Harvard Divests from Fossil Fuels, Citing Fiduciary Duty

President Lawrence Bacow announced last week that Harvard University will no longer hold direct investments in fossil fuel companies and that indirect investments in those companies will be phased out gradually. The announcement — which follows nearly a decade of organizing by students, faculty, and staff under the banner of Fossil Fuel of Divest Harvard (FFDH) — stated that, “[g]iven the need to decarbonize the economy and our responsibility as fiduciaries to make long-term investment decisions that support our teaching and research mission, we do not believe such investments are prudent.”

FFDH summed up the victory and the challenges that remain while noting that President Bacow’s reference to fiduciary duty and the university’s obligation to further its own mission “directly invokes” the legal complaint filed by FFDH with assistance from Climate Defense Project in March of this year. In May, FFDH and CDP met with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, where the complaint remains filed pending determination of the legal questions it raises.

In 2014, while in law school, CDP’s co-founders filed a lawsuit against Harvard over its fossil fuel investments. The case was an early attempt to use the framework of fiduciary duty to argue that fossil fuel investments are incompatible with the mission of higher educational institutions.

Climate Defense Project continues to work with student campaigns across the country to file complaints with state officials over university-held fossil fuel investments.

News coverage of the recent Harvard announcement can be found in our press round-up.