Unimelb Releases Greenwashed Sustainability Plan

The University of Melbourne Student Union is excited by commitments laid out in the University’s recent Sustainability Plan and remains hopeful that these targets will be met.

While the University’s research, teaching and learning commitments are admirable, as well as their energy emissions, waste and water usage reduction targets, a clear pathway for implementation has not yet been decided upon.

The University also has had a track record of disregarding staff and students’ dedication to sustainability and their valuable ideas prior to the plan. Now that the commitments have been made and the relevant parties congratulated, implementation must remain a high priority for those who sit on the Sustainability Executive.

Furthermore, implementation cannot be done without first addressing the issues outlined below.

Consultation

Despite the year long process of “consultation”, valuable ideas from staff to increase sustainability on campus are already beginning to fall by the wayside. The release of the Sustainability Plan has been pushed back from its original release date in September 2016 to now, a time when many academic staff and students are off campus over summer and unable to provide consultation. We call on the University administration to seriously reconsider how they communicate and engage with their staff on the ground, in order to ensure their commitment to sustainable governance practices.

Targets and Baselines

The development of the Sustainability Plan was largely facilitated by the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR), whose previous clients include Glencore Coal Assets Australia (Australia’s largest coal producer), and the Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum. Their influence can be seen throughout the report, where targets have been manipulated using a variety of different baselines and past reductions to justify weaker targets.

Throughout the plan, the University uses the achievements of student led campaigns as evidence of their own accomplishments, while many of their commitments remain vague. Some aspects of the plan are completely lacking any measurable targets.

These ambiguities must be addressed before we can be satisfied that the Plan properly covers all relevant areas.

Divestment

The investments portion of the plan commits to developing a sustainable investments framework by the end of 2017, but with no assurance this will lead to meaningful divestment from fossil fuel companies. The plan also emphasises engagement with fossil fuel industries as a meaningful way to take action on climate change featuring heavily the opinions of university council member and ex-fossil fuel executive Robin Batterham.

UMSU sees engagement with fossil fuel companies as unacceptable. Stimulating the industry to undergo the fundamental and urgent changes necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change through shareholder engagement is extremely unlikely, especially for investors like the University of Melbourne with a relatively small fund. Given the incredibly tight timeframe we have to stop the worst impacts of climate change, and the clear recalcitrance of the fossil fuel industry in shifting to renewables, divestment from the Carbon Underground 200 should have been in the plan.

We call on the University to make the process of developing the divestment framework a transparent one, with staff and student divestment advocates and ethical investment experts to be included in the process. We hope the University will honour the deadlines they have set for themselves and have the processes planned by the end of March and the divestment framework released by the end of December 2017.

UMSU is dedicated to holding the University accountable on this issue, and will be tracking the University’s progress regarding the Sustainability Plan over the next four years at www.musustainabilitywatch.org

You can find the University’s Sustainability Plan in full here: ourcampus.unimelb.edu.au/sustainability-plan

 

Yan Zhuang
UMSU President