Divest Portland State—what’s all the hype about?

Maybe you’ve seen the little orange squares pinned on jackets and backpacks around campus or have heard murmurs about “divestment” at Portland State. But what does that word—divestment—actually mean?

Divestment is the opposite of investment. In the case of the student-led initiative Divest Portland State, it would mean moving PSU’s financial investments away from oil and coal companies as part of a larger international effort spearheaded by environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben through his climate action organization 350.org.

“We want to prevent climate change by putting our money where our mouth is,” said Amber Smith, an undergraduate PSU student and co-organizer of Divest Portland State. 

“Taking shorter showers isn’t enough anymore. I ride my bike, I don’t turn on my heat, I buy organic food, and it’s not enough. So I’m looking to the institutions I support to take climate action,” Smith said. 

Smith and a handful of other students involved in organizations across campus including Divest Portland State, ASPSU, and the Student Sustainability Leadership Council hosted an info session this week to discuss the idea of fossil fuel divestment and give a brief update about the campaign at PSU. 

The event featured a panel of speakers from a range of backgrounds. Environmental science professor Linda George and economics professor Randy Bluffstone sat on the panel, along with Divest Portland State student representative Linda Hoppes, certified financial planner Bryan Brumley, a student organizer of Reed College’s divestment campaign, and an organizer from 350PDX, a local chapter of 350.org.

Bryan Brumley, who focuses on socially responsible investing, spoke about the financial viability of transferring investments away from companies in the fossil fuel industry—along with other industries that socially responsible investors often seek to exclude from their portfolios, like tobacco, alcohol, firearms, and pharmaceuticals.  

“The short answer is ‘yes’—it’s not that hard,” said Brumley, adding that impact investments, which are investments that are intended to generate positive social and environmental impacts in addition to financial gain, often have very high rates of financial returns.

Hoppes is part of a student committee that recently discussed the potential for divestment with representatives from the PSU Foundation, which oversees fundraising and investments for the University. “PSU has a $44 million endowment, and 1.34 percent is invested in fossil fuels,” said Hoppes. “We had a good meeting with the Foundation, they were very open and receptive. Now we really want to educate and empower students on this issue.” 

Divest PSU is collecting feedback from students about their campaign. Take the survey here for a chance to win a $25 gift card to the PSU Bookstore.

Learn more at the Divest Portland State website, and watch for upcoming events and calls to action on the Divest PSU Facebook page.

Note: In 2013, PSU’s endowment was $44.2 million. At the end of fiscal year 2014, it had grown to $52.3 million.