Aerial view of the north end Port Meadow, near Wolvercote. Credit: Dave Price

A new initiative by the University’s Career Service will require employers recruiting Oxford students on CareerConnect to provide their plans to become carbon neutral by 2050. It will allow students to judge companies not just on tradition criteria like career progression and job security, but also the company’s impact on the climate for generations to come.

Students will soon be able to see an employer’s position on climate change, their plan to become net-zero on carbon emissions, and transparent methods for evaluating their progress. The criteria come from recommendations by the Oxford Martin Net Zero Carbon Investment Initiative.

Carbon offsetting is an increasingly popular compromise between industries and climate change activists. At the basic level, a company can calculate how much carbon would be emitted in bringing a product to market and then offset that carbon via other projects. Common carbon offset schemes involve investments in cleaner energy to find carbon savings across the company and beyond, not just in that productive process. Examples have included planting trees, distributing efficient cooking stoves in areas reliant on fuel to cook, or capturing methane gas at landfill sites. Carbon offsets can make a firm carbon neutral, meaning they take just as much carbon out of the environment as they put in, but it will not appease environmentalists who want a stronger commitment to eliminate emissions in the long term.

Some climate activists claim carbon offsets give a free pass to industries to keep polluting in one area, resulting in the same detrimental effects, while still being able to claim they are being carbon-neutral by investing in clean energy on the other side of the world.

Business is also resistant to the idea in some areas. The cost to calculate their carbon emissions accurately and invest to offset them can be significant, especially if they are a small business or just staring up.

Activists and everyday people alike have never been more concerned about the state of the environment. Students across Oxford have been lobbying for their college to divest from fossil fuels. Balliol has recently acquiesced to student divestment demands, whilst protesters at St John’s won commitments from their college to consider divestment.

To those who place importance on efforts to tackle the climate crisis, the Career Service’s new requirement will be welcome. Jonathan Black, Director of the Oxford University Careers Service, said: “The Careers Service’s mission is to enable students to make well informed decisions about their career. As part of this, we are actively exploring ways to help students learn about organisations’ approaches to sustainability.

“As a result, we hope that those students for whom sustainability is an important factor in their decision making will be better informed.”