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Loyola Advances Sustainability Efforts Through New Investment Policy, Student Involvement

Elena Clark | The PhoenixAs Loyola plans to divest from fossil fuels and reduce its carbon emissions, the university turns to a new chapter with its Sustainable Investment Policy

Since 2012, student groups have called for the university to divest from fossil fuels — after nine years, those demands led to action.

On Oct. 14 Loyola announced the Sustainable Investment Policy was approved by the Board of Trustees and Loyola senior leadership, The Phoenix reported.

“The idea was to put pressure on companies that were damaging the environment that could be costly in the long term,” Swasti Gupta-Mukherjee, an associate professor at Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business, said. 

Gupta-Mukherjee shared insight on the business and finance aspects when planning the policy with Aaron Durnbaugh, Director of Sustainability at Loyola.

The Sustainable Investment Policy details plans to invest funds into companies that reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases and seek solutions for climate change, shifting focus away from fossil fuels.

Along with the new investment policy, it was announced Loyola is “well on [their] way to achieving” carbon neutrality by 2025 through the university’s Climate Action Plan

This plan focuses on energy efficiency, off-site renewable energy and offsets, on-campus renewable energy, carbon offsets and carbon sequestration. 

“It’s really about getting our electricity from clean sources,” Aaron Durnbaugh, the Director of Sustainability at Loyola, said.

“We want to take the responsibility of bearing the cost of anything we take from the environment,” Gupta-Mukherjee said.

Both the investment policy and Climate Action Plan include plans for cleaner and more sustainable solutions for the university. In this push for more sustainable solutions, students were involved in the campaign to divest from fossil fuels and focus on cleaner energy sources. 

Students have campaigned for divestment since 2012, with the discussion making its way to the university senate — part of Loyola’s shared governance — in 2014, The Phoenix reported.

Cosette Ellis, a junior environmental studies major and co-president of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA), a student organization at Loyola, said the SEA has four main campaigns, one of them focusing on divestment in the university.

Last spring, the SEA began a petition to urge Loyola to divest from fossil fuels. The petition reached over 400 signatures. The SEA also held a rally in 2020 to raise awareness for fossil fuel divestment, The Phoenix reported.

After months of petitioning, Ellis said the SEA was able to meet with Poorvi Modi, a Loyola student representative for the Investment Policy Committee.

“It was really crucial for everyone in the committee to understand students’ reaction before they implemented anything,” said Modi, who described her position as bridging the gap between the student body and Investment Committee.

Modi said the Investment Policy Committee took into account students’ demands and thoughts when discussing the implementation of the Sustainable Investment Policy.

Other student organizations, such as the Sunrise Movement LUC, have been involved in the campaign for divesting in fossil fuels. 

Through a petition, the Sunrise Movement called on Loyola to “source 100% renewable energy by 2025 and completely divest from fossil fuels by July 2022; reinvest in socially and environmentally responsible companies and the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities,” Destiny Onyeise, 21-year-old political science major and Sunrise Movement LUC co-coordinator, said.

The movement also organized activities to get students involved. This included a sustainable education Kahoot night “to educate students on the Sunrise Movement and Loyola’s shortcomings with sustainability,” Onyeise said.

Other actions included a banner drop, spreading the movement’s petition and a rally to get more students involved in the push for sustainability.

“One of the biggest parts of encouraging administration to make decisions is to show student interest and involvement with set activities,” Isabella Gross, senior environmental policy major, said. Gross has worked with the Sunrise Movement in the past.

“Students are the reason for this decision, and this announcement has happened,” Ellis said. “We want to make sure that the people who have been working on this are recognized.”

In 2020, SGLC passed legislation to encourage Loyola to divest from fossil fuels and focus their endowment on sustainable energy, The Phoenix reported.

SGLC didn’t respond to The Phoenix for an interview.

“We wanted Loyola to seriously listen to the concerns of its students and follow through with them on their visions for a better Loyola,” Onyeise said.

“Our students and the younger generation are serving as the soul of the movement,” Gupta-Mukherjee said. “That is necessary because we are looking to the future generations to lead all of us in that direction.”

Alongside the new investment policy, it was announced Loyola will also be represented at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) as a non-governmental organization (NGO). The university is part of an organization called America Is All In, a group aimed at maintaining America’s promise to tackle climate change. 

“We’ll be sharing American higher education’s perspective on why climate action is so important and hopefully sharing a bit of Loyola’s journey towards climate action,” said Durnbaugh, who is attending the conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

COP26 will take place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Other Jesuit universities including Gonzaga University, Santa Clara University, Seattle U and Saint Peter’s University will be attending COP26 as well. Loyola will be one of 127 universities represented at the conference through America Is All In.

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