The Unitarian Church has long been associated with social justice and environmental protection. Its role as an activist investor, however, isn't as well known.
Last year, the church's governing body decided to shift its investments out of fossil fuel stocks. And First Unitarian Church in Rochester could soon do the same.
First Unitarian's trustees were expected to vote on a fossil fuel divestment proposal on Tuesday. The measure was hammered out over the course of a year by the church's environmental and investment committees. (First Universalist Church of Rochester has been gradually reducing its investment in fossil fuels.)
"Divesting our assets is something that we, as a church, as a community, can do," says John Keevert, the church's social justice chair and environmental committee co-chair. "There's no guarantee it's going to have great results, but it is something we can do that moves us in a positive direction."
Dave Friedman, chair of the church's investment committee, says that the process should take a few years. First Unitarian's endowment isn't invested in individual stocks, he says, but in high-performing, low-fee collections of stocks known as index funds.
The church works with an advisor to make sure its investments are diversified and produce good returns, he says.
The divestment proposal would be an addition to church investment policy. It would give the church's financial advisor guidance to invest its money in high-performing, low-fee, fossil fuel-free funds.
There aren't many of those funds available now, Friedman says, but the hope is that as more congregations eye divestment, they'll become more common.
Keevert estimates that around 5 percent of the church's $3.2 million endowment is invested in fossil fuel stocks. Because the money is invested in index funds, he says, it's tough to pin the figure down.