) “to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the exposure to companies owning fossil fuel reserves in the marketable portion of the endowment portfolio by December 31, 2020.” The board will do so in a responsible and prudent manner to minimize any negative impact on the endowment.

The moral imperative for action is clear. By taking this step we are acting boldly and making an important statement. Along with the university’s numerous sustainability initiatives, including substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and the integration of environmental justice programming in our curriculum, this action can effect change. We join with others also at the forefront of the growing divestment movement and hope our action encourages more to do the same. Together, we can amplify our collective voice and accelerate the transition to clean, fossil-free energy sources.

As a Jesuit and Catholic university we have a special obligation to address the unfolding climate change crisis. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, or Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis calls us to view this as a social and ecological issue of grave urgency that is connected to all around us and that has especially devastating consequences for society’s most vulnerable.

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up,” Pope Francis asks. “There is a growing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet… Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”

The board’s action on divestment is but one part of what the university is doing in support of a more sustainable, just and humane world. I am grateful for the leadership of students, especially Sustainable Student Action (SSA), for elevating the importance of this issue and for the broad support expressed across campus through SSA, Student Government of Seattle University, Academic Assembly, the President’s Committee for Sustainability and others as well as the critical and dedicated work of the SRI Advisory Working Group. I also express my appreciation to the Board of Trustees for its commitment to our mission and the way it approached this decision.


Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the size of the university’s endowment?

The endowment value on June 30, 2018 was approximately $230 million.

How much of the endowment is in marketable asset classes?

Approximately 92.3 percent of the endowment portfolio, or $212.4 million, is marketable. This would include comingled funds and government securities that are generally marketable on a regularly traded market.

What is the estimated amount of the endowment’s exposure to fossil fuel reserves?

The most recent projection by the university’s investment advisor is from June 30, 2017. At the time, the endowment portfolio had an estimated 6.7 percent, or $13.6 million, exposure to securities of fossil fuel companies, as defined by ownership of fossil fuel reserves. These securities are owned indirectly through the university’s investments in funds managed by external investment managers.

Does the board’s commitment apply to the non-marketable asset classes once their specified period of time expires?

Yes, the commitment to divest from fossil fuels includes not investing in any new funds that invest in companies holding fossil fuels reserves. This applies to non-marketable asset classes once their terms end. These non-marketable funds represent the remaining approximately 7.7 percent of the overall endowment portfolio. These are private investment funds that are not marketable on a regularly traded market because they are committed to be held for a specified period of time. These commitments typically range from three to five up to 10 to 15 years.