A Family Divesting From Fossil Fuels To Invest In A Green Future

Oil and gas companies have been up for a bumpy ride as more investment funds divest from fossil fuels. It is not only institutional investors such as the Norwegian sovereign fund doing so, but also families and individuals. One such family is certain descendants of Lauren J. Drake, past President of Standard Oil of New Jersey, which eventually merged into ExxonMobil. These descendants have sold off their inherited shares, a healthy six-figure sum, on the basis of environmentalism.

FILE - The Irving, Texas-based company on Friday, July 27, 2018 reported second-quarter profit of $3.95 billion, or 92 cents per share. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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Divestment started four generations down from Lauren J. Drake, and he was a prominent individual in the oil and gas industry. An oil tanker was named after him, and it was used in the World War Two to transport oil to the allied forces. Some families may find it difficult to emotionally disassociate themselves from the origin of family wealth, but Jamison Suter, great-great grandson of Lauren J. Drake said that one should not be sentimental about an investment. “Be grateful you received it, but if it is doing something wrong, try to change the company.” Jamison, with his background in cultural anthropology and environmental science, started engaging in shareholder activism in early 2000s. He read the resolutions put to ExxonMobil’s BoD and voted on them with his conscience, but he felt that his action “was a useless drop in the ocean.” He started selling off his shares in 2017 and by now has already sold all of them. “If you cannot change the companies, dump the investment as loudly as you can,” explained Jamison. His aunt, his brother and sister have all done the same.

Tanker L. J. Drake (1918-1942)

Descendants of L. J. Drake

The journey that Lauren J Drake’s descendants are going through is part of the wider shift towards responsible investing.  For them, they are now actively investing in environmentally friendly ways. A more obvious area is investing directly in renewable energy, like a brother has done into Vestas, a publicly traded  wind turbine company. But Jamison noted that he will not divest from the mining industry, “those seeking to block or slow the transition to renewable energy will use the problems associated with producing the metals needed for batteries as a reason not to transition out of fossil fuels.” He is therefore going to invest in responsible mining of metals needed for future battery production and technological evolution.

“In my view it is essential to have responsible investment in these commodities otherwise their production will not improve. Responsible investors must not shy away from products that are potentially toxic when mismanaged, or whose extraction is fraught with problems, like cobalt,” said Jamison, and this is also his professional expertise having worked in environmental and social impact assessment of a mining project in the Republic of Guinea for the past 13 years.

A wind turbine of the manufacturer Vestas. (Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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Jamison also commits to making a contribution worth 10% of his shares in ExxonMobil to a non-profit advocacy group. “I have been working on climate-change related issues since the mid 90s. Almost three decades on, the American general public is still being deliberately confused and misled when it comes the truth of climate change,” said Jamison. This non-profit group will work to raise awareness on the truth about climate change during the American electoral campaigns in 2020.

Breaking with tradition is never easy. Like companies, families need to pivot to find a new identity and positioning as time goes on. The descendants of Lauren J Drake have made this shift towards a green future, in hope of ensuring future generations have a liveable climate, and inspiring other individuals and families to use their investments for good.

I am a Forbes 30 Under 30 social entrepreneur, a gender equality advocate and a social impact consultant. I am the Founder and CEO of Lensational, empowering marginalise...