Rockefellers dump oil, embrace clean energy


The Rockefellers, one of America’s most illustrious oil industry families, is embracing clean energy.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) announced on Monday that it was joining a coalition of philanthropists pledging to rid themselves of more than $50 billion in fossil fuel assets.

The Rockefeller family made one of the world’s largest fortunes in the oil business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries after John D. Rockefeller and brother William Rockefeller founded Standard Oil.

RBF President Stephen Heintz announced the decision to divest from fossil fuels at a press conference in New York City on the day before world leaders convene at the UN Climate Summit.

The growing movement to divest from the fossil fuels causing climate change and invest instead in clean, sustainable energy reached a major milestone on Monday with more than 800 global investors now committed to rid themselves of $50 billion in fossil fuel assets.

The Fund has begun a two-step process to divest from investments in fossil fuels, first focusing on limiting its exposure to coal and tar sands, with a goal to reduce these investments to less than 1% of its total portfolio by the end of 2014. The Fund said it was also analyzing in detail its remaining fossil fuel exposure and would develop a plan for further divestment as quickly as was prudent over the next few years.

A private charitable foundation established in 1940, the Fund has been working to better align its assets with its mission since 2010, when the board of trustees approved a commitment of up to 10% of the endowment to investments consistent with the foundation’s sustainable development goals.

"John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum," said Heintz. "We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy."

RBF said its initial priorities for investments from this 10% pool were focused on supporting clean energy technologies and other business strategies that advance energy efficiency, decrease dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Fund said it expected the percentage of mission-aligned investments, including those targeted to clean energy development, to grow in the coming years as the organization seeks solid investments that advance both its program and long-term financial goals.

"Given the structure of some commingled investment funds and investments in highly diversified energy companies, we recognize there may continue to be minimal investments in our portfolio in those energy sectors, but we are committed to reducing our exposure to coal and tar sands to less than 1% of the total portfolio by the end of 2014," RBF said.

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leading advocate of the fossil fuel divestment movement said, described the move as "a tipping point of transition to a new energy economy that was just and equitable."

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