Over the last years, several groups of students and employees and in particular, the Student Sustainability Commission, have reached out to the leadership of ETH Zurich to demand a change in the management of ETH’s financial assets. In 2020, we started the Divest ETH campaign to demand a transparent and sustainable investment strategy from ETH, working towards divesting its assets from fossil fuels altogether. Joining forces with multiple partners – the AVETH, VSETH, SSC, Klimastreik Zurich, Swiss Youth for Climate, and the Sustainability Week Zurich – we started a conversation with members of the ETH Board, ETH Investment Commission, and ETH Foundation.
ETH has built, throughout the years, a strong reputation as a champion of sustainability. For example, ETH provides excellent study programs in and around sustainability and climate protection, it participates to the Climate-KIC Master’s program, it fosters research providing solutions meaningfully contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To be fully aligned with its engagement for a more sustainable future, however, ETH needs to clear its assets from fossil fuel traces. Although the institution is already on a good path – seeking for financial products aligned with the Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) criteria – a clear divestment strategy has not yet been produced and announced publicly.
Yet, divestment can offer ETH a series of important benefits from a moral, strategic, and financial perspective. Keeping global warming to well below 2°C, as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, will require reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Institutions like ETH Zurich have a moral obligation to contribute to reaching this goal in every possible way. The public resonance of a strong commitment towards sustainable investments would benefit the credibility of the institution and its researchers, as scholars that lead by example are seen as more credible and their advice has a higher impact. Publicly divesting is a powerful action that signals a full rejection of climate-damaging profits. The divestment of a renowned institution like ETH would be a strong signal certain to generate positive media attention, like previous divestment commitments have shown (e.g. Cornell, University of California, University of Massachusetts, and University of Glasgow). Furthermore, divesting from the fossil fuel industry reduces financial risks due to exposure to e.g. stranded assets in a world committed to meet the 1.5 or 2°C targets.
For our campaign, this has been an exciting and hectic year in which we believe we are pushing divestment at ETH a step closer to reality.
In October 2020, together with our partners, we sent a letter to the ETH Board, ETH Investment Commission, and ETH Foundation to demand for more transparency and for the elaboration of a divestment strategy. You can read more about this letter in this interview with some of our team members: at https://zs-online.ch/studis-fordern-erdoelfreie....
Following the letter, we started fruitful exchanges with the heads of finance of ETH and ETH Foundation, during which we could clarify our requests and get informed on the sustainable finance principles of these institutions. From those conversations, we realized that institutions face several obstacles to a complete divestment.
To the ends of both offering the ETH Domain a platform to present their sustainable investment plans and to create momentum for increased ambitions, we are organizing two exciting events at the Sustainability Week 2021. See more infos below in the Events box!
Related Projects/Groups: HopoTakt
ETH Domain Divestment Strategy Presentation
ETH Investment Commission, ETH Board and ETH Foundation publicly present their action plans on how to divest their assets from fossil fuels! Afterwards, there will be room for questions from the audience in a Q&A session.
Divesting Institutions Roundtable
Divesting assets from fossil fuels, although inevitable for environmental and financial reasons, poses a challenge for every institution. We bring together experts from universities, pension funds and NGOs to assess their progress in two panel discussions.