Trillium News Fossil Fuel Divestment Weighed by Massachusetts Legislature

The Springfield Republican/ recently published a story regarding the history of pension divestment in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the current push for the state to divest its pension assets from the fossil fuel industry.

Shira Schoenberg writes:

“In 1997, then-state Sen. Warren Tolman co-sponsored a bill to divest the state’s pension fund from tobacco companies. It was a way to stigmatize the companies and force them to stop marketing to young people.

Years earlier, Tolman had supported divesting the state’s holdings from companies doing business in South Africa, part of a campaign to end apartheid.

‘I think you look at (a divestment campaign) and say can you have an impact?’ said Tolman, a Democratic candidate for attorney general. ‘A, is it feasible? B, is it going to have an impact? And C, can we change behavior?’…

Cheryl Smith, managing partner of Trillium Asset Management in Boston, an investment firm committed to socially responsible investment, said one difference between the fossil fuel campaign and earlier ones is the magnitude of what activists are asking companies to do. Asking companies to withdraw money from South Africa or Sudan – which generally comprised a tiny portion of their assets – would not be a big deal for most investors. Companies could replace those investments with other foreign assets. ‘But asking a major oil company not to be an oil company is a different scale of ask,’ Smith said. ‘I’m very pessimistic you’re going to get companies to change what they do, because you’re asking them to stop existing or completely change why they exist.’

However, Smith said divestment campaigns can have benefits outside of divestment itself, by increasing pressure for political change and creating public awareness. ‘I would say any probability of success for this particular fossil fuel divestment movement will come ultimately through a political change and political action by stirring up awareness, and not because it directly leads companies to change what they do,’ Smith said…”

You can read the entire article here.