Multiple universities in the United Kingdom have prohibited fossil fuel companies from recruiting students on campus in the name of battling climate change.
Fossil Free Careers, a project led by the activist group People and Planet, demands that postsecondary institutions prevent companies in the “oil, gas, and mining industries” from attending careers fairs or listing their vacancies on career websites. Birkbeck, University of London, is named by the group as its “first campaign win.”
The school’s policy formerly said that the career services department will “not hold relationships of any kind with oil, gas or mining companies as part of our commitment to increased sustainability and addressing the climate crisis,” as listed on web archives and the People and Planet website. As detailed by Birkbeck student Bryn Richards, who questioned a number of university officials about the move, the school later removed the reference to “oil, gas or mining” and instead committed to turning down relationships “with any companies that have not demonstrated a commitment to positive environmental and ethical business models.”
Richards noted that the new policy is conceivably worse than the former prohibition, as the latter provides more room for interpretation. “This is part of our commitment to increased sustainability and addressing the climate crisis,” the current rule continues. “This includes, but is not limited to, attendance at careers events and other recruitment opportunities, posting role vacancies, sponsorships, and advertising.”
University of the Arts London, the University of Bedfordshire in England, and Wrexham Glyndwr University in Wales have since adopted fossil-free recruitment policies, according to a report from the Guardian. The policies come as energy prices in the United Kingdom soar to record levels amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine; former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who was replaced by fellow lawmaker Rishi Sunak two months ago, had pushed for higher fossil fuel production and established the goal of becoming a net exporter of energy by 2040.
Some have attributed the outsized energy prices across Europe to overreliance on renewable energy sources. The European Union, from which the United Kingdom has recently exited, abides by the official goal of becoming “a climate-neutral society” by 2050 in accordance with the European Green Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Similar activist groups in the United States have encouraged universities to pull investments from the fossil fuel industry and otherwise advocate for a decrease in carbon emissions. Divest Harvard celebrated last year after Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced that the university would allow remaining investments in the sector to expire while refusing to adopt new ones. “For too long, Harvard has stood on the wrong side of history, lending legitimacy to the companies driving global warming and environmental injustice,” the group said.
Divestment moves occur as part of a broader trend among some institutional investors toward the environmental, social, and governance movement, also known as ESG, which has suffered over the past year as the energy sector witnesses outsized profitability. Harvard Management Company, which manages the elite university’s endowment, admitted last month that a recent $2.3 billion loss on its $51 billion endowment was attributable to fossil fuel divestment efforts, though the organization remains “proud to be deeply engaged in the issue of sustainability.”