If you had to think of a place that represents UBC’s commitment to sustainability, you might think of the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), lauded as “the greenest building in North America.” You probably wouldn’t think of the Guinness Tower, in the heart of Vancouver’s financial district. Unlike CIRS, it has no sophisticated energy monitors, innovative rainwater collection systems, or “living walls.” Rather, this tower features an opulent business centre (with the look of a “European boutique hotel”), a banal sushi restaurant (“fresh ingredients, global inspiration”) and dozens of nondescript corporate offices.
One of those offices houses IMANT, or UBC Investment Management Trust Inc., a wholly owned corporate subsidiary of UBC. IMANT is responsible for managing UBC’s enormous investment portfolio, including the staff pension plan and the endowment fund. It is in this office that UBC made a Faustian bargain with the oil and gas industry, investing $4.6 million of our endowment into four large companies: Talisman Energy, Ensign Energy Services, Baytex Energy and the Encana Corporation.
Baytex Energy (UBC’s investment: $1,127,731) operates primarily in the Peace River Oil Sands and around the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Ensign Energy (UBC’s investment: $1,332,492) is Canada’s second-largest drilling contractor, with over 300 rigs, mostly in the oil sands and around southern Saskatchewan.
Talisman Energy (UBC’s investment: $1,043,566) specializes in shale gas extraction through the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The Encana Corporation (UBC’s investment: $1,108,242), which also practices fracking — the documentary film Gasland alleges Encana contaminated drinking water in Colorado— is one of North America’s largest natural gas producers. In the coming weeks, I will be writing longer profiles of these four companies on The Terry Project’s blog.
These are relatively minor segments of a diverse $938 million endowment portfolio, and even smaller segments of the enormous market capitalization of these firms. Nevertheless, this $4.6 million threatens the integrity of UBC and its students. To preach environmental sustainability while at the same time investing in one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet is blatant hypocrisy, contrary to all the lofty principles set out in UBC’s key strategic documents.
After months of record-setting temperatures, unprecedented Arctic melting and overwhelming ocean acidification, it is becoming clear that climate change is intensifying far faster than scientists have expected. Bottle-saving water fountains are great, but they are not nearly enough; it is now the time for drastic action. UBC should divest itself completely from the oil and gas sector, and it should then write ethical and environmental investment policy into IMANT’s Statement of Investment Policies and Procedures.
Divestment campaigns lead by universities and other large institutional investors were instrumental in toppling the South African apartheid regime, and they could be as effective here. With UBC’s firm commitment to sustainability, it makes sense for us to play a leading role and be the first university to divest. It would send a strong message to the world that institutions of higher learning will not be complicit in the destruction of the planet. What good is it to mold future leaders if our investments ensure that there will be no future to lead?