B.C.'s Simon Fraser University is moving to reduce the carbon footprint of its investment portfolio — a move the university says will be more effective than divesting from fossil fuel companies.

The university's board voted to reduce the carbon footprint of its investment portfolio by at least 30 per cent by 2030 — following the lead of the University of Ottawa which made the same commitment in April.

On CBC's The Early Edition, SFU President Andrew Petter said this policy would be environmentally responsible and fiscally prudent.

"The board was persuaded it was not a good risk to be investing in companies or portfolios that are overly dependent on carbon," he said.

Petter said the carbon plan is more effective at reducing greenhouse gases than divestment.

"Outright divestment would have had symbolic importance, but it wouldn't have been possible from a practical point of view because [much of the university's investments are in] pooled funds," he said,

SFU will publicly disclose the carbon footprint of its investments each year and will actively encouraging others to pursue lower carbon investments, he said.

The university has a $700 million dollar investment portfolio and it doesn't have any direct investments in fossil fuel companies, Petter said.

He acknowledged the role of student advocacy in encouraging the university to develop the new policy and specifically pointed out environmental advocacy group SFU 350.  

Tessa Ramburn, co-president of that student organization, said she was proud of the decision.

However this is only the first step, she said.

"Given the pressing issue of climate change, a 30 per cent reduction is not enough based on climate science," she said. "But the strength of the movement is when a number of institutions come together and put pressure on companies."

A contentious campus issue

University divestment has been a contentious issue on many Canadian campuses.

uoft divestment march 1

At a divestment rally in October 2015, students and community members from the University of Toronto urge the school to rid itself of holdings in the fossil fuel industry. (MILAN ILNYCKYJ)

Many of Canada's largest universities — including Dalhousie, McGill, the University of Calgary, the University of Toronto, and the University of British Columbia — have voted against divestment despite sustained campaigning and petitioning from students.

The University of British Columbia opted to create a separate fund for 'sustainable' investments, and the University of Toronto said it will consider environmental criteria in its investment decisions.

With files from The Early Edition


To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled SFU moves to reduce carbon footprint of investments