Forsaking Their Legacy?: Rockefeller Brothers Fund Shifts Toward Renewable Energy
John D. Rockefeller is a legend in American history. One of the most noteworthy personalities of the 20th century, Rockefeller has left a legacy that will remain in the collective American consciousness for centuries.
Ultimately, though, Rockefeller’s legacy is built on oil. The founder of Standard Oil amassed a fortune early in life, retired early, and spent the rest of his life working on philanthropic efforts. So, with news breaking this week that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is divesting from big oil in order to shift toward renewable energy, there was naturally a lot said about it. NPR states what many are thinking plainly in a headline: “Rockefeller Brothers Fund Forsakes Its Legacy.” That, however, might not totally be true.
It’s important to note that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund isn’t quite the Rockefeller money we’ve come to be associated with—that would be the Rockefeller Foundation. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was started in 1940s by several Rockefeller heirs.
So, as Vauhini Vara of The New Yorker put it, this wasn’t “like the heirs to the McDonald’s fortune suddenly giving up meat.”
“In fact, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has been moving in this direction for years,” Vara explained. “In 2010, its board of trustees committed to investing up to ten per cent of its endowment in companies that meet sustainable-development goals. This year, the fund plans to cut its investments in coal and the petroleum-rich material known as tar sands to less than one per cent of its portfolio. Beyond that, the fund is more circumspect.”
Still, the unusual nature of the situation wasn’t lost on the fund’s president, Stephen Heintz.
“There is something ironic about having all this wealth that was created in the oil industry now being used to move to a different energy future,” he told NPR.
Stephen Rockefeller, trustee of the fund and son of Nelson A. Rockefeller, told the New York Times that he believes that those still focused on the current energy reality without looking to the future may be in for some trouble. In the end, the decision for him has two parts.
“We see this as having both a moral and economic dimension,” he said.
Beyond that, Heintz sees this move as very much carrying out the legacy of John D. Rockefeller, who was on the cutting edge of energy development in his day.
“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,” Heintz said.
The Telegraph’s Matthew Lynn agreed that John D. Rockefeller would certainly be out of the oil business by now if he were still around, but his take was peppered with just a hint of cynicism.
“He would probably be concentrating on an industry where he could establish a crushing monopoly, squeeze his rivals out of business, impose total control over the supply of a vital commodity, and extract vast profits in the process,” he writes, “—all of which would mean that he’d be operating a search engine, or a social media site, rather than an energy company.”
Still, Lynn admits that the move away from oil is a savvy one, saying that while his heirs might be quite the businessmen their ancestor was, “they are smart enough to sense which way the wind is blowing, and adjust their portfolios accordingly.” The move toward renewable energy is, as Stephen Rockefeller said, both smart economically and morally, and Lynn believes “They will probably stay rich for a few generations yet.”
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.