Wind turbines
Image credit: Creative Commons, Tom Corser

People & Planet has revealed the universities leading the UK higher education sector in investment in renewable energy. The student activist network has published the People & Planet University League 2019, a ranking of universities’ ethical and environmental performance.

The University League’s criteria is wide ranging, measuring areas including carbon management, estates management and workers rights. Points are awarded to universities based on information publicly available on the institutions’ website.

The Ethical Investment & Banking section measures universities’ ethical investment policies, including whether they exclude specific sectors – like fossil fuels or weapons – and whether they prioritise positive sectors like renewables.

Universities are given some points for a policy commitment to invest in low-carbon energy funds or renewables. They receive extra points if the commitment is to invest in low-carbon or renewable energy on campus or in the local community.

Out of 154 universities, just seven have policy around investment in renewables. More universities may be incidentally invested in renewables, but without a commitment enshrined in policy there is limited accountability and nothing to stop them suddenly moving their money. These are the UK universities doing it right:

1. Keele University

Keele’s ethical investment policy states:

The university has made a commitment to divest from fossil fuel extraction companies, and to focus its investments in companies with a positive environmental and/or societal impact, in particular in areas of clean energy and technology.

In addition, the University is also committed to investing in renewable energy projects on our campus.

This came after their commitment in January 2019 to never invest in fossil fuels. They confirmed at the same time that they have never held investments in fossil fuels or arms.

2. Nottingham Trent University

Alongside Nottingham Trent’s exclusion of all fossil fuels, arms and corporations in violation of international law, the university states:

The University will make an active commitment, where possible, to increase the proportion of positive investments which are held (including within healthcare and the low carbon sector) and to directly reinvest in community-owned or on campus renewable energy projects.

3. University of Edinburgh

In 2018, Edinburgh dramatically shifted its divestment commitment from just excluding coal and tar sands to divesting its entire £1bn endowment from all fossil fuels. Lots of money to reinvest in renewables.

Their responsible investment policy statement also commits them to:

Identify and replace (to low or zero carbon investments). This option is being progressed both with appointed individual fund managers and the Committee’s investment advisor.

4. Glyndwr University

Glyndwr is another university with an impressive array of exclusions. They too will not directly invest in fossil fuels, arms or corporations complicit in the violation of international law. Glyndwr’s 2017 fossil free declaration name checks Shell and BP as incompatible with a liveable climate for all.

The declaration makes clear the institution’s desire “to be part of the just transition to a low-carbon economy”. This is reflected the Ethical Investment section of Glyndwr’s Treasury Management Report which says the University will, “Seek to increase investment in positive environmental activities, such as renewable energy companies or funds.”

5. Northumbria University

Northumbria’s Treasury Management and Ethical Investment Policy makes clear they hold no investments in fossil fuels and they intend to uphold such divestment:

In addition, we shall continue our commitment to the use and development of low carbon/ renewable technologies. We will work with research and commercial partners, communities, and other organisations to develop and improve these technologies, and raise awareness of their use.

6. Newman University

Newman has signed People & Planet and National Union of Students’ (NUS) Fossil Free Declaration. This confirms the signatories have no investments in fossil fuels and pledge that they never will.

Alongside this, Newman’s Ethical Investment Policy states: “The University commits to reinvesting in low-carbon or renewable energy companies, where appropriate, and undertakes to publicly list all investments annually”

7. University of Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire have climbed to the top of this year’s University League in no small part due to their performance in the Ethical Investment & Banking section. They score 75% in the section overall thanks to excluding fossil fuels and arms.

Regarding their commitment to sustainable investments:

The aim is to invest in well managed companies that provide products or services that are more sustainable than the market and are set to benefit from a shift towards more sustainable development.

University of Gloucestershire’s success illustrates that good performance on ethical investment is often a litmus test for wider performance across ethical and environmental criteria. While these seven universities lead the sector on their commitment to a renewable energy transition, the sector as a whole has a long way to come. By becoming more directly invested in a low-carbon future, universities might just go further in delivering it in every aspect of their work.