BY ISN STAFF | January 8, 2020
On New Years Eve, Creighton University announced its withdrawal from ownership of public securities of fossil fuel companies within the next five years and exit from its holdings in private fossil fuel investments within the next 10 years. The announcement, part of a modified investment policy approved by the Board of Trustees in September 2020, also communicates a commitment to seeking investments that target a market rate of return in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“This modified policy signifies our strong commitment to sustainable investing—and sustainability in general across the University—and, according to our investment advisors, it can be accomplished without a negative impact on the strength and overall performance of our endowment, which greatly serves the mission of the institution,” said Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., Ph.D.
Michael R. McCarthy, chair of Creighton’s Board of Trustees, noted Fr. Hendrickson’s leadership in encouraging the Board in 2019 to review the guidelines by which the University assesses its investments. Fr. Hendrickson stressed both maintaining the strength of the endowment and meeting Creighton’s fiduciary investment obligations while ensuring the process aligns with the University’s desire for carbon emission reduction.
“This modified policy accords with Creighton’s Jesuit, Catholic mission, and the strategic management of Creighton’s investment funds, which are so important for the University’s operations, academic programming, student scholarships and more,” McCarthy added.
The University will continue to vote shareholder proxies in favor of carbon-reduction resolutions and will pursue opportunities to partner with organizations that engage corporations on environmental issues, such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Jesuit Committee on Investment Responsibility, and others.
Sustainability and care for our common home have been priorities for Fr. Hendrickson and Creighton University. In January 2020, Creighton hosted a multidisciplinary panel discussion on Ignatian responses to the global climate crisis, and a Climate Change Task Force of students, faculty and staff is developing a new sustainability plan for the campus.
In February 2020, the Investment Subcommittee of the Board approved transactions that reduced Creighton’s investment exposure to fossil fuel companies to 5.7% of its portfolio, down from 8.9% as of June 30, 2019. By June 30, 2020, Creighton’s investment in fossil fuel companies was further reduced to 3.9% of its portfolio.
“We have intensified and sharpened our efforts and focus, and allocation of resources, around sustainability, including hiring a new director of sustainability,” Fr. Hendrickson said. “This is a significant issue for our world, and I hope that, in many ways, Creighton can lead the discussion and identify creative solutions.” To this end, the Creighton Global Initiative has supported and launched a number of related programs, including the Common Home Project, connecting Creighton to Jesuit higher educational partners around the globe. “Caring for Our Common Home” is also one of four Universal Apostolic Preferences identified by the Society of Jesus that is guiding the mission of the Jesuits globally through 2029.
Emily Burke, a senior at Creighton and one of the student leaders in its climate movement, told National Catholic Reporter’s EarthBeat that “students are surely celebrating today.”
“This has been two years in the making, and we are so proud that we pushed Creighton to this kind of action so soon. It’s very rewarding to be a Creighton student after an announcement like this,” Burke said.
Another student leader, Michael Galeski wrote in a Medium post that the decision “was the result of over 2 years of persistence by the Creighton student body…People are voting with their dollars, and the companies that refuse to adapt their business models to a carbon constrained society are losing badly.”
The issue of sustainability gained greater attention five years ago with the release of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking encyclical Laudato Si’, which called for all people to take “swift and unified global action” in response to environmental degradation and global warming. This year, the Vatican published Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home: Five Years After Laudato Si’, which strongly recommended, in part, that the ethical commitments of Catholic institutions should lead to “avoiding supporting companies that harm human or social ecology and environmental ecology (for example, fossil fuels).” This marked the first time the Vatican has explicitly endorsed fossil fuel divestment.
The campus was honored with the Arbor Day Foundation’s 2015 Tree Campus USA status. In 2019, Creighton hosted the inaugural Laudato Si’ and the Catholic Church: A Conference Series on our Common Home. This past semester, many on campus participated in a comprehensive composting program that not only strengthens the campus’ sustainability commitment, but also increases and intensifies Creighton’s community engagement efforts.