Divestment from unethical investments

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Whilst the University is becoming more concerned with achieving an ethical ‘green’ status, there have been issues regarding its close ties with unethical companies. In particular, the fossil fuel industry, which is recognised as being one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the modern world, supplies up to 14% of the University’s investment funds totalling around £285,000 in shares, whilst supporting the arms trade totals 4% of investment shares.

Lancaster University has twice won the Carbon Reduction Awards, which recognises and rewards universities for ‘exceptional sustainability initiatives’, which Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark E Smith has previously acknowledged as being an “excellent symbol of our commitment to sustainability.” First awarded this in 2012 for the wind turbine initiative which generated around 15% of the University’s energy consumption, the University has promoted its ‘green’ status through encouraging staff and students to cooperate with the improvement of environmental energy consumption and sustainability.

However Lancaster, amongst many other universities across England and Wales, supports unethical oil companies responsible for destroying the environment such as BP and Shell. Although difficult to determine exactly, due to outsourcing to a private third party fund manager, Lancaster currently holds £73,561.90 in Dutch Royal Shell alone, amongst investment shares in other such unethical companies. These organisations have raised nationwide outrage with regards to their most recent exploitative developments, notably fracking, which involves drilling and injecting fluids at high pressure deep beneath the Earth to release natural gases.

Lancaster University Ethical Investments Group (LUEIG) argue that the University’s involvement and support of the fossil fuel industry and arms trade through investment contradicts the widespread view of Lancaster as an “ethical and environmentally friendly university.” They have been campaigning as part of a wider nationwide initiative, in a movement composed of staff and students calling for divestment from fossil fuels and the arms trade, and an ethical investment policy.

LUEIG have received celebrity endorsement for their campaign as featured on their Facebook page, featuring various MPs, journalists and human rights activists holding messages of support such as ‘Invest in Weapons not War’. The campaign has swept through the University extending to alumni and the outside wider community, with more than 700 signatures via their online petition to support their policies and demands. These are to include adopting an ethical investment policy, with commitment to divestment from fossil fuels and the arms trade whereby at least 25% of investments in renewables; energy efficiency; and the University’s own activities, like the mental health services amongst others. Campaigners have also called for an elected committee (including an elected student position) where investments can be scrutinised and made public to provide a transparent and informed perspective for those interested.

LUSU’s CCO (Environment and Ethics) Polly Davis describes the overwhelming support for the campaign as positive and reports how people petitioning appear to be “surprised” and “shocked” at discovering which investments the University holds, and are “keen” to support the group and spread awareness. Supporters of the online petition have voiced their opinions, citing their reasons for signing as “the University’s investments belie both the University’s climate change research and its multicultural student population (some of whose countries are hurt by the out of control arms trade)”, whilst pointing out that “reliance on oil, coal and gas causes a lot more problems than global warming.” Whilst there is real hypocrisy felt with regards to the University’s investments and its Green Aims, however, the group praise the University’s efforts in reducing carbon emissions, commitment to food sustainability and environment centre; Davis applauds Lancaster for “striving to be a Green university”, and encourages it to “build on these successes by endeavouring to make more sustainable, cleaner partnerships in the future.”

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