LRD Booklets June 2012

Green unions at work 2012


Introduction — Brendan Barber

[pages 1-7]

The TUC would like to express its warm appreciation to the over 1,200 shop stewards and environmental reps who took part in the TUC’s 2012 green workplaces survey. In difficult circumstances, not least the effects of recession on public and private sectors alike, several findings stand out. It’s immensely encouraging that far more joint discussions are taking place at work on energy and resource issues since our last national green workplaces survey in 2009.

Unions are raising their game at work, organising more green newsletters, green days, film shows and websites than three years ago. And significantly more union proposals are being taken up by management, from installing solar panels to green travel schemes.

It’s obvious, too, that greening the workplace pays off, not just in environmental terms but also in business benefits. This in turn, boosts job security. Serious joint initiatives are being developed and shared between employers and their workforce through the trade union, as in the Magor Brewery case study we review here. The brewery is using half as much energy and water to make its products, saving over £2 million on energy bills alone. There’s a rolling programme of energy efficiency, and the benefits are shared with the local community.

The commitment of union reps to the green agenda is reflected in the fact that four in 10 stewards say they are more concerned about the environment than they were a year ago. This mirrors wider concerns expressed by many commentators, including the TUC, that the government has yet to live up to the early expectations of building a green economy. And employers could clearly do a lot more of the basic things needed to green their enterprises. Only a third are providing an annual environment report.

More worrying, only a fifth of shop stewards report that they have been able to get time off to attend a union-organised environmental training course.

This cuts to perhaps the fundamental issue — that the three essential rights of health and safety at work reps should also be available to environmental reps:

• time to carry out an energy and environmental audit; • time off for relevant training; and • the right to establish a joint environment forum.

Nevertheless, while the TUC and our affiliates will continue to press for these fundamental rights, clearly union reps, as always, are getting on with the job. Workplaces burn energy, consume resources, and generate waste and travel. This study shows how far unions are now taking this agenda to their members and employers, with results that they can be rightly proud of.

Brendan Barber, General Secretary, TUC

Why Go Green at Work?

The Earth’s climate is changing with a growing body of evidence showing that human activity is largely responsible for the rising global temperatures. Our increased demand for energy, higher levels of waste, and growing dependency on the car are some of the key factors contributing to more and more greenhouse gases (GHGs) building up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The result is increased temperatures which affect weather patterns, sea levels and increase the chances of extreme weather events.

The modern way of living seems inextricably linked to more and more GHGs being released into the atmosphere. But as awareness of the catastrophic consequences of our behaviour increase, there are growing numbers of people working to reduce the amount of GHGs that we produce, most worrying of which is carbon dioxide (CO2) building up in the atmosphere.

Tackling the dangers of climate change is urgently needed in all areas of human activity. This booklet is primarily concerned with the measures being implemented in the workplace — an area which is responsible for a fifth of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The subsequent chapters are based on data provided by the 2012 TUC survey on unions, greening the workplace and climate change carried out by the Labour Research Department.

The aim is to provide a useful picture of progress on trade union action on environment/climate change in the workplace and the role of the trade union movement in this vital area. It follows on from a similar survey carried out in 2009 and by comparing the results it is possible to see what level of progress has been achieved in the three year period.

Go Green at Work 2012

With support from many TUC-affiliated unions, we received 1,208 replies from our 2012 survey. That’s close to the 1,300 responses in 2009, a significant result considering the intervening impact of the recession, cuts to many public services and the increasing demands on the shoulders of shop stewards.

Strong responses came from union reps in central and local government, the NHS, retail, the education sector, power supply, manufacturing industry, food and drink industries, construction, research bodies, music and entertainment, the fire and rescue services and the docks, transport and communication sectors.

Green reps profile:

• 54% of respondents were union reps or stewards.

• 20% were safety reps.

• 8% were environment reps — twice as many compared to the 2009 survey.

• Nearly 20% of reps are 40 or younger.

• Gender profile: 28% women, 72% men.

Highlights for Green Reps in 2012

This study presents powerful evidence of the many and diverse ways unions are tackling environmental issues at work. There’s evidence that far more discussions are taking place at work since our first national survey in 2009, and there has been an increase in workplace activity, reflecting a growing confidence on the part of unions reps that green is a mainstream issue.

Many green reps comment that the union has encouraged people to change the way they do things at work. “Getting everyone to understand it’s not a load of tree hugging rubbish”, is how one rep expressed it frankly. Often, staff well appreciate that a new initiative is needed to save energy or waste, with the union helping to bring people together to make a difference.

Our chapters give the detail of energy and resource efficiency actions, green travel plans, and the different ways unions put all of this across to management.

The top 10...

The survey results show the most popular methods for combating climate change in the workplace: for example, a third of respondents report that high energy consuming VDU screens are being replaced, while a growing number of workplaces are also encouraging workers to abandon their cars and cycle in. The results also demonstrate how unions are becoming increasingly effective at ensuring green issues remain on the agenda with newsletters and surveys proving a popular way of keeping the issue live. Growing numbers of union reps (over one in four of the survey respondents) are participating in joint union-management discussions on the environment and a fifth of respondents had attended trade union training on the environment/climate change.

Energy efficiency
Replacing VDU screens 33%
Machinery on standby/switched off when not used 22%
Cutting night time and w/end electricity usage 26%
Green travel
Loans for cycling equipment 35%
Tele/video conferencing 22%
Loans for public transport passes 20%
Unions at work
Green newsletter at work 34%
Green survey at work 24%
Joint union-management discussions 26%
Shop stewards undertake environmental training 20%

While there is no coordinated government strategy to save energy at work, trade unions recognise the importance of tackling carbon emissions as a workplace issue. They are in a unique position to lead on environmental and energy efficiency in the workplace and encourage behavioural change — they also see it as their role to convince employers that greening their workplaces is a long-term investment rather than just a short-term cost.

Unions are best placed to:

• monitor the effectiveness of environmental policies and provide staff input;

• gain staff support for changes to workplace practices;

• use existing union structures and procedures to influence and develop members’ thinking and actions;

• raise staff awareness and encourage behavioural change; and • improve operational procedures.

For further information go to the TUC Workplace Manual: Greening the workplace — environmental rights at work: