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DU Responds to Climate Change With Major Investments in Sustainability

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Theresa Ahrens

Announcement  •
Campus Life  •

The University of Denver announced today that it will adopt a formal policy related to climate change and sustainable development that leverages the University’s partnerships as well as its academic efforts in research, teaching and service.

The decision was made at the January meeting of the Board of Trustees, after full consideration and discussion of the findings, conclusions and recommendations from the board’s three-member Task Force on Fossil Fuel Divestment. The final report of the task force—titled Ends and Means: Considering Climate Change, Divestment and Sustainability at the University of Denver—has been posted online along with a set of board-approved principles that are based on the recommendations of the task force.

“The board concluded that the University of Denver’s greatest ability to mitigate climate change and foster a sustainable future lies in deploying our core competencies: education, research and the ability to foster informed community discourse,” said board Chair Douglas Scrivner, who appointed the task force last April. “The task force found, and the board agreed, that divestment in fossil fuel companies, or any other industry, would not be an effective means of mitigating global warming nor would it be consistent with the endowment’s long-term purpose to provide enduring benefit to present and future students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders.”

The board is committed to seeing DU accelerate its sustainability agenda and to hearing regular progress reports from senior administration. Immediately, DU will commence the following actions:


  • Establish a revolving “green fund” to investigate new efforts related to sustainability in the operations of the University. The University will create this fund with an initial $5 million and will look for donor support to increase this fund.
  • Further invest in the University’s sustainability efforts, both financially and in terms of human capital. This will include new organizational structures and reporting.
  • Work with the Board of Trustees and investment managers to make available an alternative type of investment vehicle that may offer donors the ability to have their contributions invested in a manner that aligns with their social objectives regarding sustainability.


Additional resources will be dedicated to accelerating sustainability through DU IMPACT 2025, the University’s strategic plan. For example, the sustainability implementation cluster of DU IMPACT 2025 is working on five initiatives: transportation, green space, energy, food sourcing and creation of a sustainability curriculum. The interdisciplinary Knowledge Bridges Incubator will help facilitate the kind of solution-based research and teaching that is required to address problems such as climate change. And the campus master plan implementation team is in the process of engaging the DU community to help choose the right urban-planning firm to more efficiently use the university’s physical spaces and environment for the future.

The board action concludes an unusually transparent process that began last year when student members of Divest DU presented their concerns about climate change, divestment and sustainability during a meeting with DU trustees. Last summer and fall, the task force held seven public hearings on campus, receiving 16 separate presentations by 23 speakers reflecting a broad spectrum of views.

James Griesemer, director of the University of Denver’s nonpartisan Strategic Issues Program (SIP), trustee and professor of management in the Daniels College of Business, led the task force. The hearings were modeled after a process he devised in 2005 for SIP when it began considering public-policy issues including higher education, immigration and the legislative process.

“Because of the complexity of the issues, the task force devised a framework of guiding principles which the report addresses,” said Griesemer. “We looked at the moral and ethical dimensions of the climate debate, the role of academic institutions, the purpose of institutional investments, and the effectiveness of divestment as a means of achieving our common goals of creating a more sustainable university and mitigating the adverse effects of global climate change—which we believe is a very real threat that must be treated with urgency and creativity.”

Chancellor Rebecca Chopp expressed gratitude to the task force for its work, and also commended the members of Divest DU and the many other concerned students, alumni and members of DU’s faculty and staff for taking part in the dialogue and also for giving life to sustainability efforts at DU.

“We are proud of the serious and robust conversations and the shared commitment to the public good that was demonstrated through this transparent process,” she said. “While there is more work to be done, the University should take pride in the capability and commitment of University of Denver staff, faculty and students who give life to sustainability efforts at DU.”

Between 2006 and 2015, DU implemented a series of energy-saving measures that reduced its carbon footprint by 28 percent, toward its goal of carbon neutrality. About 40 members of the University’s faculty—across engineering and computer science, math and natural sciences, law, international studies, business and the arts humanities and social science—conduct research and/or teach courses related to sustainability. And working with DU’s sustainability council and Center for Sustainability, about a dozen student groups work to raise awareness and support sustainable practices. For more information, visit our sustainability page.