Uni’s £1m green deal gets mixed reaction

Lancaster University says it will invest £1m in green technology as a commitment to environmental sustainability.

The university said last week that it will invest in solutions “to environmental challenges associated with growing populations, climate change and resource scarcity through innovation, technology and the intelligent use of natural resources.”

But some current and former students believe the university should divest completely from “fossil fuels, tobacco industries and the arms trade”, and should in effect practice what it preaches as an education institution.

A spokeswoman for the uni said: “Lancaster University is shifting the emphasis of its investments strategy into new technologies as part of its commitment to environmental sustainability.

“The university has been working with its Students’ Union to review its portfolio of endowment and unrestricted investments, in particular a portfolio of around £1m shares which will provide the funding for the new investments.

“We are now researching companies and technologies which will positively deliver on environmental sustainability. We will look to become part of a fund that targets such companies and novel approaches that could help provide a more sustainable future.”

Will Hedley, Lancaster University Students’ Union president, said: “The union has been working closely with the university on its investment policies and we’re delighted to see this positive step, which demonstrates Lancaster’s commitment to the environment and sustainable technologies.”

But Emily Winter, a member of the Lancaster University Ethical Investments campaign group, said: “There have been discussions on ethical investment at a university management level for almost two years now. When the reinvestment strategy was announced, we were delighted and many of us assumed that this amounted or would amount to a commitment to divestment. Whilst we welcome the progress made by the university, their failure to explicitly commit to divestment is a real disappointment for those of us that have been campaigning on this for three years.”

Student Harry Carter said: “This response to the student-led divestment campaign is intended to cover the universitity’s dirty investments in fossil fuels, the arms trade and tobacco which are incompatible with the word sustainability.” The university said it invested “a small proportion” of its £5.3m endowment in fossil fuels, the tobacco industry and BAE Systems in Lancashire.

Laura Clayson, former President of Lancaster University Students’ Union, now an advisor to the NUS on their divest-invest campaign commented: “To stay below 2 degrees of global warming we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and transition to a clean energy future, that is both democratic and decolonised. “While the UK Government is cutting subsidies to renewable energy and increasing those to fossil fuels, it is essential that powerful institutions, like universities, invest in just and sustainable energy alternatives.

“I hope that Lancaster’s decision today inspires other institutions to take heed: this grassroots movement is here to stay, as students globally express that they want their degree to be fossil free!”

Cat Smith, Lancaster’s MP and Shadow minister for women and equalities said: “Fracking is not the answer to climate change; it’s been rejected by those who take our climate commitments seriously and it’s been rejected by the people of Lancashire through our democratic representatives. As a local MP and an alumni I’m delighted to see Lancaster University reject investing in this carbon-intensive industry.”

The announcement comes after a three year-long campaign, which gathered the support of over a thousand students, academics and staff at Lancaster University. Additionally Lancaster students have used a variety of creative direct action techniques, including staging a mock oil spill, creating an 105m² artwork, and occupying various university buildings.

Twenty one UK universities have now made fossil free commitments including Oxford University, Glasgow University and the University of Warwick.

Globally, more than 500 institutions and 2,000 individuals have pledged to divest $3.4 trillion from fossil fuels.

These commitments have come from governments and investors from 43 countries, across multiple sectors including pension funds, health, education, philanthropy, faith, entertainment, climate justice and municipalities.