Imperial is to implement its own framework to determine engagement with energy and fossil fuel companies.
The university has designed the framework, the Imperial Zero Index , to assess annually how its energy industry collaborators are performing in their commitment, strategy and operational efforts towards net zero.
"We want the world to have a sustainable, zero pollution future and as one of the world’s top universities, we have the power to help make that a reality." Professor Mary Ryan Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise)
Imperial expects to disengage from academic and research collaborations with companies that score poorly against its criteria. The Index will also be used to inform our investment decisions.
As part of its Sustainability Strategy, and following extensive engagement with Imperial’s community, the university adopted an ’Engagement for Change’ approach and pledged to only carry out research with fossil fuel companies where: that research is strongly aligned to decarbonisation of their business; and only if the company demonstrates a credible strategic commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050.
Imperial - a world top 10 university - will not accept funding from fossil fuel companies for research or educational activities that are directed at propagating the existing extraction business.
"Transitioning to net zero is one of the greatest challenges facing the world right now. Science and technology are critical for creating a more sustainable society, but universities cannot act alone." Professor Hugh Brady President of Imperial
Imperial currently works with energy companies on a number of major research projects on decarbonising the industry and moving towards renewable energy such as developing greener fuels, and creating more efficient energy storage technologies. Imperial is also home to the largest carbon capture and storage (CCS) research program in the UK.
Academic research and education collaborations are vital for companies seeking to harness emerging technologies and concepts to improve business efficiencies and performance.
Professor Mary Ryan, Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise) said: "We want the world to have a sustainable, zero pollution future and as one of the world’s top universities, we have the power to help make that a reality.
"Fossil fuel companies can have a role in the energy transition, and we can be most effective in accelerating the energy transition through contributing our expertise to bring about positive change. This new framework will ensure that we will only engage with projects and companies that are similarly committed to the transition to net zero."
Imperial is calling on other universities to use their collective influence and expertise to accelerate industry’s progress towards net zero.
Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London, said: "Transitioning to net zero is one of the greatest challenges facing the world right now. Science and technology are critical for creating a more sustainable society, but universities cannot act alone. We need to work collaboratively with industry, governments and other key players in the energy transition to bring about the changes we need to see."
The Imperial Zero Index - which has been developed with input from leading academics at the university - will assess energy companies using publicly available data, as well as relevant internal company data where the company consents to this being published. The data will be used to determine if companies’ organisational governance and strategy are providing verifiable environmental improvements, and whether commitments and targets are likely to be met. The Index assesses performance against a set of key criteria: Commitment to Net Zero, Reduction Targets, Lobbying Position, Corporate Strategy, Finance, Operations, and Emissions & Reporting
The methodology and annual reporting will be published online to ensure transparency.
Sustainability at Imperial
Imperial’s Sustainability Strategy commits Imperial to becoming a net-zero carbon institution by 2040.
"The launch of this Imperial Zero Index is an important step in strengthening Imperial’s commitment to building a sustainable future." Professor Geoffrey Maitland Chair of the Socially Responsible Investment and Engagement Working Group
In 2020 Imperial pledged to disengage across all activities - research, education and investment - from fossil fuel companies that are not demonstrably working towards meeting the Paris Agreement targets, and to use its position to influence these companies and accelerate decarbonised approaches to their products, processes and services, especially in the oil and gas sector.
A report from Imperial’s Socially Responsible Investment and Engagement Working Group set out how Imperial must provide quantitative interim targets and evidence to back up this commitment, in line with its expectations of fossil fuel companies.
Professor Geoffrey Maitland, Chair of the Socially Responsible Investment and Engagement Working Group and Professor of Energy Engineering, said: "The launch of this Imperial Zero Index is an important step in strengthening Imperial’s commitment to building a sustainable future. It strengthens our socially responsible engagement policy of working with energy and fossil fuel companies to enable them to decarbonise their businesses but at the same time holding them to account to demonstrate actively that they have a strategic commitment to net-zero and have operational performance metrics which are on target for achieving this by 2050 at the latest.
"This new, innovative framework will provide a regular transparent assessment of companies’ progress towards net-zero and enable Imperial to be confident it is working with committed partners in developing new, practical sustainable processes, especially in difficult to decarbonise sectors."