To be updated regularly and maintained in a (hopefully!) logical order. If you don’t see the question you wanted to ask then drop us a tweet, Facebook message, comment or email and we’ll get back to you:
Q) What exactly do you want the University of Southampton to commit to in terms of ethical investment?
A) The University should consult with staff and students and work to produce a socially and environmentally responsible investment strategy. This document should be publically available and clearly set out the ethical basis on which the University will make its investment decisions. It should be specific about which companies or industries do not meet the required standard for investment either directly or as part of mixed funds administrated by third party fund managers. Invest Positive UoS believe that a truly ethical strategy would exclude the arms industry, tobacco companies and fossil fuel companies exploiting or developing coal, tar sands oil or Arctic drilling.
Q) How can I get involved / help?
A) Follow us on Twitter and/or join our Facebook group (links here) to keep updated and help build the network of staff and students that will be needed to effect change. We will also build a mailing list which we will add you to if you email us and ask to be included. If you have any information or ideas that may help us we would love to hear them.
Please also consider emailing the office of Sarah Pook, the University Director of Finance, at J.Shaw@southampton.ac.uk to let her know that you support a move to transparent, socially responsible investment.
Q) I understand why you’d want to exclude arms and tobacco companies from the University’s portfolio but why fossil fuels?
A) Fossil fuels have powered the industrialisation and development of our society but it is now accepted that the carbon emissions arising from their extraction and combustion are driving climate change which, if unchecked, will be catastrophic for our planet. The fossil fuel industry already holds far more reserves than can ever safely be burnt yet spends billions every year exploring for more in ever harsher locations. These companies are essentially betting against robust international action to avoid the worst effects of climate change (by restricting warming to below 2˚C) since such action would render these assets valueless. This isn’t a bet that a sustainability focussed university should be taking and these stocks should not be part of an ethical investment strategy.
Q) So why specify coal, tar sands oil and Arctic drilling instead of all fossil fuels?
All fossil fuels are ultimately unsustainable and should not remain a long term feature of the University’s investments however, we have decided to initially focus on the most polluting and environmentally dangerous resources whose exploitation needs to end soonest.
The world’s carbon budget (to stand a reasonable chance of remaining within 2˚C of warming) has been estimated by the IPCC as between 870 and 1240 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide between 2011 and 2050. We link here to a report from this January’s edition of Nature in which the authors sought to go further and model how much of known reserves of different fossil fuel resources could be safely utilised. They conclude that 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 33% of oil should remain in the ground. They also show that unconventional oil production (i.e. tar sands) and Arctic development are inconsistent with the 2˚C scenario.
Q) How much money does the University have in its endowment fund?
A) Just over £11.1 million in cash on deposit and around £80,000 of shares in Royal Dutch Shell. See FOI request and response here.
Q) The University’s endowment is, in global terms, only a very small sum of money. What impact can any investment commitment it makes really have?
A) This answer takes 2 parts:
Firstly, the ethical imperative to invest responsibly is not reduced just because the total capital is relatively small. Universities have a responsibility to invest in a way that is consistent with their research and sustainability objectives.
Secondly, ethical investment is not just about the money. Public commitments to socially responsible investment are not intended or able to bankrupt companies or lead to the obviously impractical immediate cessation of global fossil fuel use. Rather they serve to withdraw moral and academic cover from fundamentally unethical business models and instead create space and public support for world leaders to act. For example, ahead of vital international climate talks in Paris this December, the need for unambiguous academic support for low carbon energy and climate action could not be greater. In short, universities’ voices extend significantly beyond the restrictions of their finances if they are seen to be pulling their own money out of unsustainable enterprise and into positive ventures.
Q) What is the University invested in currently?
A) Recent FOI requests revealed that the University’s endowment fund has been closed and is being held as cash pending reinvestment. The only exception is a direct shareholding in Royal Dutch Shell. FOI request here.
Q) When and by whom will the decision be made about how to reinvest?
A) The Vice Chancellor will make the decision through the Finance Advisory Group. Sarah Pook is University Director of Finance and her office may be contacted through her PA – J.Shaw@southampton.ac.uk.
Q) What about people’s personal investment choices?
A) We do not offer personal financial advice however if you are interested in improving the ethics of your own investments then services do exist to help you, e.g. Move Your Money.