By Robyn Banks of People and Planet UEA
This week saw People and Planet’s annual University League table released. For some universities this has been a cause for celebration – Nottingham Trent, for example, have climbed to the top of the table. However, for UEA and its students the league’s findings should be a cause for concern. Since last year Norwich’s biggest university has dropped 14 places from 34 to 48 in the table, losing 13 points in the process. This is the inevitable result of the way the university has behaved in the last year with regards to various environmental issues.
UEA’s rating in the ‘Ethical Investment’ category has fallen from 35% to 0% in the space of a year. In this time the university has shut away its ethical policy document, which was previously publicly available. Not surprising really, as it has made no progress towards its stated objectives for ethical investment, and refuses to make a public commitment to reducing its current investments in Fossil Fuels or to avoiding any further investment.
Dialogue with staff and students about how UEA could invest more ethically has broken down, leading to a drop from 55% to 15% in the league’s ‘Engagement’ category. Following UEA People and Planet’s occupation last year to put pressure on Vice Chancellor David Richardson, he has promised to meet with us twice. He attended the first meeting in May (6 months late!), ad promised another in October this year after the release of the Initiative for Safe Carbon Investment report from Oxford University. This second meeting has also been indefinitely postponed until the release of that report, showing the lack of commitment from the VC and his office to engage student or staff concerns about the hypocrisy of the continued refusal to to divest. People and Planet have recently discovered that the university has divested its £31,100 holdings in BHP Billiton, a coal and metal mining firm that is linked to horrific human rights abuses in Indonesia and elsewhere. But we understand that this was a standard decision to lapse an investment in favour of greater profit, not made any kind of rejection of the fossil fuel industry. And that still leaves over £250,000 invested in other fossil fuel companies, with no guarantee of any further progress on the horizon.
In the ‘Workers Rights’ category, UEA has dropped 7.5%, down to just 20%. The university has yet to sign up to the monitoring organisation Electronics Watch, which would guarantee that the electronic goods UEA uses aren’t produced in workplaces with abusive attitudes to workers rights. Many electronics factories use slavery-like conditions that have seen the rights of hundreds of workers systematically quashed and ignored, leading in some cases to severe injuries and suicides. Until UEA works with an organisation such as Electronics Watch to guarantee that its supply chains are free of these abuses, it is tacitly contributing to them. UEA is also yet to become a Fair Trade accredited university. or a Living Wage accredited employer, despite making a commitment to the latter following a student union campaign.
Dialogue with staff and students about how UEA could invest more ethically has broken down
Something that has been consistent from last year is the university’s lack of commitment to carbon and water reduction. In 2015 UEA scored 0% in both of these categories, and this remains the case in 2016. In terms of carbon there has been no change in its carbon intensity and use, as well as a failure to achieve the 14.9% reduction in carbon usage since 2005 that it committed to through HEFCE. On water reduction UEA is yet to follow other pioneering institutions in using ‘grey’ or rain water in order to reduce the amount of water used per head for students and staff. 20.2 cubic meters were used per full time staff member or student in 2015 – that’s about 28 baths’ worth!
All of this shows that, despite its rhetoric, UEA has a along way to go to become a truly green institution. It has regressed on many issues in the past year, but there is hope. As mentioned above there has been some fossil fuel divestment recently, and People and Planet UEA will not relent until there has been a clear commitment to full divestment and to signing up to Electronics Watch. And after that, if this League report is anything to go by, we’ll have plenty more to keep campaigning on!
P&P UEA meet Wednesdays at 5:30 at UEA Union House, room 3. Please come get involved, and help hold our university accountable!
Featured image via John Fielding