Published: Feb. 13, 2023 By


"Providing public forums to openly discuss the most important and contested issues of the day is central to the mission of a public university. I'm proud that C-SEF, CESR and the Burridge Center are able to provide such a forum on this issue,"

says Matthew G. Burgess, Director, Center for Social and Environmental Futures

Leeds students advocate for decarbonization

The Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR), Center for Environmental and Social Futures (C-SEF), and The Burridge Center for Finance, are jointly presenting a panel discussion titled Debating Divestment, on March 1st, 12:30-2pm at Kittredge Hall at CU Boulder. 

This event is open to the community and designed to explore the arguments, data and research underpinning diverse perspectives on calls for The University of Colorado system to divest from fossil fuels. The program aims to prepare CU students to tackle a critically important issue across their careers, as they develop into the future citizens and leaders we need. 

 “As current/future investors and business leaders, Leeds students are increasingly aware of their impact,” says Matthew Fleming, Director of Operations at the Burridge Center for Finance. CESR and Burridge work together to elevate these conversations within the business school. The cross-campus collaboration with C-SEF further advances awareness of the relationship between business and positive environmental and social impact.

The Business Case for Divestment

The University manages several billion dollars in institutional funds, including endowment, pension and operating funds. Since the 1970’s, Fossil Free CU has been calling for divestment of endowment and pension funds from oil and gas companies. During the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit at CU Boulder, students and supporters organized to raise visibility of the ongoing movement.

"I was struck in reading the Washington Post recently about climate finance issues by a quote from the U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry in Davos. When asked what we primarily need to successfully address human contribution to climate change, his response was pretty straightforward: Money, money, money, money,"  says Heidi VanGenderen, Chief Sustainability Officer, CU Boulder

While the moral case for climate action and carbon reduction remains a key component of the divestment discussion, financial data increasingly supports the business case for ESG investing. In just the past few years we have seen the operating environment for business shift in response to pending SEC rules calling for disclosure of climate risks, new reporting standards for measuring emissions across a company’s value chain, and international agreements that encourage participation in a circular economy model, among other developments. 

Recent research also suggests that ESG investing is not a riskier strategy but a positive contributor to financial returns. 

“Financial performance data over the past ten years and beyond, show that superior financial returns have been achieved with divested and ESG invested portfolios – and that being invested in fossil fuel stocks is now fiduciarily irresponsible,” says John Powers (MBA’83). The Global Turning Point Report from Deloitte underscores the financial risks of not taking action on climate change. 

Talking Strategy

Gold bar section divider

“What’s the most effective way to accelerate decarbonization? Outside-in threats that gradually undermine companies’ social license to operate or inside-out engagement to drive incremental change? That is the core question of the divestment debate,”

says Joshua Nunziato

Changing direction on the strategy for a large fund with many stakeholders involves a complex series of considerations. Scholarly studies of the main arguments for and against divestment have explored how effective calls for divestment have been in moving us toward a low carbon future and eliminating our use of fossil fuels.

Heidi VanGenderen notes that “the questions of concerted divestment and investment are an extraordinarily important part of the climate challenge. The investments we require to effect the energy transformation to help address this unprecedented challenge is also, arguably, the greatest opportunity presented in the history of people on the planet. Clear and open debate about the whole of this landscape must and is taking place to find a solid path forward.”

Debating Divestment Panel March 1st 12:30-2pm, Kittredge Hall

This panel will explore these economic issues, and the relationship between capital and climate change. It will engage students and community members in the complexities, concerns and pressure points in the divestment debate, equipping them to engage broadly in the work of decarbonization across their careers.

Matt Burgess encourages students who want to advocate on either side of this issue “to do their homework. If you’re asking CU administrators to give you their time, and you’re asking CU faculty and staff to invest their retirement savings according to your advice, you owe them that much,” he says. Matt adds, “I encourage you also to attend the March 1 event.”

Registration Information

Register to attend Debating Divestment, on March 1st, 12:30-2pm at Kittredge Hall at CU Boulder. This event is open to the community.

Speakers include:

  • Betsy Moszeter, Chief Distribution & Marketing Officer and Portfolio Manager, Green Alpha Advisors
  • Carla Fredericks, Chief Executive Officer, The Christensen Fund
  • P. Noel Kullavanijaya, President of Capital Markets and Investor Networks, Equilibrium Capital
  • Shaun Davies, Associate Professor and Research Director of the Burridge Center for Finance, Leeds School of Business

Joshua Nunziato, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Social Responsibility and Sustainability division at Leeds, will be moderating.