Cambridge University has an Endowment of £2.4 billion. It invests this money, and uses the returns to cover parts of the university running costs.
Previously the University operated with a Statement of Investment Responsibility that treated investment responsibility as a secondary priority, to be pursued if the University felt like it. And of course, doing some digging, we found no instance where such discretion had been exercised. The excuse was that our money was largely invested through external fund managers and that this made it hard for them to influence where the money went or how it was managed.
We didn’t think that was sufficient, so we pushed for the University to review this policy. From May 2015-2016 the University convened a ‘working group’, involving student campaigners, academics and senior administrators, to review its ethical investment policy, and to provide recommendation for how to go forward. The resulting report called for the University to play a more active role in getting its managers to line up with its own values, by putting pressure on badly behaving companies, pressuring managers themselves to consider issues like carbon risk, voting its shares, and expressing a preference for investments that would make a positive impact on the environment or human well-being. The report also recommended a greater role for student input in guiding investment strategy and greater transparency in reporting. The University Council voted unanimously to approve this report.
Now the big challenge is to make sure that all these recommendations are implemented in a meaningful way. There’s still the possibility that much of this will be watered down or overlooked to the point of emptiness. And so we continue to work to campaign for specific policies around each of these recommendation, and we work to create pressure and scrutiny to make sure these jobs get done well.
Meanwhile we also work to encourage the university to back a sustainable future in other ways. Most importantly, we are currently working on a proposal for the University to use it’s in house expertise in engineering, architecture, energy and estates management to form an outfit that can retrofit its various buildings up to a high energy efficiency standard. The possible savings from this, and the possibility of attracting outside funding and financing, make it an excellent investment opportunity for the University, and this could be a huge way to reduce our collective Cambridge carbon footprint!
In addition to all this, we put on events and lectures, write in student and national press and generally try to spread awareness of how positive investment works.
If any or all of this sounds exciting to you, we’d love to have you involved!