REVEALED: The Cambridge colleges with millions invested in fossil fuel companies

Magdalene, Emma and Selwyn are amongst the worst

The Tab has investigated the scale of investments by Cambridge colleges into oil and gas companies, and (to no-one's surprise) has found them to be in the millions. It has long been acknowledged that the university has significant sums in companies like Shell and Exxon, but the investments of individual colleges has been subject to a relatively lower level of scrutiny.

Homerton is one of the most significant direct investors, with nearly £1.5m in fossil fuel companies.

Opposition to the investments has been growing steadily over the past few years, headed by the Cambridge Zero Carbon Campaign, which has called for the university to fully divest its £6.3bn endowment from fossil fuel companies. Cambridge has the largest endowment of any university outside the USA, and many believe that they should follow the lead of other Higher Education Institutions, like the University of Glasgow, in committing to sell its assets in oil and gas companies.

The Cambridge Zero Carbon Campaign has been active since 2015

Since the blacklisting of coal and tar sands investments in 2016, prominent figures including Noam Chomsky and Rowan Williams have given support to the campaign to divest from oil and gas as well.

How much money does Cambridge invest in energy companies?

Colleges invest in a range of oil and gas companies, as well as other companies, too. Homerton seems to be one of the most significant direct investors, with nearly £1.5m in National Oilwell Varco, an American multinational, and nearly £1.4m in Praxair, one of the world's largest gas suppliers.

Peterhouse has a hefty investment of £500,000 in Shell Oil, while Selwyn has also invested £830,000 with them. Shell was responsible for a recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which had severe detrimental effects on thousands of locals and ocean wildlife. They are also amongst oil companies whose drilling activities in West Africa have dramatically compromised ecologies, economies, and the lives of tens of thousands of locals.

Some colleges also have direct investments in green energy companies, such as King's, which has £2m in Impax Environmental Markets.

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Why are only a handful of colleges shown here?

Colleges invest their money in different ways, and only the ones which invest directly actually know for certain where their money is going. This is why it's so difficult to cite a specific figures in calls for divestment.

Furthermore, the university manages its endowment via the Cambridge University Endowment Fund, while many colleges use external investment managers or invest directly themselves.

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It's also worth pointing out that when a college uses an investment manager, they sometimes have to agree to terms of business which oblige them not to disclose any information. For example, Downing, Caius and Girton have their endowments managed by Partners Capital, and are not allowed to release information related to their business matters or of a confidential nature.

Even if colleges are allowed to release their investment portfolios, it is often difficult to interpret since funds can be in multiple currencies.

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The combined endowment of Cambridge colleges is approximately £3.3 billion

Divestment: What does it actually mean?

Divesting from oil and gas would mean a college selling up all its shares in these companies. This is what the Zero Carbon Campaign is pushing for.

One of the main issues with this is potential buyers will not share the environmental concerns of the university and colleges. In contrast, if a college is a major investor in a collective fund which contributes to oil and gas companies, they can use that financial leverage as influence. Murray Edwards, for example, invests in the COIF Charities Investments Fund.

COIF does have oil investments, but pushes its companies to follow strategies to diversity away from oil production and towards greener solutions. This means that oil companies are subject to the influence of those who have ethical concerns – something which cannot be ensured with new buyers if the university and colleges do chose to divest.

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Shell Oil was responsible for an extremely damaging oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Which colleges follow Ethical Investment Policies?

One way of measuring a college's investment concerns is by looking at whether they follow an Ethical Investment Policy. However, this factor is not completely transparent, since most colleges do follow some kind of ethically-motivated policy – even those with big investments in oil and gas companies. Here are extracts from a few:

– St John's: '… the College seeks to ensure that investments are not made in companies whose practices are in conflict with the charitable purposes of the College or are likely to alienate the members or benefactors of the College.'

– Magdalene and Corpus: The College's investment managers are expected to avoid involvement in organisations that clearly ignore responsible standards in dealing with, inter alia, employees, the environment, and the communities in which they operate.

– St Catharine's: '… the College [is] wary of exposure to companies that extract the most polluting fossil fuels. For example, the College has no holdings in tar sands companies, or thermal coal companies.'

– Selwyn: Their Investment Committee is, 'cautious of exposure to fossil fuel companies and to adopt a long term bias to disinvestment.'

– Downing and Newnham: Opposed to investing in 'companies whose activities violate human rights, the environment, and best practice in social and stakeholder matters.'

– Murray Edwards: '…encourages socially responsible investment…for instance it does not invest directly in shares of tobacco companies.'

Most colleges follow some form of Ethical Investment Policy

Where next?

The Divestment Working Group was established by the university in May this year to assess the case for divestment, and includes the Masters of Churchill and Pembroke College.

They have been holding 'town hall' meetings, which students can attend.

More information about the Zero Carbon Campaign can be found here.

The figures cited in this article have been obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, and have been rounded where appropriate. The complexities of this issue mean the the information laid out here is not necessarily comprehensive. As mentioned previously, a college might not know which companies are included in its portfolio of investments, or may be obliged not to disclose it if they do know.

The Ethical Investments Policies have been obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and from college websites. It should also be emphasised that this article is concerned with the endowments of colleges, which are separate to the endowments of the university.

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University of Cambridge Cambridge colleges divestment environment environmental issues fossil fuels investigation Oxbridge