By Steven Saint
David Cully, Phoenix McLaughlin and a handful of bold, forward-thinking Colorado College students submitted an ethical, innovative proposal to the Board of Trustees in May.
Armed with a petition signed by more than half the student body, the Student Divestment Club asked the trustees to unload stock in the fossil fuel industry from the college’s $532-million endowment.
Further, to take the divestment talk to the next level, the students proposed that $6.5 million be shifted from Wall Street to a local investment – a solar array on campus that would dramatically reduce the school’s coal-fired utility bill.
This fantastic proposal reflects the essentials of “Slow Money,” a phrase coined by Woody Tasch in his 2008 book, Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money – Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.
Inspired by the Slow Food movement, Slow Money rejects the fast-food ethics of Wall Street, where short-term gains eclipse long-term health.
“The 20th Century was the era of Buy Low/Sell High and Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later,” Tasch writes. “The 21st Century will be the era of nurture capital, built around principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place and non-violence.”
Moving money from Wall Street to Main Street – here in Colorado Springs, let’s call it “Tejon Street” – is part of a growing movement to re-localize our economy.
Wall Street has spent the last 80 years funneling American investment into major corporations. Fund managers perpetuate the myth that corporate investments are low risk – even after the crash of 2008, when Colorado College lost some $45 million in stock value.
We don’t have a local stock exchange – yet! – so putting money into a hard asset like a solar array is a great idea. The sacrosanct return-on-investment can be projected and measured in terms of carbon neutrality.
The Trustee Committee on Investments, chaired by Eben Moulton of the private equity firm Seacoast Capital, rejected the student proposal. This decision should be reconsidered by the full Board of Trustees and the administration lest they miss the first step in building a new economic paradigm.
Imagine the CC endowment becoming an economic driver for the local economy. Instead of helping Monsanto destroy the agricultural capacity of the planet, CC could help create permanent local jobs in agriculture, food production and manufacturing.
Economist Michael Shuman has catalogued how communities across the country are building tools for the new paradigm in his book, Local Dollars, Local Sense. He recommends that Colorado College consider developing a “Community Portal” which would invest endowment dollars into local business (see accompanying piece).
Set the Department of Economics and Business loose on researching how institutional funds can be moved from Wall Street to Tejon Street! For example, could we form a Colorado Springs Stock Exchange? Could something like the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE, pronounced “bawl-EE”), be formed and nurtured locally?
Could the Collaborative for Community Engagement and the Business and Community Alliance join the effort as well, advancing the goal of enhancing college-community relationships?
Colorado College has the opportunity to do something amazing for Colorado Springs if the trustees will slow down long enough to fully consider it.
Steven Saint is the executive director of the PPJPC and former business reporter for the Gazette.