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UofL Green Scene: Sustainable investing at UofL

by Emily Nordling, senior English, history and humanities major last modified Jun 09, 2011 12:19 PM

In the fall semester of 2010, UofL took one of its latest and most far-reaching steps in sustainability by forming its first Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (SRI).

Consisting of administration, faculty, and students alike, the committee is dedicated to upholding a number of sustainability goals—from human rights to climate change. Its members, such as Professor of Ethics Avery Kolers and Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives Justin Mog, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, but share the same passion for improving UofL’s impact on a local and global scale.

The SRI Committee formed in part due to UofL’s participation in the STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) program, which rates universities based upon efforts to improve environmental, social and economic impact. Last year, UofL received a silver rating — a great honor, but certainly not the best we can do. Currently, the committee is developing recommendations for the President and Provost on opportunities for the UofL Foundation to invest portions of the university’s endowment in funds which are not only profitable, but socially and environmentally responsible as well. The committee is exploring new SRI funds which seek out investment opportunities such as local businesses, green energy and conflict-free products. A number of more controversial topics have been discussed as well — such as the use of nuclear power — however, due to its size and youth, the committee has yet to finalize any recommendations for negative screening of investments.

UofL is not alone, however, in its quest for a more socially responsible investment strategy. We join numerous other, reputable universities in a phenomenon that stretches the globe. Ivy League colleges like Columbia and Harvard and small, private schools such as Green Mountain College have joined in the organization of a successful group called the Responsible Endowments Coalition. UofL recently added itself to their ranks. In February of 2011, the SRI Committee sent a student representative (yours truly) to the REC’s National Conference in New York City. There, representatives from all over the United States (and a number from Canada and the UK) discussed strategies and implementation of socially responsible investing. Green Mountain College, for instance, reached its greatest goal last year by achieving complete carbon-neutrality, in part through investments in green energy — truly a goal worthy of emulation by UofL.

In what other ways is our university putting its money where its mouth is? Last year, UofL’s administration signed on to the Worker’s Rights Consortium and the Designated Supplier’s Program — two organizations dedicated to the monitoring and promotion of sweatshop-free factories producing university apparel. Recent UofL Sustainability Council initiatives include promotion of bicycling on campus, as well as new single-stream recycling bins in every office. Although these are merely steps in the right direction, their impact has been and will be extensive and momentous.

These initiatives — from the formation of the SRI Committee to recent graduate Bess McLaughlin’s campaign against bottled water ’ also illustrate the importance of a strong, progressively minded community at UofL. Student groups like GRASS, Common Ground and Students United for Peace and Justice hold both the administration and themselves responsible in making our school and world a better place. How will you get involved? If you are interested in becoming a student voice in the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, please contact chair Larry Zink.

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