University launches ‘world first’ investigation into responsible investment

Stevie Hertz 18 May 2015

The University Council has voted to support a wide-ranging investigation of the University’s £2.2 billion endowments fund. Aiming to make investment more “environmentally and socially responsible”, the review plans to last a year and involve collaboration from students, academics and staff.

Previously, in the University Statutes and Ordinances, Cambridge has been pledged to conduct business with “selflessness”. However, its Statement of Investment Responsibility, most recently updated in 2009, said that “there are circumstances […] when the University may balance against its primary responsibility considerations of the ethical nature of investments.”

This led to a campaign from Positive Investment Cambridge, who today were “delighted” with the outcome. Ellen Quigley, a Socially Responsible Investment Officer for CUSU and member of Positive Investment Cambridge, said “this is a courageous step, unique among institutions wrestling with this issue. The University has shown us great respect and is working with us to develop an evidence based and morally sound investment policy that will serve the needs of future generations and guide future decision-making”

Helena Raraty, Charity, Campaigns and Environment Officer for Peterhouse, welcomed the investigation, saying, “It seems very two faced to be pioneering carbon saving technologies and strategies and to be simultaneously investing in fossil fuels… it's a matter of priorities. Global warming is an imminent issue.”

The move follows an increase in divestment campaigning the UN came out in support of divestment campaigns and similar institutions, such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, ended their investments. Recently, Oxford University came under fire for delaying an announcement on divestment, leading to the occupation of the Bodleian library.

However, Cambridge is claiming to be the first university to participate in such an open investigation and is hoping to lead the field. Quigley commented, “There’s no question that the outcomes from this project could carry great weight among other large institutional investors.” As a 2013 study said that universities in the US and UK have $10 billion of investments linked to the fossil fuel industry, there is scope for further campaigning.

Nonetheless, one student seemed cynical at the announcement, saying “Oxford had a similar investigation that didn’t change anything – I’ll be impressed when they actually divest”.