Letter to the Editor | Across diverse backgrounds, we are more aligned on how to approach Stanford’s fossil fuel engagement than you might think

Oct. 5, 2023, 1:02 a.m.

Dear Editor,

We are a group of six graduate researchers with diverse professional backgrounds and opinions on fossil fuel companies’ role in funding affiliate program research. Three of us have been actively protesting fossil fuel funding at the Doerr School. Three of us are in favor of maintaining an open dialogue with fossil fuel companies. We agree that addressing climate change is serious enough to demand a clear strategic response from the University. Working together, we have reached a consensus on recommended criteria for evaluating the sources and objectives of research funding through affiliate programs, as well as a set of actions for enforcing these criteria. 

We all endorse the following recommendations and we hope that they will contribute to a university-wide decision to adopt enforceable standards for research funding provided by fossil fuel companies through affiliate groups. 

In December of 2022, Stanford’s Office of the President established the Committee on Funding of Energy Research and Education (CFERE), charged with “exploring and reporting on the issues raised by Stanford’s accepting funding from fossil fuel companies.” The committee has thus far not made any findings publicly available. We are concerned that the committee’s recommendations may come too late or fail to embody the leadership that Stanford must play in the energy transition. 

Our alignment on these recommendations demonstrates that stakeholders with different backgrounds and interests can find common ground rooted in our values of integrity and transparency. This work represents a model that we believe could achieve widespread support for reasonable, actionable and verifiable criteria for supporting research at Stanford. We have shared the below recommendations with the CFERE and hope they will incorporate them into their own findings. There is no cause for further delay. 

Recommendations prepared and approved by:

Choi, June

Fraces, Cedric

Grekin, Rebecca

Kashtan, Yannai

Long, Wennan

Wettermark, Daly

Summary of recommendations for industrial affiliate programs
To take effect immediately: Review, identify and eliminate benefits to industry donors that present a direct conflict of interest. In particular, by enforcing Stanford’s existing policies for industrial affiliate programs.
Dissociate: Eliminate financial sponsorship from any company, trade group or other organization that engages in any of the following (see below for details on each criterion): Does not provide a credible transition plan, does not provide transparent data, has plans to conduct their operations in a manner that is at odds with a Paris-aligned transition pathway.
Establish a third-party enforcement board tasked with: Enforcing existing policies for industrial affiliate programs, including establishing consequences for any violations in line with Stanford’s Code of Conduct, overseeing dissociation and future re-association processes with industry partners on a case-by-case basis. Develop a concrete timeline for the above
Disclose: Strengthen existing disclosure requirements across the University, including by writing specific guidance for conflicts of interest involving the fossil fuel industry.
Establish a transition pathways research initiative: Support the creation of an initiative tasked with evaluating partners’ transition pathways and creating standards for emissions accounting.

Details for Recommendation #2: 

Dissociate: Eliminate financial sponsorship from any company, trade group, or other organization that engages in any of the following:

  1. Does not provide a credible transition plan. A credible transition includes, but is not limited to, all of the following:
    1. A plan for diversification of assets, such as increasing percentage investment (i.e. capital expenditures) for clean energy supply and end use efficiency
    2. Net-zero emissions pathway that achieves a significant reduction in absolute level of emissions and does not rely on carbon offsets
    3. Changes in management incentive structures, for example through Key Performance Incentives
  2. Does not provide transparent data necessary to evaluate the above, including:
    1. Its emissions and carbon intensity of its upstream operations (Scope 1 and 2 emissions)
    2. Lobbying expenditures and funding of citizens groups/front groups
  1. In the last five years, has obstructed climate policy, as evidenced by actions including, but not limited to, the following:
    1. Documented decisions to publicly downplay or contradict peer-reviewed climate science 
    2. Documented lobbying against pro-climate legislation, including but not limited to, lobbying
      1. For a lower social cost of carbon
      2. For less stringent greenhouse gas emissions regulations
    3. Documented opposition to renewable energy projects, directly or via “astroturf” front groups (e.g. the California Drivers’ Alliance)
    4. A record of false or misleading advertising, as adjudicated in court decisions and/or peer-reviewed literature (for a database of court decisions, see Columbia Law School’s Global Climate Change Litigation database)

Details for Recommendation #3:

Establish a third-party enforcement board: We define “third party” as a panel of Stanford affiliates, including students, who are not directly responsible for financing of industrial affiliate programs. To address conflicts of interest, any board members must disclose funding from fossil fuel companies. This board shall review existing industry partners based on the above criteria and oversee the dissociation and re-association process. This would involve:

  1. Communicating to any violating industry partners and associated principal investigators the actions they must take in order to abide by the above criteria and provide a 60-day period for them to respond. The 60-day timeline originates from Princeton Fossil Fuel Dissociation. This serves as an example to demonstrate a concrete timeline.
  2. Appropriately sanctioning affiliate programs who continue to receive funding from violating industry partners after the 60-day period 
  3. Establish a process by which an industry partner may re-associate (i.e. re-enter as a funder in an affiliate program) with the University if it has demonstrated compliance with the above criteria
  4. Oversee implementation of a phase out fund to support the transition of any research programs whose operations would be impacted by dissociation


June Choi is a Ph.D. candidate in earth system science. Her research focuses on quantifying the impacts of climate change to inform adaptation strategies. Her previous work involved tracking global climate finance flows, setting standards for green bonds and sustainable finance integrity.

Cedric Fraces is a Ph.D. student in the energy sciences engineering department. His research focuses on a new class of numerical methods for the simulation and uncertainty characterization of CO2 sequestration in geological formations. Prior to this work, Cedric spent a decade working as a reservoir engineer on major oilfields in the Middle East and Latin America, as well as CO2 sequestration projects in the U.S. and Canada.

Rebecca Grekin is a Ph.D. candidate in energy sciences engineering looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions from the commercial building sector from heating and cooling systems by changing the operations of these systems. Prior to this work, she completed a master’s in the same department studying Scope 3 emissions, doing a deep dive into developing automated systems to estimate emissions from food purchasing.

Yannai Kashtan is a Ph.D. candidate in earth system science, an organizer for the Coalition for a True School of Sustainability and a Knight-Hennessy Scholar. His doctoral research focuses on the health-related hazards of residential fossil-fueled appliances.

Dr. Wennan Long is a recent graduate from the energy science and engineering department at Stanford, where he was advised by professor Adam R. Brandt. He has expertise in energy engineering and life-cycle assessment. His research interest is building simulators to calculate upstream greenhouse gas emissions across the oil and gas supply chain. Dr. Long led the team on the Archie Initiative to calculate the global oil upstream carbon intensity.

Daly Wettermark is a master’s student in environmental engineering studying operational efficiencies for wastewater treatment and reuse. She is also a climate activist, and she has previously worked as an engineer in product development and corporate sustainability in the water industry.

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