Divest Campaign Questions Concordia’s Investments

Initiative Wants University to Stop Investing in Fossil Fuels

Anthony Garoufalis-Auger spoke at a workshop on the topic of divestment last Thursday. Photo Alexandre Hureau

According to Anthony Garoufalis-Auger, one of the organizers of Concordia’s divestment campaign, there are some inconsistencies between the university’s branding and its actions.

Concordia markets itself as a university with a sustainable campus, yet it continues to invest some of its endowment fund in companies that extract and transport fossil fuels, he said.

Of the $49.9 million of the university’s endowment fund invested in Canadian stocks in the 2010-2011 financial year, $9.1 million was invested in oil and gas, and another $2.6 million was invested in pipelines, according to publicly available financial statements. The total value of the university’s endowment fund that year was almost $116 million.

More recent financial documents see the label changed to “energy” investment.

The student-led Divest Concordia campaign held two workshops last week exploring the arguments in favour of divestment. Organizers say the campaign is seeking to have the university sell any investments it holds in the fossil fuel industry within three years.

“What we want to see Concordia adopt […] is sustainable and responsible investing,” Garoufalis-Auger said. “For [Concordia’s] image of being a sustainable campus […] it would be in their best interest to adopt this type of investing.”

The campaign wants the university to adopt a social and environmental responsibility policy that would serve as a set of ethical guidelines for Concordia’s investments, according to Garoufalis-Auger.

He says another goal for the campaign is for there to be student representation on any committees that would be tasked with writing such a policy.

“Without a policy, a few years down the road, [the university] can just reinvest in those same [polluting] companies, because there’s nothing that binds them to investing ethically,” said Garoufalis-Auger.

Rather than invest in the fossil fuel industry, Garoufalis-Auger says he’d like to see the university make investments in renewable energy.

Another possibility, he continued, would be to invest in a so-called Green Revolving Fund. The fund would bankroll sustainability initiatives on campus—for example, upgrades to Concordia’s buildings to make them more energy efficient—that would ultimately make the university more environmentally friendly, while also allowing it to save money in the long term.

The financial consequences of divestment are somewhat unpredictable; many people are concerned that divesting from the fossil fuel industry would mean lower market returns for universities’ endowment funds.

But Trevor Smith, another organizer of the divestment campaign and a graduate student in geography, urban and environmental studies, told The Link there are many ways for universities to make money by investing in environmentally responsible companies. He said that Concordia’s John Molson School of Business even offers a professional certificate program in sustainable investment.

“There’s a lot of innovation in the renewable energy industry, and there’s a lot of ways that we can be looking into making these investments,” he said, adding that Divest Concordia wants to involve financial professionals and professors in the discussion of how to invest the endowment fund in a more sustainable way.

Smith said the divestment campaign isn’t just trying to get the university to divest from fossil fuels, but is also trying to educate students and the wider community about the issues surrounding climate change.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation going around about [climate change],” he said. “What we want to do is to send a message that we are concerned about this.”

The Divest Concordia campaign is part of a larger international movement demanding that universities stop investing their endowment funds—and, in some cases, their pension funds too—in companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels such as oil and coal.