Climate change and the University
Climate change is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems. Decades of work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (http://www.ipcc.ch) confirms that human activity is the primary cause of current climate change, which is leading to widespread impacts on human and natural systems. The widespread use of fossil fuels, which is integral to many facets of modern life, is leading to unprecedented warming of our climate system.
Mount Allison is committed to pursuing reductions in its use of fossil fuels. The University seeks to continuously improve its operations consistent with direct and indirect reductions of its carbon footprint.
Generally, decisions about changes to University operations are made by professional staff based on reviews of current practices and evidence-based recommendations from consultants. Some changes require a significant amount of research prior to action, along with review and formal approvals by specific decision-making structures of the University. Investment policy specifically is the purview of the Board of Regents.
Mount Allison’s approach
Mount Allison has undertaken (and will continue to seek) a wide range of operational initiatives in recent years to reduce our environmental impact. Examples of operational improvements include:
- Switching from bunker oil to natural gas to generate heat
- Upgrading to LED lighting in buildings and exterior fixtures and using motion-sensitive controls for lighting
- Improving the energy efficiency of buildings as they are renovated with guidance from the Green Globe certification system
- Green products for cleaning and maintenance
- Increasing use of electric vehicles on campus
- Continuous improvements to our pedestrian campus and bike-friendly outdoor spaces
- Recycling, lights out, C3 and other environmental initiatives in residences
- Using low-flow fixtures to significantly reduce water usage
- Scraping station and composting of food waste for use in campus gardens
These initiatives and others have helped Mount Allison achieve an incremental but meaningful reduction of our carbon footprint, which has decreased 18 per cent since 2010, through direct and indirect reductions in our use of fossil fuels.
Other initiatives fit into the following three areas:
- Academic programming, extra-curricular activities and research
The University offers a number of programs and courses related to environmental matters including, but not limited to, environmental sciences and studies degrees. Researchers at Mount Allison make use of University facilities to study a wide range of environmental problems and issues. Students, faculty, and staff are involved in various groups that focus on environmental matters both on campus and in Sackville and beyond.
The University has an Environmental Policy with eight associated policies covering areas such as transportation, waste management, and buildings. The Procurement and Vehicle Fuel Conservation and Idling policies also directly address environmental matters.
The University reports on environmental matters in a number of ways. Audits of our Environmental Policies are conducted. As well, the University calculates and publishes information on the University’s carbon footprint in its annual Review of Operations.
For further information:
Investment practices and climate change
University investments are held in endowment funds and pension plans. There is a legal fiduciary responsibility to donors and to beneficiaries of endowment funds, and equally to employees who have made pension contributions, to invest the money to achieve good rates of return while minimizing investment risk. This means the University’s Regents, as trustees of the funds, have specific obligations with respect to how the funds are managed. Those seeking further information on this topic may find the legal opinion provided to UBC helpful. See:
As this memo makes clear, there are opportunities to take environmental, social and other factors into account when managing the University’s investments but it does not support embracing a binary choice — to hold or not to hold fossil fuel securities.
What activities has the University undertaken to review our approach to investing?
In February 2016 the Board of Regents received a formal report from a group of students representing Divest MtA requesting a number of items including that the University divest from any investments in 200 specific fossil fuel companies. Divestment refers to the exclusion of certain companies or types of companies from University investments. It should be noted the University does not directly invest in companies but like almost all universities own funds that may each hold hundreds of investments.
In response to this report, the Board of Regents created a Responsible Investment Sub-committee, which included student, faculty and alumni members to review the matter and make recommendations.
Responsible investment is the broad term that encompasses three approaches:
- incorporating environmental, social and governance factors into investment decisions
- considering the exclusion of investments for non-financial reasons (divestment)
- including investments for non-financial reasons (impact investing)
The sub-committee considered a number of matters including a report from an outside consultant concerning responsible investing in the context of Mount Allison’s investment policy; approaches taken by other universities; a consideration of including environmental, social and governance factors in investment policies; and the United Nations’ Principals of Responsible Investment. The sub-committee met between February 2016 and February 2017.
In March 2017, the sub-committee submitted its report to the Nominating and Governance Committee of the Board of Regents with these recommended actions:
- incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into Mount Allison’s investment policies and practices
- establish a specific investment option for those individuals who wish to make new donations to a fund that would not include certain types of stocks
- disclose investment holdings
- report on responsible investment activities
- become a signatory to the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment
The Board of Regents will review the recommendations and communicate its decision as soon as possible. If the recommendations are approved by the Board the University will begin implementing them immediately.