‘One of Oxford’s greenest colleges’ to be named after airline CEO as part of £155m deal

Linacre College is to be renamed Thao College

Few Oxford colleges make their green credentials known on the homepage of their website, but Linacre is one of them

Calling themselves “one of the greenest colleges in Oxford”, Linacre’s buildings have won awards for energy-saving designs. The college also hosts a major public lecture about the environment each year, and in 2006 it became the first to go carbon-neutral (this experiment ended three years later when the cost of the offsetting the college’s emissions became too expensive). If that wasn’t enough, the menus for the food in hall at Linacre even have a traffic-light system to rate the environmental impact of each option.

But after accepting a donation of £155 million from SOVICO Group, the college has announced that it intends to change its name to Thao College, after Airline CEO and Vietnam’s wealthiest woman Nguyen Thi Phoung Thao.

Thao is the Chairwoman of SOVICO group and made much of her wealth from VietJet Air, a budget airline owned by the group.

SOVICO’s environmental record differs significantly from that of Linacre’s. As well as owning Vietnam’s first private airline, SOVICO has significant involvement in the energy sector, having participated in several offshore oil and gas exploration and production projects in Vietnam, according to their website

SOVICO is also the largest shareholder in HDBank, whose vice-Chairwoman is Thao. Recently, the bank entered into a 10-year partnership with the state-owned Vietnam National Petroleum Group to become the company’s main provider of financing, including for its oil and gas projects. 

As part of the announcement of the donation it was revealed that SOVICO has committed all its subsidiaries to reaching net-zero by 2050, but it is currently unclear how this might be achieved, and whether this applies to the projects that SOVICO finances outside of its subsidiaries. 

At the moment, airlines’ only option for reaching net-zero is to purchase large amounts of carbon offsets, but Linacre’s own experience with offsetting the college’s emissions shows that this is not always easy. 

When Linacre’s own experiment with carbon offsetting failed in 2008, the editor of Linacre’s student magazine said: “Carbon offsetting can be used to justify the continued deferment of green investments and practices, especially if the emitter has no clear plan”. Time will tell if SOVICO’s actions follow the same path.

Linacre have been contacted for comment.

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