WIC and Divest Whitman Seek Avenues for Sustainable Investment

Rylee Neville, Staff Reporter

Whitman Investment Company (WIC), sold its last oil share a few weeks ago, officially divesting from fossil fuels. WIC then reached out to Divest Whitman, a student-led organization devoted to pressuring the college to divest its endowment. After divesting, WIC sought the help of Divest Whitman to find a company to invest in that is both financially stable and environmentally friendly.

On Wednesday, March 7th, Divest Whitman presented the potential company, Hannon Armstrong, to WIC. WIC voted not to invest, though they remain committed to finding an alternative.

Kyle Fix ‘19, the Chief Financial Officer of WIC, was the person who decided to reach out to Divest Whitman.

Fix had been looking into investing that focuses on environmental, social, and governing aspects (ESG investing).

“I’d been looking into how portfolio managers leverage these [ESG] techniques to improve their portfolio and connect with a lot of investors that are looking to make change with their dollars and also who can use these categories as competitive advantages over more passive investing,” Fix said. This sparked Fix’s interest in reaching out to Divest Whitman to find a company that is both sustainable and profitable.

According to Fix, the partnership of WIC and Divest Whitman created the balance needed to find a company that meets the financial and environmental standards.

Active Divest Whitman member, Alya Bohr ‘19, admits that Divest Whitman did not know how to find a company with a good financial profile. At the same time, Kyle Fix admits that WIC needed help finding a company with a good environmental profile. These two groups worked together to find a company that is both financially sound and eco friendly, though they ultimately did not invest in Hannon Armstrong.

Finding a company to invest in that is both profitable and good for the environment is easier said than done. Kyle Fix and Alya Bohr agree that choosing the company, Hannon Armstrong, was difficult.

“The process was incredibly complex.” Fix says. “It was a little frustrating at times, but that was to be expected.” The long and difficult process was worth it, according to Fix, because Hannon Armstrong gets to invest money into renewable energy partnerships and projects.

Members of WIC and Divest Whitman agree upon the importance of the collaboration of financial and environmental groups.

“It’s cool that it can work, that it is possible to find a company that is financially and environmentally sound. The economic side of things and the environmental side of things seem opposed because you may think you can’t be both, but with what’s going on here, you see that you can,” Bohr said. “It is important that we have this cross connection, and that the collaboration between financial and environmental groups still exists and people care about it.”

Bohr believes that the partnership of Divest and WIC is hope for students that this kind of work is possible.

Kyle Fix spoke about how people can use capital to create change for the better. According to Fix, investing with one’s own dollars brings about one’s own sense of morality.

“You can do really cool things with the money that you invest. And ESG is a great way to do this,” Fix said.

On Wednesday, March 7th, WIC members voted not to buy Hannon Armstrong.

Alya Bohr made it clear that even though WIC ended up not voting to invest in the company, the connection between WIC and Divest Whitman creates a lasting impact on the college. “Results aside, I think it is more the symbolic statement than it is how it is actually going to affect things.”

Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this article misstated that WIC had 6.5 million dollars invested in fossil fuels. This is incorrect. The Whitman College endowment has 6.5 million dollars invested in fossil fuels. In addition, the article quoted Fix as saying that WIC invested in renewable energy projects and partnerships. This is not the case. Hannon Armstrong invests in renewable energy projects and partnerships.