A University Times investigation can reveal snug ties between Ireland’s second largest company and Trinity College Dublin. What unfolds, between a company whose current Chairman sits on the Provost’s Council and a university which claims “to be a leader in sustainability and climate solutions”, is a series of events which call into question the College’s commitment to ‘sustainability’, the influence of big donors on College decision-making and, therefore, TCD’s compliance with its own policies.
In 2020, four years after College announced its intention to divest from fossil fuel-related investments, TCD accepted funding from building material manufacturers conglomerate Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH) to establish the professorial Chair of Climate Science. In a statement to The University Times, a TCD spokesperson said: “Discussions regarding the creation of a professorship in Climate Science took place between senior leadership, the faculty of STEM, Trinity Development and Alumni and the donor. The proposed donation was approved by College in 2020.”
In response to the question, ‘other than the salary of the professorship, how much money is CRH providing to TCD/the School of Natural Sciences?’, TCD’s spokesperson replied: “The donation is to be used to support the salary of the professorship for a period of 10 years. The host schools have been identified as the School of Engineering and the School of Natural Science.”
In a job advertisement on the website scholarshipdb.net, with a closing date of September 12th 2022, the advertised salary was between €124,683 and €157,613 per annum. This means that TCD has accepted at least €1,500,000 in funding from CRH and likely more.
College did not respond to the question: ‘Why did the decision-making process involving the bodies listed think it was appropriate to accept a donation from CRH and, further, deem it appropriate to attach CRH’s name to a professorship in climate science given CRH’s poor environmental record/purely its existence as a huge fossil fuel emitter?’
Before CRH moved from the London to the New York Stock Exchange in 2023, Arabesque, a company which provides climate data to investors, included CRH in a list of 31 FTSE 100 companies, as part of a report in 2021, that are emitting fossil fuels at a rate consistent with a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2050, well above the limit aimed at by the 2015 Paris climate accords of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
CRH disputed these findings saying it had science-based targets that had been independently verified to prove their emissions were in line with a rate consistent with a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, the upper limit imposed by the 2015 Paris climate accords.
In 2008, the Irish Independent reported that CRH “spews out more damaging greenhouse gases than Luxembourg”. CRH’s 2007 annual report revealed that the company emitted 13.2 million tonnes of CO2 from its factories and cement plants. Add to this emissions from transport, external electricity supply and venture partners and the CO2 emissions associated with CRH totaled 20.5 million tonnes. In 2004, the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre, a now-defunct arm of the United States Department of Energy that monitored world climate change data, totaled Luxembourg’s CO2 emissions at 11.27 million tonnes.
CRH’s latest annual report, for 2022, reveals that its total associated annual CO2 emissions have now reached 46.5 million tonnes. According to data on CO2 emissions by country from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, a joint project between the European Commission Joint Research Centre and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, CRH’s current CO2 emissions would place it 61st out of the world’s 195 countries.
CRH’s 2022 CO2 emissions are equivalent to the cumulative emissions of the 59 lowest-emitting countries in the world, just over a tenth of the total emissions from international aviation, and more than countries such as Ecuador, Norway, Portugal and Bahrain. Since 2007 its emissions have grown from the equivalent of a third of Ireland’s to now close to 10 million tonnes over Ireland’s total emissions per annum.
CRH, headquartered in Dublin, is the largest building material business in both North America and Europe. Founded in 1970 after a merger between Cement Ltd and Roadstone Ltd, it has since gone on to acquire a large number of other building material manufacturers.
In Europe, it acquired businesses in Poland in the mid-1990s before moving into Ukraine and Finland towards the end of the decade. Since the turn of the century, it has moved to acquire further businesses in Switzerland, Israel, the Netherlands and Portugal.
In the Northeastern United States CRH began acquiring a number of businesses during the 1990s and 2000s. It began to acquire businesses in Asia, namely China and India, during the 2000s.
Since the 2010s, CRH has continued to acquire businesses in all the above regions, building its revenue to just over €32bn per annum, with a profit after tax of just under €3bn, in the tax year 2021/22.
Throughout its history, CRH and its subsidiaries have faced numerous allegations of wrong-doing, including price-fixing in Poland and the US, as well as one of its subsidiaries in the US being forced to pay punitive damages of $20 million for a wrongful-death lawsuit.
In Ireland in 2012, CRH faced anti-competitive accusations which were initially dismissed by the Supreme Court. It later emerged that the presiding judge in the proceedings owned shares in CRH and was forced to stand down. The Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission opened a further investigation in 2014 into the anti-competitive allegations faced by CRH but has since closed the investigation due to “insufficient evidence in breach of competition law”.
It has also had supposed close ties with Irish politicians in its history, with questions being asked about acquisitions of public land by CRH without the process of public tender and payments between former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and Financier and former Chairman of CRH, Des Traynor, which became known as the “Ansbacher Affair” in the 1990s.
The Provost’s Council, members of which “give advice to the college on raising philanthropic funds”, has two current members linked to CRH. Terry Neill was a former Director in the 2000s and Richie Boucher has been the Chairman of CRH plc since 2019.
In a statement to The University Times, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President László Molnárfi revealed: “At the Board meeting on the 18th of October, dissent was heard from all corners of the room which forced senior management to enact a symbolic change. It concerned the appointment of a climate science professor funded by CRH.”
“The appointment had already been made but the discussion was sparked when someone pointed it out in the list of professorships that College has, as this was an item on the agenda. CRH is a huge polluter and is destructive to the environment. We thought that this was greenwashing and so we spoke up.”
“It was a moment of realisation as to how tied capital is to the destruction of the environment and how corporatized our universities have become. By speaking up, we managed to take the title off the public listing of the professorship as a symbolic dissent – this has no effect, because the appointment had been made years ago, but it still means something. The public listing of the professorship is now incomplete.”
In the publicly available minutes from the University Board Meeting of October 18th, 2023, under the agenda item “Proposed Changes to the 2010 Consolidated Statutes – Schedule 1 to Chapter on Professors (Established Chairs)”, ambiguous reference is made to the (CRH) Professorship of Climate Science:
“The Provost, responding to comments from a Board member in respect of the naming of a specific Chair, advised the Board that there is a committee tasked with managing the recruitment of Chair Professorships and the Gift Acceptance Committee (GAC) oversees philanthropic donations. In addition, she clarified for the Board that the funder of the post in question would have no input into the research to be undertaken by the post holder.”
“Some Board members noted the need for careful consideration to be given to the naming of posts and the acceptance of philanthropic donations. In response to the comments, the Provost advised the Board that a significant level of due diligence is undertaken by the Gift Acceptance Committee in Trinity Development and Alumni (TDA) and that the drafting of a naming policy for the University was also in progress.”
In the GAC’s Policy for Acceptance of Gifts and Donations, it states: “TDA will not enter into a relationship with potential donors nor accept gifts that may seriously damage the reputation of Trinity College Dublin…, TDA will only accept gifts that fit with the University’s strategic mission and values, ….and TDA will not accept gifts where a donor’s reputation has been compromised to the extent that an association with the donor would not be consistent with the mission and values of the University.”
The Policy also outlines how “the GAC will take account of the wider University policy framework and ensure that its decisions are aligned with the University’s Ethics Policy.”
Under Chapter 3, “Conduct of College Affairs”, of the University Ethics Policy, Section 3, “Funding”, it states: “The College shall not knowingly receive funding from organisations/institutions whose activities include practices which directly pose a risk of serious harm to individuals or groups or whose activities are inconsistent with the mission and values of the College.”
The GAC Policy also outlines the risk-scoring process applied to donations which includes assessing whether a donor has any connection to unethical (but legal) and/or illegal activity, with varying levels of how close the unethical (but legal) and/or illegal activity is linked to the donation itself.
One such instance of alleged illegality happened in 1994 when the European Commission judged Irish Cement Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CRH, to have engaged in an illegal price-fixing cartel and Irish Cement Ltd. received a fine of just over €3.5 million.
More recently, in 2015, CRH plc was fined €32 million by the Swiss competition commission for involvement in a price-fixing and market-sharing cartel. CRH claimed the basis for the fine was “unjustified”.
The Board minutes implied that the funder, CRH, of the professorship has “transgressed” University values: “In response to a query from a Board member, the Registrar clarified that should it come to pass in the future that a funder of such a position has transgressed the values of the University, it would be possible to rename the post and to amend the Statutes accordingly while retaining the staff member.”
In the Trinity Strategy 2020-2025, one of the four parts of the CORE mission, is ‘Civic Action’, defined as: “Through our teaching, research and public engagement, we courageously advance the cause of a pluralistic, just and sustainable society.” The words sustainable and sustainability are mentioned 35 times throughout the strategy, and one of the nine “cross-cutting goals” aimed at achieving the College’s “Towards 2025” priorities is: “We will shape our organisation and focus research around the challenge of achieving a sustainable and healthy planet.”
This strategy also highlights a renewed focus towards aligning College and its activities with UN Sustainable Development Goals. On the Trinity Global website, it states that “Trinity Global is committed to supporting and promoting Sustainability and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the world”. One of the UN’s SDGs is “promote sustainable industrialisation” which includes environmentally sound manufacturing.
In TCD’s Sustainability Strategy 2023-2030, one of the stated aims is to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. College did not respond to the question: Does TCD see CRH as an environmentally sustainable company that is in line with the College’s own aims? Under Trinity’s sustainable approach to operations the report also outlines a ‘strategic vision’ which states: “All policies, procedures and operations in Trinity that underpin our academic endeavours will be viewed through the priority areas of tackling GHG emissions, halting biodiversity loss and building healthy futures.”
As part of the launch of Trinity Sustainability Strategy 2023-2030, Provost Linda Doyle and Vice-President for Biodiversity and Climate Action Jane Stout took part in giving away 100 birch tree saplings on campus. Birch trees reach maturity after 20-30 years at which point they can capture, on average, 22 kilograms of CO2 per year. With an average lifespan of 140 years, this means that the 100 birch saplings given away, assuming they all reach maturity, will capture around 264 tonnes of CO2, or 0.0006 per cent of CRH’s associated CO2 emissions in 2022 alone, in their lifetime.
Although the above comparison is facetious and TCD is not responsible for the emissions of CRH, it serves to highlight the stark contrast between the operations of the cement-making conglomerate and the sustainable pretensions of Ireland’s leading university. Ultimately, what is detailed throughout reveals a disturbing discrepancy between what College says, and what College does.