Universities launch sustainable investment network

A charity network supported by a social impact fund will guide universities to ‘create positive impact on society and the environment’

A newly launched charitable network aims to help universities manage their endowments and investments ethically.

The Responsible Investment Network – Universities (RINU) was formed by the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh and St Anne’s College, Oxford and represents around £5.54bn in combined investments.

The RINU will be managed by sustainable investment charity ShareAction.

The network will be supported by the UK’s largest social impact investor, Big Society Capital and the National Union of Students’ sustainability charity, SOS-UK.

The network will guide founding members to use their investments to take action on global threats such as climate change and ecosystem breakdown, as well as local issues of inequality and homelessness.

University endowments have the potential to create positive impact on society and the environment by making impact investments
– Katie Fulford-Smith, Big Society Capital

University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Prof Stephen J Toope said the network was “the next step forward” for the university’s “commitment to the global energy transition”.

Lily Tomson, ShareAction’s head of networks, said: “The national conversation about responsible investment within higher education has focused mainly on whether to divest from fossil fuels or not. It’s an important debate, and over half of UK universities have divested, but it’s not the only strategy at their disposal.

“RINU is all about working with both investment staff and university stakeholders, who understand the urgency of social and environmental threats, and who are looking together for a range of solutions.”

Edinburgh University signed the UN Principles for Responsible Investment in 2013 and says it wants to share “expertise” with other universities.

Dave Gorman, director of social responsibility and sustainability at Edinburgh said: “Responsible investment has become firmly integrated into not just our financial operations, but also our wider approach to social and civic responsibility: such as our commitment to transition out of fossil fuels investments by 2021; our £60m investment in sustainable and low carbon companies; our £1.5m investment in local social enterprises and our zero-tolerance stance on modern slavery.”

Katie Fulford-Smith, engagement manager at Big Society Capital, commented: “University endowments have the potential to create positive impact on society and the environment by making impact investments. These can also help universities to better align their financial assets with their values.

“We believe impact investments that don’t require profit maximisation or sacrifice financial returns present the greatest opportunities for universities. We’ve already invested alongside a number of UK universities and look forward to working with others, whether they’re expanding or just beginning to navigate the social impact investing market.”

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