National Catholic Reporter Board of Directors Withdraws from Fossil Fuels | Earth beat
The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company has separated its multi-million dollar investment portfolio from financial holdings in the fossil fuel sector.
The decision to step down was unanimously approved by the NCR board at its May 21 meeting, when the 57-year-old nonprofit independent publication’s board of directors ratified a statement. revised investment policy for its $ 12.7 million endowment fund. The policy came into effect on July 1.
To these guidelines has been added a new filter of socially responsible investment against companies whose main activity involves the exploration or extraction of all forms of coal, oil and natural gas. He also said the board’s finance committee would encourage its portfolio managers to continue investing in renewable energy. Previously, the policy had included screens against investments in abortives, tobacco and weapons.
“I see the board’s decision as another ‘step’ in the journey that Pope Francis has called on all of us to make the necessary efforts to take care of our common home, Earth,” the president told EarthBeat. from the Board of Directors, Jim Purcell. He added that this was part of a recognition by the board that climate change is one of the main issues facing the world today, “if not at the top of the list.”
The political screen against fossil fuels refers to both the Pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si ‘, on Care for Our Common Home ”and“ Journey Towards Care for Our Common Home, ”a document released by several Vatican offices in June 2020 outlining ways to implement the encyclical, including a section on finances that recommends divestment from fossil fuels.
“It was time for NCR to align itself, as an institution, with the growing number of Catholic organizations that have made the decision to refuse to invest money in fossil fuel companies,” Bill said. Mitchell, CEO and publisher of NCR, in a press release. Release.
While NCR has been a leader in its environmental reporting, going back to the cover of longtime editor Tom Fox in the 1980s of Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, as a company, “to be honest, we have not been at the forefront on the divestment issue, ”Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the National Catholic Reporter, both as a news agency and as an institution bearing the name “Catholic”, has “a special obligation to do our best to live up to the values and standards that our faith calls for “.
He added that the board’s decision, which is separate from the publication’s editorial operations, would not influence how NCR covers environmental issues, including reporting on the financial angle of climate change.
“As an editor, I leave the decision of how best to cover a story to the reporters responsible for doing so. I therefore do not envision a decision by the board of directors influencing the way we cover. this problem, ”Mitchell said. mentionned.
To date, around 250 Catholic institutions around the world have publicly committed to opting out of fossil fuels or avoiding such investments. At 34%, faith-based organizations represent the largest number of the more than 1,300 groups that have joined the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has so far mobilized $ 14.5 trillion from the fossil fuel industry.
In terms of media organizations, the majority of which are for-profit entities, such financial movements rejecting fossil fuels seem less common. In January 2020, The Guardian announced that it would no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies. A Swedish newspaper made a similar move a year earlier.
“A lasting and sad fact about climate coverage is that many media organizations whose reporting seeks to hold Big Oil to account are, at the same time, invested in fossil fuel companies and receiving advertising revenue from them,” said Andrew McCormick, Assistant Director. of Covering Climate Now, a media consortium of which EarthBeat is a member.
“It’s an obvious conflict of interest, as bad for journalism as it is for the planet,” he said in an email. “More outlets should rise to the occasion and show leadership by breaking with the status quo.”
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said it’s not uncommon for the media to make ethical decisions about the types of ads they accept or the investments they can make; for example, many publications do not accept advertising for cigarettes. He said that “it sends a good signal” to readers when a publication pays attention to ethical considerations and takes steps to align its own operations with its editorial values.
The NCR Board of Directors began its discussions on divesting from fossil fuels in May 2020. At that time, it learned that about 2.4% of the value of the endowment at the time was invested in fossil fuels.
This dialogue included conversations with the then portfolio manager, Christian Brothers Investment Services. The company did not offer funds that omitted fossil fuels, and instead has been active in shareholder advocacy with fossil fuel companies, including presenting a resolution to ExxonMobil in May.
At its November 2020 meeting, the NCR Board of Directors formed an ad hoc committee to further study the issue. Ultimately, he recommended adding a screen against fossil fuel companies to the investment policy document and that the endowment be transferred to Catholic Investment Services. Both recommendations were approved at the May board meeting and funds were transferred on July 1.
Along with the ad hoc committee’s research, including consulting with Chicago-based investment firm Meketa, Purcell said the full board reviewed several documents making arguments for and against divesting from fossil fuels. , among which the Vatican Laudato Si ‘ implementation guidelines.
One of the main concerns of the board was to maintain its fiduciary responsibility for the financial health of the company. Purcell said board members were confident this could be achieved after reviewing financial reports from Catholic Investment Services which showed strong performance in fossil fuel-free funds.
Purcell added that an important factor for board members was that a number of prominent Catholic organizations, including congregations of nuns, have included divestment in fossil fuels as part of their plans. responses to climate change. Some board members have also expressed skepticism about the long-term effectiveness of shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies.
The chairman of the board said it was important that the investment policy statement also emphasizes investment in clean energy, “because divestment in itself is not enough “.
“The board is keenly aware that the need for this transition to renewable energy must be a key part of the climate change strategy,” Purcell said.
The decision to move away from fossil fuels comes as the National Catholic Reporter has expanded its coverage of environmental issues. In July 2020, the company received a donation of $ 1.5 million from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of La Crosse, Wisconsin, to create a Laudato Si ‘fund to support EarthBeat, NCR’s faith reporting initiative. , climate and environmental justice.