Fossil Free Careers and Durham University: A Call for Ethical Careers

Durham University is currently ranked 26th in the People and Planet University League 2023/24, with a score of 62.9%. Fighting for the top spots are the University of Reading, Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Bedfordshire, University of The Arts London and King’s College London.

The university league focuses on 14 categories, each ranked out of 100. These include sustainable food, energy sources, carbon and water reduction, policy and strategy and more. The full list for Durham University can be found on the People and Planet website.

The lowest ranking categories were ethical careers and recruitment (22%), workers’ rights (40%), waste and recycling (12.5%), energy sources (33%) and water reduction (27.75%).

People and Planet break these percentages down further, highlighting that Durham scored 0% for committing to screen out recruitment links with fossils fuel, mining, arms, and tobacco industries. As CO2 emissions continue to soar, the active promotion of these industries is not only concerning, but harmful for the future environment.

Currently, 7 UK universities have stopped promoting extractive industries on campus, with many more student unions passing motions in support of the campaign. In November 2020, Durham University SU voted to support Fossil Free Careers following a motion proposed by Eco DU. The climate justice group – Eco DU- are calling for the university to refuse all new relationships with oil, gas or mining companies, decline to renew any current relationships, and adopt a publicly available Ethical Careers Policy that excludes oil, gas and mining companies from recruitment opportunities. More information and a link to their petition can be found on their Instagram page.

A recent success was Swansea University’s decision to end oil, gas and tar sands recruitment in November 2023. However, students and staff are still pushing for a full exclusion that includes the coal and mining industries. Furthermore, 15 students’ unions have committed to boycott oil, gas and mining recruitment events. These include The University of Bristol, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Sheffield, Oxford, Surrey, Keele and many more.

As People and Planet see it, the push for fossil free careers is not an unreasonable demand. In fact, 20% of university career departments already restrict certain industries from advertising on campus such as tobacco, adult/sex and/or gambling. Students continue to show their adversity to the industry, with a 2017 study indicating the number of graduates taking jobs in extractive industries had dropped by 60% in four years.

So, what is Fossil Free Careers’ demand?

It’s simple: ask university careers services to put in place an ethical careers policy that excludes oil, gas, and mining companies from recruitment activities. This would not affect impartial advice given to students by careers advisors, instead impacting companies’ ability to promote themselves in careers fairs.

These changes cannot come soon enough. Modelling shows that there can be no new coal, oil, or gas projects from 2021 to even have a chance of keeping global average temperature rise below 1.5°C. Breaking down the recruitment pipeline between universities and extractive industries is important to prevent these companies expanding and exploring new projects in the future.

Featured image: Emily Ranquist via Pexels

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