Do the research
Before we could start, we had to find out where the university was at with regards to fossil fuel investments. We had to find out how much the university had invested, how much these investments are worth and which companies we wanted them to divest from (one question that came up was whether to divest from extraction and production companies only or to include distribution companies). Then we had to find out, through what channels we had to go in order for the university to divest. This will be different at every university, so every team will have to do this!
Split up in teams
To be more efficient, we split up into different teams, so everyone could do what they were most comfortable with. So we had a research team, which was working on our arguments for divestment, finding out about university structures, and meeting with decision makers. Our action team planned events which would involve the student body to raise awareness, like flash mobs, a Valentine’s event, or a fake oil spill. They would work on promoting actions and preparing any banner and props needed. Finally, we had a media team, which was engaging with student media and preparing press releases for the local press when we had actions. We found that a really effective team is one with roles and positions, it doesn’t need to be hierarchical, but it helps maintain direction for everyone. It also helps new members to have something to do.
Our experience was that we only got this far because we cooperated with the university and went through internal channels. Although we also had external actions and raised awareness on campus, the decision was made by our University Court, which had to be approached through different channels. We had to approach them through our Student Representative Council and could not sit in the decision-making meetings with them. So we had to prepare all our arguments in written form and forward them to Court Members. We adapted a very extensive research brief (over 100 pages) from the University of Toronto into a UK context. It was a lot of work, but worth it, since the decision-makers were very impressed by our professionalism.
Stay visible & get the student body involved
Besides cooperating with the university, we also made sure to raise awareness on campus and involve the whole student body. It is necessary to keep your group strong through socials and constantly advertising your group to new students. And make sure that at the end of the academic year that there will be a group returning in the Autumn and is ready to pick up where you left off. To engage the student body, we created a petition, did several photo campaigns (people seem to love those) and in the final stages we also asked everyone to flood the university’s twitter and social media accounts.
Throughout our campaign, we tried to stay positive. Although we obviously emphasized the negative effects of climate change, we also made clear to the university, which positive impacts divestment from fossil fuel companies could have for them. We emphasized they’d be the first uni to divest in the UK (EUROPE actually), that they could act as a role model, improve their reputation in the media, and attract sustainable companies. The decision-maker we talked to were always interested in these aspects and we feel that these arguments definitely influenced their decision.
This is just a short overview of how we organized our campaign. What helped us a lot was the Fossil Free guide by People & Planet, which we did use a lot to make decisions on where to go next. Also, if you have any further questions you would like to discuss with us, you are very welcome to contact us.
This blog was written by the Glasgow University Climate Action society.