The unique and challenging circumstances that surrounded the 50th anniversary of Earth Day did not dampen the spirit of the milestone at American University. While local stay-at-home orders made it necessary to move the celebration online, the university’s commitment to sustainability remained unabated. This year’s Earth Day marked the second anniversary of AU becoming the first carbon neutral university in the United States and a new milestone in the form of fossil fuel divestment.
“For more than a decade, AU has been on a campus-wide sustainability journey – something that’s not just part of our mission, but our DNA as changemakers,” said President Sylvia M. Burwell. “Our actions, from reaching carbon neutrality to the board’s commitment to evolving our investments, will continue to serve as a model for sustainability, further demonstrating our leadership on the issue and how our community can make an impact in the global fight against climate change.”
Coinciding with the celebration of Earth Day, American University announced that it had divested all of its public fossil fuel investments from its endowment. While the university has had no direct investments in fossil fuel funds for several years, in a series of transactions over the last few months, the Board of Trustees eliminated the remaining $12.9 million of fossil fuel exposure within the public endowment portfolio. This action was executed through the sale of $350 million in commingled and index funds, with the proceeds reinvested in investments that do not include any fossil fuel holdings.
"This action underscores our leadership on sustainability while exercising our fiduciary responsibility for ensuring the financial health of a great university that has served our nation for more than a century," said Jeff Sine, chair of AU’s Finance and Investment Committee and Partner, The Raine Group LLC. “Our board wants to acknowledge the important work happening throughout the campus to protect the environment and those in our AU community who are taking action on climate change.”
The Office of Sustainability also unveiled 50 Actions for 50 Years, a webpage that offers green suggestions and initiatives that individuals and families could take from the comfort and safety of their homes to commemorate Earth Day and throughout the year. The webpage was cobranded with several other DC universities who also are signatories of the DC College and University Sustainability Pledge (CUSP).
Using #50Actions50Years, the Sustainability team posted about the website resource on social media, and highlighted examples of AU’s sustainability-related efforts throughout the month. As of now, the page has received more than 3,000 views.
Additionally, the first-ever Earth Day Art Contest was held for the children of faculty, staff, and students. Partnering with AHealthyU, the Sustainability team showed the contest submission during a webinar for Take Your Child to Work Day and announced the winners of the various submission categories. Members of AhealthyU’s Wellness Council served as judges.