Sustainability FAQs

You might have some questions about sustainability at the University of Birmingham. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and some helpful answers.

How does the University manage its financial investments?

We contract external investment managers to oversee the investment funds of the University through agreed mandates. As signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) we require our investment managers to apply investment criteria based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social criteria examine how a company manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights. These standards are embedded in the UN Investment Reporting Framework. The Framework embraces a very wide range of detailed principles – including environmental impacts, human rights, diversity, workplace rights, strong corporate governance and ethical behaviour.

As part of our investment manager selection process we require fund managers to confirm that they have robust ESG policies in place. During our regular performance reviews of the investment managers, we consider their application of ESG policies in making investment decisions. We monitor their active engagement in monitoring the ESG performance of the assets in which we are invested. We expect them to be active in challenging ESG shortfalls in the organisations in which we invest.

Over the past two years we have reallocated a significant proportion of our assets to ethical and sustainable investment funds. These funds exclude – or heavily restrict - investments in companies deriving revenue from the following areas: carbon and fossil fuels, defence and weapons, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, adult entertainment and high-interest lending.

We are energetically pursuing new ethical and sustainable fund options, while always ensuring that investment target returns are in line with the University’s investment objectives to maximise returns whilst maintaining an appropriate level of liquidity, without undue risk. The University’s Investment Strategy is also embedded into the University’s Sustainability Strategy.

Read more about the University’s investment portfolios
Read more about the University's Responsible Investment Policy

What proportion of investment is in fossil fuels?

As a result of the responsible investment actions taken by the University, investment in fossil fuel related companies now represents only 0.5% of the University’s investments overall, which equates to £1.2m of the University’s £240m total investment assets as at 28 February 2021. This percentage will reduce further as a result of investment fund changes the University is making over the coming months and compares to around 10% investment in fossil fuel related companies in 2018.

Why is the University not going ‘fossil free’?

We have introduced investment exclusions within the University’s Responsible Investment Policy and these exclusions include oil and mining companies where revenues exceed 5% of global revenues from thermal coal, oil shale and tar sands production (considered the most polluting).

We continue to invest in oil and mining companies, through our external investment managers, where the investment managers are convinced that these companies are committed to the transition to a sustainable future and associated lower carbon world in line with the Paris Agreement. Some of these companies are in fact the largest investors in renewable energy and with their size they are helping to move to cleaner fuel at a faster rate than small companies. The investment managers who represent the University regularly meet with the CEOs and governance boards of these companies to apply stakeholder pressure and influence change. Through continued investment in these selected oil and mining companies we maintain a seat at the table (by being shareholders) in order to positively contribute to the transition to a sustainable future.

As you will see from our Responsible Investment Policy, the University’s work around responsible investment does not just focus on fossil fuel investment but a wider range of environmental, social and governance areas that are also important.

Does the University of Birmingham support Fairtrade?

Yes. Fairtrade foods are available for sale in all campus shops and they are used in all cafés, restaurants and bars on campus. Fairtrade products are also served at all meetings hosted by the University and the Guild – and in all University and Guild management offices. We are committed to campaigning for increased Fairtrade consumption on campus, and our Fairtrade Steering Group meets regularly to discuss how we can increase sales.

Read more about the University's committment to Fairtrade

What happens to the University of Birmingham’s waste?

We are a zero waste to landfill University. We have a range of options for dealing with waste at the end of its life on our campuses. Visit our Environmental Services page to learn more about how we deal with our waste.

What plans are there for sustainable building at the University of Birmingham?

The University of Birmingham are committed to developing our campus’ sustainably. We have created a procurement framework, Build Higher Frameworks, alongside key contractors and consultants who provide construction, design and surveying services. This allows us to build longer term relationships to support the next 10 years of ambitious estates development. The framework is available for use by all Higher Education Institutions.

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