Concordia’s Latest Greenwashing Half-Measure

$5-Million Green Fund Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau

The Concordia University Foundation announced in a press release last week that it would invest $5 million in a fund adhering to “environmental, social and corporate governance” criteria.

This is certainly a nice gesture, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Canadians across the country are currently being assaulted by projects from the likes of Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and TransCanada, oil corporations that are hoping to find ways to move Albertan bitumen west, east, south or any other cardinal direction to international seaports.

Environmental models suggest that success for these corporations will spell disaster for our global climate and to Canadian forests, waterways and local municipalities as well.

In a recent report from the International Energy Agency, researchers informed the world that if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, 80 per cent of known carbon reserves need to stay in the ground.

In other words, the clock is ticking for us to end our love affair with oil. In the context of our steadily rising annual emissions, this will be difficult.

After more than a year of talks held between the CUF, the Graduate Students’ Association and the Concordia Student Union on the topic of divesting from fossil fuels, the university’s initiative is a far cry from the target that the Concordia community requested.

In fact, the fund is entirely the CUF’s design and it wholly ignores the suggestions of Divest Concordia and the student associations involved.

As a co-coordinator of Divest Concordia, I was privy to the discussions of Concordia’s Socially Responsible Investment working group as the GSA representative.

It is partly because of these talks that Divest Concordia hasn’t been as active this past semester. We have been eagerly awaiting the CUF’s response and, failing to see divestment mentioned even once, I can’t help but feel that our demands fell on deaf ears.

Similarly, this week we heard that after several years of discussions and campaigning, Dalhousie University’s Board of Governors decided not to divest their endowment fund from fossil fuels.

The news from Dal, historically known for being the first Canadian university to divest from and boycott South African companies in response to their apartheid regime in 1987, may have been a factor in timing this week’s announcement by Concordia’s administration that the foundation would carve out a green fund.

The fear that Dal would beat Concordia to the divestment punch may have had a lot to do with the CUF’s rush to announce their green fund this week, despite the CSU’s Fund Allocation committee not having met to discuss the SRI working group’s initial proposal.

The proposal the CUF was waiting to hear back on from the CSU would have involved allocating a significant portion of the CSU’s Student Space fund into their project.

The logistics and management of such a move aside, the CSU couldn’t have ethically agreed to entrust student money to CUF’s fund managers in the end.

Additionally, we, the members of the SRI working group, wouldn’t have felt comfortable setting the precedent in Canada of demanding student associations to “buy in” for control.

Rather than follow-through on legitimate divestment of fossil fuels, pressure was placed on the CSU to be willing to pony up the money to have some degree of control over the investment criteria. In no way does that address divestment. Concordia will not be the first Canadian university to legitimize these “greenwashing” practices.

The pledge to divest endowment funds has been taken by a number of American universities and I fail to see why Concordia refuses to be the first Canadian institution to do so.

Despite the demands of the student representatives—that the CUF commit to divesting in the next three years and create a socially responsible investment oversight group that included students, faculty and administrators—what we have been presented with is little more than a public relations stunt.

I can only wonder about the real reasons why Bram Freedman and Howard Davidson, the president and the chair of the CUF, respectively, are so reluctant to include the Concordia community on matters that impact the sustainable governance of the university.

It would appear that the work on SRI is far from finished and, although some might call the fund a success from student initiatives, Divest Concordia certainly has some work to do as well.

A quote from Bethany Hindmarsh, a Dal student, sums it up best: “Any decision other than a decision to divest is a signal that they [university administrators] are comfortable with complicity in the greatest injustice of our time.”

Trevor James Smith is one of four graduate students who sit on Concordia’s senate, the university’s highest academic body, and is a coordinator at Divest Concordia.