Is Divesting the Key to Sustainability?


Anna Letson

Students think NYU’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels contradicts its sustainability efforts, even though the university focuses on other efforts such as water, power and waste.

Natasha Roy, Deputy News Editor

Even though the university touts many eco-friendly initiatives and outlines major issues on its website, some students feel that NYU’s refusal to divest contradicts its eco-friendly efforts.

NYU Divest is still working towards convincing the university to pull its fossil fuel investments, and CAS senior Olivia Rich — who is a member of the club — said that divestment would encourage other institutions to withdraw from these industries.

“Existing fossil fuel reserves contain over five times as much carbon as can be burned before guaranteeing catastrophic climate change,” Rich said. “NYU has a moral responsibility to not support these companies with continued investment.”

She believes that without divesting, NYU cannot be sustainable, and Rich said that she wants the university to re-examine the impact if it does divest.

“When we invest in something, we want it to do well,” Rich said. “The only way the fossil fuel industry can do well is if there is no comprehensive action on climate change, therefore creating a conflict of interests for NYU between our purported desire for sustainability, which necessarily means legislative action on climate change, and the interests of our endowment.”

However, Environmental Studies assistant professor Jessica Green does not believe sustainability requires divesting.

“Environment is not the same as sustainability; most view the latter as broader, as it is comprised of three components: economic growth, environmental protection and social equity,” Green said. “There are plenty of ways to be sustainable without divesting. The university could focus on being carbon-neutral, promoting social equity through community liaisons, eliminating food waste [and] building green buildings.”

She said that divestment is so big among students and activists because of the 350 campaign, but Green said that there are no limits to other types of policies NYU could implement besides divestment.

The university is focusing on some eco-friendly efforts, such as retrofitting buildings, employing green construction and trying to reduce its overall emissions. The sustainability website said that NYU’s cogeneration plant is projected to cut greenhouse emissions by 20 percent.

Yet that is not enough for some students. CAS junior Alex Buchholz is a vice president of Earth Matters, a student-run environmental organization, and he disagrees with NYU’s claims of being a sustainable, eco-friendly institution. He said that students were the ones who enacted some of the most effective environmentally conscious efforts at NYU.

“Sustainability is one of those words that gets unrightfully slapped on brochures and advertisements, and I certainly think NYU is guilty of that,” Buchholz said. “NYU, as an institution, can and should be doing a lot more to lessen their environmental impact.”

Buchholz said that other sustainability efforts, such as Take Back The Tap and Real Food Challenge, are student-run rather than university-initiated. While he believes President Andrew Hamilton understands the urgency of climate change and sustainability, he believes the university’s choice to not divest is both irresponsible and contradictory to its goals.

NYU claims they’ll prepare us for a fruitful future (at an expensive price tag), but how can that be possible if they have money invested in the very systems that are destroying our planet?” Buchholz asked in an email. “Let’s pour money into education and energy systems that support a sustainable and just future.”

Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]