Being dyspraxic, a sociology graduate and having been round the block a few times, I take pride in the fact that I have pretty good emotional intelligence and am wired to look at things logically.
BUT every now and then something smacks me around the head, makes me wonder if I slipped into a parallel universe in my sleep and I lose my equilibrium for a while (thank goodness Facebook also exists in this parallel universe and my Facebook friends come on the journey with me).
This week was one of those times. As a columnist for the Lancaster Guardian I buy it each week to check out the local news. My friend Jack Knight does the weekly cartoon which is always cryptic and sends me off in search of the related news item, but this one (above) baffled me. Then I was drawn to this story…
Uni’s £1m green deal gets mixed reaction
and believe me the article took a twist that I was really not expecting.
The headline had me thinking the pro-fracking lobby were having a mardy, so when I read that Lancaster University invests in the tobacco industry my brain blew a fuse. Being a logical person I like to research and look at what’s behind things, but try as I might I could not figure out what crucial piece of information I was missing here.
To be totally honest my first thoughts were that the students were objecting to the sale of ciggies on campus.
On what grounds, other than pure profit, would anyone invest in the tobacco industry today? (please do tell me if I’m missing something) . I’ve had my fair share of relatives and friends die of lung cancer or develop other smoking related illnesses. Of course in the early days no-one knew it was dangerous went the argument. Then it was known but hidden of course as these things tend to be, but now we are 100% clear that smoking is crazy- right? ( I wont even go into the international issues, such as the falling market in the rich world leading to aggressive marketing in the poor world, the issue of food crops v cash crops etc etc, or even the cost of smoking related health issues for our poor old NHS).
So how does a prestigious university like Lancaster, that has a cancer research department by-the-way, justify it? Well they’re quoted as saying they invest “ a small proportion “ of their £5.3m endowment onto fossil fuel, tobacco and the arms trade.
Now I’m not meaning to single out Lancaster Uni here, I’m not so naive as to think it’s only them. But I do think they have a responsibility to be a role model to the young minds we hand over to them, and my 17 year old daughter was as shocked as me that an establishment that is all about education doesn’t behave better than that.
What gave my equilibrium a sharp wobble is that I teach ethical sales, and this is the wet kipper to the chops that reminds me that whilst small and innovative organisations are seeking to be ethical, the big boys;
a) just don’t give a poop
b) think that spreading their investment balances it out.
How? We make profit from cancer + we also invest in cancer research = we are good?
So I am left sitting with ‘what has to happen to Really shift people to think beyond making a quick buck?’
If educational establishments, supposedly filled to the rafters with some of the world’s the best minds, don’t do joined up thinking who will?
I know a part of my wobble is that we are neighbours. I deliver training there, I’ve sat in numerous lectures there about ethical trade and sustainability. I had a lovely afternoon there just last week drinking coffee and eating cake with MA students who want to study my business growth group. Next will I find out that 82 year old May up the road who dog sits is really a dog- napper selling our beloved pets for medical experiments?
I don’t want to believe it, although all the evidence is there. So I have to notice why I didn’t notice, why I didn’t want to notice?
And who else knows? Does our local cancer charity know? Do the people that donate to their cancer research programme know? Why don’t we know? Have we just stopped looking?
The genius is that it’s all there for us to see, they are hiding in plain sight. It’s all such a complex web that we don’t know where to start because what else might we find? And what decisions will we have to make then?
These big boys know that we don’t want to look too closely. And I am as guilty as the next person. Sure I bank with the Co-op, took my mortgage out with an ethical investor and I buy fair trade, but what about everything else? My local government pension? My petrol? Where do we start?!
Well in truth we have started, lots of changes are being made, it’s slow and we have a long way to go but I know we are getting there.
More and more people are choosing ethical over greed, asking questions about supply chains and a company’s back story and I have every faith that Lancaster Uni will get there too. We will get there one customer at a time, one supplier at a time, one decision at a time. It feels like baby steps but we keep moving in the right direction .
Apparently twenty one UK universities have now made fossil free commitments including Oxford University, Glasgow University and the University of Warwick. That’s a step in the right direction and it will force others will follow. And today Greenpeace UK announced that General Mills, makers of Betty Crocker cake mixes, have agreed to stop buying from palm oil giant IOI, another step towards protecting Indonesia’s rain forests.
And lucky for us, our young people are smart, tenacious and not at all impressed with the mess we made!
You can find out more about the fabulous Jack Knight here