By Amina Khan
This past February, The University Students’ Council (USC) announced that it will be divesting. But many students wonder what divestment is and why they should care. I had the chance to speak with Zamir Fakirani, current President of the USC, about this decision.
What is divestment?
In order to divest, the USC is no longer investing in fossil fuel companies that deal with drilling, exploring, or refining fossil fuels as it is an unsustainable practice. Over the next three years, the USC’s investment portfolio will adjust to investments into sustainable and profitable avenues instead of in fossil fuel companies. This decision is a showcase of the sustainability efforts that Zamir prioritized in his platform when he ran for USC President.
“At the USC, we keep an investment portfolio to shield the organization from any potential unforeseen circumstances like COVID-19. So having a financial safety net, we can keep offering depth and services no matter the external circumstances. Divestment is an ideology which argues against investing in fossil fuels companies. It is a way of promoting sustainability,” Fakirani replied.
The decision to divest was unanimous amongst all three legislative bodies of the USC: Executive Council, USC Council, and the Board of Directors.
How does divesting benefit the USC?
Now that we know what divestment is, what is so great about it? How is divesting from fossil fuels beneficial to the USC? “We want to be known as a sustainable organization and climate leader …Fossil fuels are underperforming and they do bear a lot of risks where the price of carbon is continuing to rise, so we are joining other climate leaders in divestment,” said Fakirani.
The divestment movement has spread across many institutions around the world, including notable financial companies and universities. The USC similarly aims to become a sustainable organization that reflects the values of Western students and the community.
How did the USC decide to divest?
The decision and plan to begin divesting started in the early days of the 2021-2022 executives terms.Fakirani noted, “It was the first thing I asked for when I came into office. The first meeting I had booked was with Nathan, our VP Governance and Finance, and Vicky, one of our Senior Managers. I told them I wanted to consult and do it right, and this is what students have entrusted me to do, so let’s get it done.”
Fakirani was set on getting this item on his agenda completed and to begin the process of having the USC take part in the divestment movement.
He held many meetings with the investment managers about the plan to divest, and they explained the different financial risks and options involved. Fakirani and his team received feedback from students regarding the strategies that aligned most with students wants and needs.. With this information, the USC consulted with its financial managers to discuss specifics and the effects their decision would have on the USC’s portfolios.
This strategy then went to USC Councillors and concluded with the Board of Directors. This hefty process ensured the USC was equipped with the financial assistance and knowledge involved with divestment in addition to / incorporating the approach students wanted the USC to take.
Why does divestment matter?
The question then becomes, why does divestment matter and how does this impact the USC? Fakirani answered,“because it shows we are putting our money where our mouth is.”
Fakirani went on to highlight what my main concern was, which was why students should care about divestment and how it will affect Western students.
“Many students have been clear on how much sustainability matters to them. They are involved with climate strikes, engage with administration [about] sustainability on campus, and plan their own organizations on campus like the Climate Crisis Coalition at Western. So we know that this is something students already care about, and unfortunately, the USC did not reflect in our operations. So this is us catching up to students.”
The divestment movement has officially launched at the USC, and is one step of many in a larger sustainability framework outlined in USC’s Sustainability Policy Paper.