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  • Laura Basta

How divestment and investment can further both clean energy and a diverse workforce

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

When we think about paving the way for nuclear to have a seat at the energy table, often our thoughts immediately go to politics. Whether it’s supporting a national energy policy that recognizes nuclear as a source of clean energy, backing a candidate that supports a green economy, or lobbying for state legislation that levels the renewable playing field, it often seems like all roads lead to government intervention. But government intervention can’t be the only strategy. Ending subsidies for fossil fuel companies, imposing carbon taxes, and banning new fossil fuel projects are the most effective ways to stop emissions, but until this happens on a large scale, other avenues must be pursued.

Nearly a decade ago fossil fuel divestment campaigns emerged on university campuses across the United States as a different avenue to force a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Fossil fuel divestment or fossil fuel divestment and investment is an attempt to address climate change by exerting social, political, and economic pressure on institutions that have assets in fossil fuel companies. According to the Divest-Invest Philanthropy more than 1,200 organizations and 58,000 individuals representing over $14 trillion dollars in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, but more importantly, they’ve pledged to invest in clean energy.1 These organizations and individuals aim to stigmatize fossil fuel companies for their leading role in climate change, thereby removing their ethical license to operate.

The most successful divestment campaign in recent history involved apartheid South Africa. Activists called on countries, companies, and organizations to divest funds from the country until the brutal system of apartheid was dismantled. While not responsible for the collapse of apartheid, the divestment campaign helped to ratchet up pressure against the regime and turn public opinion.2

So how does divestment relate to workforce diversification? One key aspect of a divestment campaign is that there is a moral imperative. Another key aspect is that it doesn’t wait for others to act; it forces the action. I would argue there is a strong moral imperative for workforce diversification. I would also argue that we can’t wait for traditional HR mechanisms to act. For decades, HR professionals have tried to sway executives to invest in diversity to gain competitive advantage. “Top 10 Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace!” Increased creativity, increased profit, higher employee engagement, higher innovation, increased retention, etc. But what if we told executives that not only is a lack of investment in diversity bad business, it’s also unethical. That’s right, unethical. Just like with fossil fuels and the lack of political action to “go green”, continuing to beat the drum on the “Top 10 Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace” isn’t driving real change fast enough. Until we can make that shift from a strictly economic imperative to a moral one, we’ll likely get the same unacceptable result.

1. Divestment Commitments. Divestinvest.org Retrieved 31 August 2020

2. What You Need to Know About Fossil Fuel Divestment. Global Citizen. Retrieved 07 February 2020

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