In reply to a freedom of information request, Trinity’s Chief Financial Officer, Ian Matthews, said that “while the College’s Ethics Policy does not explicitly preclude investment in any specific industries, the College does not actively or directly invest in fossil fuel companies and pledges to continue this strategy”. This is admirable, but it’s a bit of a sidestep. While Trinity cannot control what the funds it invests in decide to do with its money, it can make the decision to invest in a “clean” or “green” fund – one that has decided to only invest its clients’ money in ethical companies.
In comparison to other universities in which divestment campaigns have taken hold, Trinity does sit in a better position. Harvard has directly invested tens of millions of dollars in fossil fuel companies. That means that someone in Harvard has made the decision to actively invest in fossil fuels – because, you would assume, this is something they think will produce a good return. Juxtaposing these decisions with Trinity’s investment in funds – none of Trinity’s €170 million endowment is directly invested in anything but mutual funds – makes us look somewhat less culpable.
Yet, mutual funds control the world of finance. Taken as a whole, they are the biggest investors, they are the market deciders, and they are the ones that seem to be deciding that investing in oil, gas and coal is still a terrific decision, despite the consensus about climate change and what is causing it. If no-one is telling them that they’re going to move their money out of their funds because they don’t want to even indirectly invest in fossil fuels, then there is no reason they would do so.
Because of Trinity’s investment in mutual funds, €6.1 million of its endowment is indirectly invested in oil-related companies. While it may not be wholly unethical given Trinity has no control of how the funds invest its money, it would be immoral for Trinity to shy away from a decision that could have a profound impact: €170 million is no drop in the ocean, and moving it out of funds that invest in fossil fuels sends a message that would have some consequence.