Sustainability Now is less than a year old, but the MSU club has already made an impact on campus. Known as SNow, the group works to unify the student voice and advocate for issues concerning climate change and local sustainability.
Last year, the group’s co-president, Emma Bode, discovered there were no active groups on campus bringing students together to work on general environmental projects. “A role we want to play is connecting students to the right faculty to help them make their project a reality and guide them through the process,” Bode explained. Along with co-president Mathew Bain, they formed the group in February 2016.
The group’s mission has three priorities: to educate the university on sustainability issues (both on present problems, as well as progress being made), to promote students to become more active and to encourage service in the community. The group has projects concerning sustainable landscaping, food waste in the dorms and creating spaces for education and reinvestment.
On Dec. 8, 2016, ASMSU passed Resolution 2016-R-20 with a 14 – 4 majority vote. The resolution, which was developed by SNow and supported by ASMSU senators, urges the MSU Alumni Foundation to divest from environmentally and socially irresponsible enterprises and to reinvest in companies that are responsible. The Alumni Foundation controls the university’s endowment, which provides funds for scholarships, salaries and infrastructure. These funds are placed in investment firms, called managers, who then invest in businesses that will give strong returns for the university.
However, the Alumni Foundation does not release which managers it uses, and therefore it is unknown outside the Foundation’s board which industries and businesses MSU is invested in. The resolution calls for the release of this information and how much money is invested in each manager. Secondly, it asks that five percent of the endowment is invested in Montana based enterprises, with hopes that it will boost the local economy and assist in creating jobs throughout the state. Lastly, the resolution creates a timeline by asking that the endowment will be fully reinvested by the end of five years.
Reinvestment is accomplished by using Socially Responsible Investments (SRI) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). SRI uses a set of qualifications to screen for both positive and negative business practices. It addresses issues such as gender equality in the workplace, LGBTQ+ equality, child labor, involvement in production or sale of addictive substances, the fossil fuel industry and other environmentally degrading practices. ESG’s process reviews a company’s progress in improving environmental stewardship, business relationships and transparency. Using these processes, the Alumni Foundation could invest in socially and environmentally responsible enterprises.
The resolution serves as a statement of student body opinion to the Alumni Foundation. Because the Foundation is a separate legal entity from the university, ASMSU cannot enforce its agenda. SNow will continue to support student awareness and to send the foundation a strong message that the campus is supportive of the reinvestment strategy. “Reinvestment has a lot of aspects that can appeal to people on both sides of the political spectrum, but we don’t think it needs to be a political issue. It’s about getting a return on an investment, and all of our sources have shown that using SRI and ESG practices has an equal return on investment as a standard portfolio. In some cases the outcome is even better, because it has less risk,” Bode said.
Divestment and reinvestment campaigns have surged across the country’s campuses in the last decade, which has laid groundwork for SNow’s unique campaign approach. University of Massachusetts has successfully divested from direct holdings in fossil fuels, and MSU would be the first land grant university in the west to divest. Students at the University of Montana have been working on similar issues with little progress; several students were arrested last year during a sit-in protest to raise awareness for the campaign “Reinvest Montana.” SNow plans to take a less confrontational route to achieve reinvestment goals.
“We understand that there is compromise, and actually having a dialogue is difficult but that’s what we’re aiming for. Communication on both ends, compromise and making social change happen,” vice-president Kory Kirby said.
SNow meets at 5 p.m. on alternating Wednesdays and Thursdays. They can be found on Facebook and can be contacted through email@example.com.