From the TUC

Greener Europe workplaces

14 Mar 2011, by in Environment

Europe’s energy policy makers could learn a thing or two from the 50 union reps who met at Congress House last Saturday (March 12) for unionlearn’s first conference on green skills and greener workplaces. In The Guardian today, Environment Secretary Chris Huhne backs the EU plans to cut energy use by 20% by 2020. He rightly sees this as the key to more ambitious European climate change targets. But industry accounts for a fifth of our emissions, yet the EU statement make no reference either to the “workplace” or to changing behaviour at work. 

The EU would find a great set of union reps, case studies and resources ready to hand.  As Saturday’s rich discussions showed, there is a will among union reps out there in the world of work, that every job can be a green job, every workplace a green workplace.

Union reps at the Skills Up! Green UP! conference saw themselves as green advocates at work, wanting employers to run green skills training, and ready to negotiate on green issues. Inevitably, reps face a problem of multi-tasking – dealing with health and safety, union learning, handling members’ grievances, the annual pay deal. And the cuts, demanding unions’ full attention. 

Yet reps were clear that two simple rights would help to take the “green strain”: time off at work to carry out energy and resources audits with their managers; and time to attend environmental training of their own. 

In  The Guardian, Huhne and other EU Ministers rightly argue that the new energy efficiency plan is needed to raise Europe’s sights beyond its current 2020 emission reduction target. “Now is the right time to discuss the most cost-effective way forward”, and energy saving is obviously it. The price of oil is rising rapidly, and gas prices may follow. The UK hopes that the EU’s heightened ambitions will act as a magnet for other governments negotiating a new climate change agreement in Durban in December 2011.  

The EU has prioritised energy savings in buildings, transport and industrial equipment, and changing consumer behaviour.  It aims to “test alternative policy solutions on consumers to identify those which are likely to bring about desired behavioural change.” A parallel initiative is urgently needed at work. 

The Coalition’s is due to publish a green economy roadmap this Spring, with energy efficiency again focussed on domestic consumption and the Green Deal. But, as union reps said last Saturday, “Union members have practical experience of their own workplace and are best placed to deal with environmental issues.” There’s a greater awareness of climate change and energy issues at work, especially among younger people. And whilst some employers engage in a certain amount of “greenwash”, too few are taking any sort of lead, such as in service training.