Rockefellers, Heirs to Oil Fortune, Announce Divestment from Fossil Fuels

640x400rbf-logo_color_left__largeWe can’t imagine John D. Rockefeller ever thought his heirs would be releasing a statement like this one.

On the heels of the largest-ever climate change protest that occurred in NYC this past weekend, and just before multiple countries are set to meet at the UN to discuss a climate change treaty, the Rockefellers — heirs to the Standard Oil fortune — have announced that their $860 million charitable foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), plans to completely divest in fossil fuels.

The statement reads in part:

“Given the RBF’s deep commitment to combating climate change, the Fund is now committing to a two-step process to address its desire to divest from investments in fossil fuels. Our immediate focus will be on coal and tar sands, two of the most intensive sources of carbon emissions. We are working to eliminate the Fund’s exposure to these energy sources as quickly as possible…As we take the steps to divest from coal and tar sands investments, we are also undertaking a comprehensive analysis of our exposure to any remaining fossil fuel investments and will work with the RBF Investment Committee and board of trustees to determine an appropriate strategy for further divestment over the next few years.”

This move represents a trend in philanthropic planning toward treating endowments and investments themselves as tools for social change; over the past few years, college endowments, churches, pension funds and city governments alike have pledged to sell a total of $50 billion in investments in oil, coal and gas companies.

The RBF’s announcement goes on to explain that this process will be a delicate one, as the foundation must reallocate its investments into greener companies while also maintaining its financial standing so as to be able to meet its philanthropic obligations.

“In working to align our endowment investments with our mission and programs, we will adhere to the longstanding mandate of our board of trustees that our assets be invested with the goal of achieving financial returns that will enable the foundation to meet its annual philanthropic obligations, while maintaining the purchasing power of the endowment, so that future generations will also benefit from the foundation’s charitable giving. In uncertain and volatile markets, these financial goals are not easy to achieve. Therefore, our divestment from fossil fuels, which is now underway, will be accomplished through a careful process of evaluating our exposure and a phased approach that proceeds as quickly as is prudent.”

As this is a balancing act that many groups hoping to achieve a similar investment strategy have in common, the RBF says it hopes to learn from its peers, while also acting as an inspiration for other organizations to take similar action, saying: “We hope that the framework the RBF has adopted to guide our divestment and investment strategies will be of interest to other foundations and institutional investors as we also expect to learn from the experience of others.”