Jesus College leads with ambitious new climate change plans

Jesus College has unveiled bold new plans to tackle climate change, the first of which will see the College fully divest from fossil fuel investments by the end of 2022.

The College began the process in 2019 when it divested from direct investments in fossil fuels. It now plans to fully eliminate any indirect investments from its portfolios by the end of 2022. This is just one element of a comprehensive policy on Responsible Investment, which commits the College to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in its financial investments by 2038.

The College has also announced that it will aim to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. In addition, it will allocate at least £2 million to invest in funds that focus on environmental improvements and climate change.

Dr Ellen Quigley, Advisor to the Chief Financial Officer of the University of Cambridge on Responsible Investment and a Jesus College Postdoctoral Associate, said: “This policy sets a new standard. Simply put, it’s the best I’ve seen implemented anywhere, at any university or college at Cambridge and beyond. My sincere congratulations to the College and to the Bursar for advancing the field of responsible investment.”

The Responsible Investment Policy has been published alongside a new Sustainability Strategy. These have been developed over the last few years, with input from College Fellows, staff and students as well as industry experts. The Sustainability Strategy includes measures to reduce the College’s overall demand for energy and commit to the highest standards in future infrastructure projects, as well as ways to influence individual behaviour change.

In addition to its financial investments, Jesus College is a long-term investor in property, particularly in the Greater Cambridge area. It has set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions in its property investments by 2050.

Other commitments to sustainability in relation to its properties include:

  • Promoting high standards of sustainability and biodiversity in any future development
  • Developing a strategy to transition from the use of fossil fuels in residential properties
  • Working with commercial tenants to reduce the carbon footprint of the buildings they occupy
  • Prioritising those who engage in nature-friendly farming when seeking new tenants for its rural properties.

The Responsible Investment Policy also addresses the College’s cash holdings and banking. Going forward, the College will push for a reduction in lending to fossil-fuel companies and take its business elsewhere if institutions fail to engage actively with the values expressed in the policy.

Sonita Alleyne, Jesus College’s Master said: “Both these documents have at their core a common set of values that regard climate change as the most important challenge facing the global economy and society, and identify the role that the College can play in meeting this challenge. I am proud of the stance that the College has taken in addressing this in a comprehensive and ambitious way.”

Dr Richard Anthony, Jesus College’s Bursar, said: “We want to be recognised globally as a leading academic institution, which is why we have spent our time carefully developing these plans, which are both ambitious and broad in scope. These are stretching targets which set a precedent for Cambridge and which, as a College, we are all very excited about.”

Stuart Websdale, Jesus College’s Domestic Bursar, said: “This is a significant milestone which reinforces our commitment to tackling climate change. Some changes may be small with a focus on collective cumulative impact - others will be more substantial and instantaneous but, either way, we look forward to working together as a community to achieve our aims and effect change.”

Emma Robertson, is Investor Engagement Manager for the Responsible Investment Network - Universities, which is co-ordinated by the charity ShareAction. She said: “It is really impressive to see ambitions to tackle the systemic challenges we are facing laid out so clearly, with targets, and an action plan to achieve them. The highlighting of the topics of biodiversity and land use is especially encouraging given the context of the work that Jesus College is doing alongside its peers within the Responsible Investment Network, Universities. This policy, and the resolve to implement it through collaboration, demonstrates the huge power that an asset owner can have when working with others.”

Ellie Doran and Charlotte Milbank, JCSU and MCR Environmental and Ethical Affairs Officers said: “We are excited to see the release of the new Responsible Investment Policy and Sustainability Strategy, the result of collaborative efforts between College students, fellows and staff representatives over this last year. We hope that these documents, and the targets they outline, signal the start of many more positive actions taken by the College to mitigate its environmental impact.”


What is the difference between responsible investment and divestment?

Divestment usually means selling investments (most often shares) in fossil fuel companies. However, all the evidence shows that, in order to have an impact, you need to look at all your investments, not just shares. Also, divestment is only one mechanism for creating change towards a decarbonised economy. This is where the broader definition of responsible investment comes in, and means that the College will look at all its investments, and its relationships with others involved in its investments, such as managers, advisors, tenants and partners.

Why is the College divesting from fossil fuels?

The College is divesting from fossil fuels because there is evidence that this will have some impact on fossil fuel companies. Dr Ellen Quigley, a Jesus College Postdoctoral Associate and Advisor to the University’s Chief Financial Officer on Responsible Investment, has published research commissioned by the University that supports this approach. However, divestment is not the only tool to be used, and focusing too much on divestments deflects from broader questions as to how the modern economy can decarbonise.

What percentage of the College’s budget is currently invested in fossil fuels?

As stated in the policy, one of the first things the College will do is some analysis to establish the carbon footprint of our current investments. We believe that our exposure to fossil fuel companies in our financial investments is relatively low – for example, about 1.7% in the funds managed by Cazenove.

How will it ensure it divests indirectly?

Nearly all of the College’s financial investments are made through funds, and we are therefore reliant on our investment managers and fund managers to take action and eliminate our fossil fuel exposure. This is part of the reason why eliminating our fossil fuel exposure cannot be achieved immediately. The fund management industry has developed a growing range of equity funds that have no meaningful fossil fuel exposure. We will look to help develop similar opportunities for other assets, such as fixed income and alternatives. The Intellectual Forum has recently been awarded a research grant in this area.

What will be the impact on College funds?

The College is a very long-term investor. The endowment is managed on this basis, and the return we take from the endowment is calculated on an averaged basis over the previous five years (defined as Total Return). So although there may be increased volatility (fluctuations) in our returns, we are not expecting it to affect the long-term financial position of the College. There may be some costs, particularly in relation to property, but the changes made are likely to have a positive impact on the attractiveness of our properties in the long term.

What else does the College not invest in?

The College invests in a very broad range of assets. The key aim will be to develop portfolios that are fully decarbonised by 2038 in the case of financial assets and by 2050 in the case of property assets. As set out in the policy, we do have some further restrictions in relation to direct investments, which form a very small part of the endowment.

What else is the College doing to invest responsibly?

The policy sets out a wide range of actions that the College will take, consistent with its position as a responsible investor and universal owner. These include:

  • Active engagement with our investment managers and fund managers to ensure that they take firm action in relation to climate change. Managers that do not act in a manner that is consistent with the policy should not expect to do business with the College.
  • Review our banking and cash deposit arrangements, including taking account of the corporate actions and lending policies of banks and other institutions through which we may deposit funds.
  • Ensure that the Cambridge University Endowment Fund, in which the College is an investor, takes action to meet the targets that it set out in October 2020.
  • Act in conjunction with other colleges and universities and investor groups to maximise the impact of our actions and policies.
  • Identify the carbon footprints of our investments, establish metrics by which we can measure change, and develop a roadmap to meet our net zero carbon targets.
  • Develop a strategy to improve the environmental performance of our residential properties, and, where the opportunity arises, replace fossil fuels as a source of energy.
  • Encourage our commercial property tenants to improve the environmental performance of their buildings, and work towards a decarbonised future.
  • Work in partnership with our rural tenants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farming, and improve the biodiversity of our land.
  • When we undertake development of new or existing properties, do this in a way that minimises greenhouse gas emissions and improves biodiversity.

What are Scope 1 and 2 emissions and why are we not including Scope 3 in our aim?

Scope 1 emissions are greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the direct use of fossil fuel – for example, heating our buildings or using gas boilers. Scope 2 emissions are those associated with indirect energy consumption, so any energy we buy from suppliers. Both of these types of emissions are relatively easy to measure (although we do have some challenges here because of the nature and age of our buildings and the location of meters).

Scope 3 emissions are those associated with other activities of the College which result in emissions, but that we are not ‘directly responsible’ for. This includes things like procuring food and catering supplies for the kitchens, the energy needed to supply us with water, waste collection and management, and commuting and business transport. By their nature, Scope 3 emissions are more difficult to calculate. However, we have set out measures in our Sustainability Strategy to reduce them as much as we possibly can. We will continue to hold suppliers and contractors to very high standards as well as encouraging members of our community to change their behaviours to reduce Scope 3 emissions.
Future editions of the Sustainability Strategy will incorporate Scope 3, once more data is available.

How will the College reduce its Scope 1 and 2 emissions to zero?

We have set out some steps to achieve this in the Strategy. However, there are constraints which currently affect our ability to achieve this aim, such as the capacity of services infrastructure which is beyond our control. Other key factors include the availability of technology in the near future, and the potential for serious disruption to essential College activities.

Sustainability strategy