SFU pressured to drop oil company investments

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A student group at Simon Fraser University has joined a national campaign that’s pushing campuses to divest endowments from tar sands and other fossil fuel companies.

Sustainable SFU, the independent notfor-profit student society, joined the Fossil Free Canada campaign, launched earlier this year by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, which aims to encourage universities to pull their investments in fossil fuel corporations within five years.

“Sustainable SFU, as an organization, in January, passed a motion to initiate this campaign and to call on the university to divest from fossil fuels, to immediately freeze all new investments in fossil fuels and then, over the next five years, to end their investment in co-mingled funds,” said Mike Soron, executive director of Sustainable SFU.

Soron acknowledged the process of divesting from such funds is a “very difficult thing to do” but suggested the case for divestment is not just environmental, but also economic and that investing or continuing to invest in fossil fuels is “a massive liability.”

“Our role is not in being a financial advisor; we’re just sort of sounding the alarm on some problems we have with some of the values in the investment practices here at SFU,” he said.

Several student groups have officially endorsed the campaign at SFU, and more student groups and staff members are expected to sign a petition this summer, Soron said.

Throughout North America, divestment campaigns have been launched at more than 230 post-secondary schools, including the University of Victoria and Camosun College, according to Fossil Free


“The events of 2012, from Hurricane Sandy to record Arctic ice melt make it clearer than ever that we need to act on climate change,” said Cameron Fenton, national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, in a written statement. “Universities have a moral responsibility to divest from the fossil fuel corporations whose business model is to burn five times the amount of oil, coal and gas the planet can handle.”

In his statement, Fenton notes Fossil Free Canada has put oil pipeline companies Enbridge, TransCanada and Kinder Morgan on its divestment list, along with about 200 other companies.

Pat Hibbitts, vice-president of finance and administration at SFU, could not confirm which specific companies are part of the university’s investment portfolio, but she did confirm SFU has investments in oil and gas companies as well as in mining companies.

“We have investments in resource companies, for sure,” she said, noting the university also has “green” investments in its portfolio and is looking to add more.

The bottom line, however, is that the university invests in whatever companies will earn a high enough return to meet its financial goal, she said.

“Our obligation is to earn enough money on the investments to pay out the percentage we’re paying, which is four per cent right now, on our endowments, and we have a reasoned strategy to do that,” she said.

Soron said Sustainable SFU will bring its formal request for the university to divest from fossil fuel companies to the university’s board of governors meeting in November. The group will also request the university be more transparent about its investment holdings.


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