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SFU Board of Governors approves to decrease its carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2030

Decision intended to inspire other post-secondary institutions to make similar sustainable investments

Image Credits: Ashley Fraser

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, we stated that SFU will be “divesting” from fossil fuels by 30 percent by 2030. In fact, the university plans on reducing its investments in companies that rely on carbon and fossil fuel investments, rather than divesting entirely. We regret the error.

SFU’s Board of Governors (BOG) has given the green light to reducing SFU’s carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2030. This comes after a long process of committee and advocacy meetings.

This choice is intended to match Canada’s climate commitment, where the BOG’s responsible investment committee is still working to develop a baseline report of SFU’s carbon footprint. Once this is completed in January, the committee plans to have a detailed plan of the targets to be made to reduce carbon investments by 2030.

SFU has also increased its funding towards sustainable investment holdings within the endowment portfolio by $8 million, to be added to the previous $12 million in late 2015.

SFU isn’t the first university in Canada to adopt this plan. The University of Ottawa adopted a similar plan in April.

President Andrew Petter stressed at the meeting that he hopes this impact inspires “others join with us and the University of Ottawa; universities, but perhaps other institutions as well, because what it’s really saying is that we expect companies to make progress to reducing their carbon footprint.”

Tyler Carson, graduate representative on the BOG, added “that this has been a very significant issue for a lot of students,” and explained that this approval “makes me very proud to be an SFU student.”

Petter also thanked the various advocacy groups at the university, including SFU350 — a SFU student climate action organization aimed to encourage SFU to divest from fossil fuels — for pushing and helping the board “to think of ways that you can develop an investment policy that will in fact contribute towards reductions in carbon investment and achieve climate change targets.”

Board chair Bill Cunningham said that “this is probably, more than anything on my time on the board, symbolizes what it means to be a part of the SFU community.” He added that groups like SFU350 and Embark have all been a part of “helping us get to this point.”

Deven Azevedo, former undergraduate representative for the BOG in 2014–15 and chair of Embark, said to The Peak following the announcement, “it’s been the culmination of about three years of work and two and a half years since SFU350 last attended [the] March 2014 BOG meeting, when the issue was first brought to the board.”

Azevedo explained that it’s been an evolutionary process from the point where the board was not previously as positive about this issue, but remained open to speaking about it. “[I]t definitely allowed us to continue our advocacy.”

Petter addressed some of the issues that complete divestment poses, which is the goal of the SFU350 organization, and explained that much of the university’s investments are located in “pooled funds”; so, “we can’t aggregate or disaggregate the carbon components of those funds [. . .]  and it would put the university at risk in terms of getting a return.” He added that the direct investments that the university does hold are not within any fossil fuel companies.

Tessa Ramburn, president of the SFU350 organization, said that “SFU350 is very happy that the motion has passed and it’s a positive first step forward in the right direction. We are also looking forward to continue to work with the board of governors in pushing for full fossil fuel divestment.”

Jessie Russel, social media coordinator for SFU350, added that “this is a huge first step, but 30 percent by 2030 is not fast enough [. . .] I think moving forward, really looking at the endowment as a whole and also looking at benchmarks that are much closer than 2030.”

Ramburn explained that research coming out of the university itself by Kirsten Zickfeld, an SFU professor and climate scientist, indicates that “30 percent by 2030 is just not enough.”

However, she explained that the president’s commitment to inspiring other universities to follow suit is “one aspect of divestment that make it such a powerful movement [. . .] All of this work is not just SFU350 or just Embark, it’s the entire support of the Divest SFU movement, and that’s huge.” This includes the “thousands of students and faculty members that have put time and energy into this [. . .] so we are really grateful that we have the support of the entire SFU community.”

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