Canadians report mixed feelings about working from home – but is it good for the environment? for workers?

The Angus Reid Institute is a Canadian non-profit public opinion research foundation Their recent survey of Covid-related experiences is summarized at their June 11 press release, with the full 11-page report was released under the title  So long, office space? Two-thirds of Canadians who work from home expect it to continue after pandemic  .

Of the 30% of Canadians who have been working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, only 36 % expect to return full-time to their workplace after the pandemic subsides – others expect to split working time between workplace and home, and 20% expect to work primarily from home.  The survey measured productivity and mental health impacts of working from home, showing mixed results re mental health: 15% said it had been “terrible”, 16% said it had been “great”, and 68% ranking it as “okay” – notably, 20% of women 18 to 34 years old rank it as “awful”.  The survey also reports on the job loss experiences of respondents since the March beginning of lockdown, with a high of 31% experiencing job loss in May, and 28% in June. Responses concerning job loss, economic outlook, and incidence and attitudes to government financial assistance are available by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics.

Is working from home good for the planet? or for workers?

An earlier WCR post in May, “Working from home may not save as much energy as we think” summarizes an article from Environmental Research Letters which found little empirical evidence that working from home benefits the environment or climate change. Initially some environmentalists saw a possible (though temporary) upside in a reduction of GHG emissions from commuting, and the concept is being embraced by corporate management – for its own reasons.  The complexity of the issue is discussed in  “Office work will never be the same” in Vox (May 27), which argues that flexibility may benefit the privileged white collar workers who can work from home, but also opens the door to increased workplace surveillance with its greater dependence on technology (not to mention the equity question for those who don’t have the option).   In “Working from Home: Post-Coronavirus Will Give Bosses Greater Control of Workers’ Lives” ( June 4) in Jacobin, author Luke Savage cites examples of Canadian workplace policies from the Bank of Montreal and Shopify, and quotes an unnamed Canadian unionist . Savage concludes with this warning:

“With every home an office and every office a home, the residual boundaries between work and private life will be gone for good. Still worse, the whole or even partial demise of the physical office space could become a catalyst for a deeper precarization of work wherein many workers are effectively remote contractors, their homes operating like quasi-franchises over which employers can exercise discretionary control with minimal restriction.

Socialists have long argued that bosses and markets exert far too much power and control over our time, our private lives, and our individual autonomy. Unless we resist the burgeoning shift to remote work, both are about to devour an even bigger share of all three.”

 

Visions for green steel production in Canada and internationally

CSPA_2_29_compressedThe Canadian Steel Producers Association released a “Climate Call to Action” for their industry on March 4 , with a goal to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.  The press release calls that goal  “the central plank” of their vision.  More details are explained in a 19-page document, Canada’s Steel Industry: A Sustainable Choice , which states:

“Canada’s steel producers have the aspirational goal to achieve net-zero CO emissions by 2050. This means that we must significantly reduce net CO emissions including through removal or offsets. In order to achieve this aspirational goal, we need to work with stakeholders, including suppliers, customers, and government, to implement transformational changes and breakthrough technologies. This includes significant capital investments, public-private partnerships, and policies that support the industry during the transition.”

The Statement emphasizes technological breakthroughs and trade policy, and the words “workers”, “jobs” or “labour” do not appear anywhere. The most relevant section relates to operational efficiencies and manufacturing processes:

“We have also adopted process control technology and other innovative technologies, such as robotics, to improve our process reliability, production yields, and overall production efficiencies to reduce losses and the amount of energy used to produce each tonne of steel. However, there is limited room for further improvement based on existing technology. The adoption of new technologies to further advance and optimize steel manufacturing software control systems will continue to drive improvements in our sector.”

Internationally:

A useful and related report is  Low and zero emissions in the steel and cement industries: Barriers, technologies and policies ,  an Issue Paper prepared for the November 2019 OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum. The paper is meant for international audience, though its author, Chris Bataille, is a prominent researcher at Simon Fraser University as well as at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) .  He calls for an industry transition based on  “well-designed policy packages and careful consultation with all parties involved and affected.”  Specifically,  regarding Just Transition, he states (p. 36) :

“To support change, we will need to make many modifications to existing institutions, and create new ones… A key element that is often overlooked is a transition plan for the management and labouring workforce, whose full support is required. This involves retraining for those already in the workforce, and redefinition of the curriculum in technical schools where electricians, pipefitters, heavy duty machinery specialists, etc. are trained. Oversight bodies are also required for the national transition plans, which have timetables of expected physical transitions against which they can measure progress and recommend policy adjustments and wholesale changes … At present, the UK Climate Change Commission, which recommends five year carbon budgets and parliamentary advice as required, is the best practise example of a national oversite body. It has no statutory authority to change policy, as this is the prerogative of the British Parliament, but it can monitor progress and recommend changes.”

Notably, one of the “asks” of  the Canadian Steel Producers Association visioning document is the creation of “ a Canadian steel climate council with key government departments to monitor and report on the progress of the sector’s climate strategy, to share practices, to engage with other stakeholders, and to evolve the plan as new information and insights emerge”.  (“Stakeholders” don’t include workers.)

Worldsteel , the global industry association, released its own position paper in 2020:  Steel’s contribution to a low carbon future and climate resilient societies , which emphasizes most of the same  themes of technology,  circular economy, energy efficiency, and a “level playing field” globally.  Worldsteel also recently published the Sustainable Steel: Indicators 2019 and the steel supply chain .

steel-arising-cover-01_1-1And from the U.K., academics at the University of Cambridge released  Steel Arising: Opportunities for the UK in a transforming global steel industry  in April 2019. The report was commissioned by GREENSTEEL Council which  “promotes sustainable production methods and a revitalisation of engineering and the economy” in the UK.  Steel Arising calls for  greening by “moving away from primary production towards recycled steel made with sustainable power.”  The report states: “Not only will this create long-term green jobs, it will lead to world-leading exportable skills and technologies and allow us to transform the highly valuable scrap that we currently export at low value, but should be nurturing as a strategic asset. With today’s grid we can do this with less than half the emissions of making steel with iron ore and with more renewable power in future this could drop much further.”

Amazon employees lay their jobs on the line to protest how Big tech enables Big oil

Amazon employees logoUpdated on February 18 re the announcement of the Bezos Earth Fund.

Amazon workers have risen up again, at the risk of their own jobs. “Defying Company Policy, Over 300 Amazon Employees Speak Out” in Wired (Jan.27) was one of many media articles about the most recent incident in the employees’ campaign for climate action.  A new protest stems from Amazon’s communication policy which threatened to fire employees who speak out to the public about climate change without company authorization. (A Washington Post article of January 2 summarizes all that).   In response, as detailed in Wired,  363 Amazon employees intentionally violated that company policy by signing their names to posts about their own opinions and experiences. The posts were compiled by Medium on January 26. The protest was organized by the activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ)  which posted an explanation on their Facebook page, stating that employees feel a “moral responsibility to speak up”. It continues:

“The protest is the largest action by employees since Amazon began threatening to fire workers for speaking out about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis. It signals that employees are convinced that the only right thing to do at this time is to keep speaking up. AECJ has continued to call on Amazon to commit to zero emissions by 2030, stop developing AWS products and services to accelerate oil and gas extraction, and end funding of climate-denying politicians, lobbyists, and think tanks.”

UPDATE: 

On February 17, Jeff Bezos , billionaire owner of Amazon, announced the creation of the Bezos Earth Fund, which will provide $10 billion in grants to scientists and activists to fund their efforts to fight climate change.  The announcement was made on Instagram and reported by the Washington Post, which Bezos also owns. Amazon  Employees for Climate Justice reacted with this statement : Amazon employees tweet re billionsTheir statement shows that AECJ is not letting up on the link between Amazon and Big Oil, and also, not letting up. Follow them on Twitter at @AMZNforClimate.

“Why did Amazon threaten to fire employees who were sounding the alarm about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis and our oil and gas business? What this shows is that employees speaking out works–we need more of that right now.”

Big Tech and Big Oil?

Although a general perception might be that Amazon need only reduce packaging or improve logistics to reduce transportation-related emissions, there is another big climate-related issue raised by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. As noted briefly in Vox  on January 3:   “Google and Amazon are now in the oil business” (Jan. 3)  explaining that “big tech companies are developing AI for oil companies, even as they publicly celebrate their sustainable initiatives.”  A much more detailed explanation appears in  “Amazon’s New Rationale For Working With Big Oil: Saving the Planet” in Motherboard (Jan. 10) .

This is all happening in plain sight.  Amazon itself  describes  its “Digital Oilfields”  on its own website,  and “Cenovus joins Big Oil’s push into Big Data with Amazon and IBM deals”  appeared  in the Financial Post in November 2019, giving insight into how data-driven oil and gas is growing in Canada.  And Suncor boasts in a November 2019 press release from Calgary, Suncor accelerates digital transformation journey through strategic alliance with Microsoft, quoting Microsoft’s president: “Suncor is embarking on a journey to transform the energy industry. They are creating new business value for their customers, empowering and upskilling their workforce, and innovating for a sustainable future”.

Answering Mark Carney: What are the climate plans for Canada’s banks and pension funds?

On December 18, the Bank of England was widely reported  to have unveiled a new “stress test” for the financial risks of climate change. That stress test is a proposal contained in an official BoE Discussion Paper,  2021 biennial exploratory scenario (BES) on the financial risks from climate change , open for stakeholder comments until March 2020.  Mark Carney, outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, has led the BoE to a leadership position on this issue in the financial community and will continue  in his new role as United Nations special envoy on climate action and climate finance in 2020.  In a December BBC interview reviewing his legacy, he warned the world yet again about stranded assets and asked: “A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer: what’s your plan?”

What are the climate plans for Canada’s pension funds ?

shift action pension report 2019In their June 2019 report, Canada’s Pension Funds and Climate Risk: A Baseline For Engagement  , ShiftAction concludes: “Canadian pension funds are already investing in climate solutions, but at levels that are far too low relative to the potential for profitable growth, consistent with levels required to solve this challenge.” The report provides an overview, and importantly, offers tips on how to engage with and influence pension fund managers.

Since then…..

The sustainability performance of  the  Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) continues to be unimpressive, as documented in  Fossil Futures: The Canada Pension Plan’s failure to respect the 1.5-degree Celsius limitreleased in November ccpaFossilfuture2019 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis-B.C. (CCPA-BC).  According to the CPPIB Annual Report for 2019, (June 2019) the CPPIB is aiming for full adoption of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures recommendations by the end of fiscal 2021 (page 28).

Canada’s second largest pension fund, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), announced in November that CEO Michael Sabia will retire in February 2020 and move to the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The press release credits Sabia with leading the Caisse to a position of global leadership on climate change, beginning in 2017 with the launch of an investment strategy which aims to increase low-carbon assets and reduce the carbon intensity of investment holdings by 25%. In 2019, the Caisse announced that its portfolio would be carbon-neutral by 2050.   Ivanhoé Cambridge ,the real estate subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt, has a stated goal to increase low-carbon investments by 50% by the year 2020 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the year 2025. In December 2019, Ivanhoé Cambridge announced that it had issued a $300 million  unsecured green bond to finance green initiatives – the first real estate corporation in Canada to do so. Shawn McCarthy reviewed Sabia’s legacy in “Canada’s second largest pension fund gets deadly serious about climate crisis”, in Corporate Knights in December.

AIMCo, the Alberta Investment Management Corporation is a Crown Corporation of the Government of Alberta, with management responsibility for the public sector pensions funds in Alberta, along with other investments. In November 2019, the Alberta government passed Bill 22, which unilaterally transfers pension assets from provincial worker plans to the control of AIMCo (see a CBC summary here ). The Alberta Federation of Labour and the province’s large unions protested in a joint statement, “Union leaders tell UCP: ‘The money saved by Albertans for retirement belongs to them, not to you!’” (Nov. 20) . The unions state: “we’re worried that what you’re attempting to do is use other people’s money to create a huge slush fund to finance an agenda that has not yet been articulated to the public – and which most people would not feel comfortable using their life savings to support.” And in December 2019, those worries seem to come true as AIMCo announced  its participation in a consortium to buy a 65% equity interest in the controversial LNG Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project from TC Energy Corporation. Rabble.ca reported on the demonstrations at AIMCo’s Toronto offices regarding the Coastal Gas project in January .

On January 8, the Toronto Star published  “Toronto asks pension provider: How green are our investments?” – revealing that the city has asked for more details from the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement fund (OMERS). OMERS, with assets of over $100 billion, manages the pension savings of a variety of Ontario public employees, including City of Toronto and Toronto Police, Fire, and Paramedics. On January 8, OMERS announced the latest consolidation of Toronto pension plans with its consolidation of the Metropolitan Toronto Pension. Its Sustainable Investment Policy statement is here .

What are the climate plans for Canada’s private Banks?  

The 10th annual edition of Banking on Climate Change: the Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card was released in October 2019 by Banktrac, Rainforest Alliance Network and others . It states that $1.9 trillion has been invested in fossil fuels by the world’s private banks since the Paris Agreement, led by JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. Canadian banks also rank high in the world: RBC (5th), TD (8th), Scotiabank ( 9th), and Bank of Montreal (15th).  Also in October, the World Resources Institute green-targets2published Unpacking Green Targets: A Framework for Interpreting Private Sector Banks’ Sustainable Finance Commitments , which includes Canadian banks in its global analysis and provides guidance on how to understand banks’ public documents.  “How Are Banks Doing on Sustainable Finance Commitments? Not Good Enough”  is the WRI blog which summarizes the findings.

Since then….

On September 14, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce announced the release of their first climate-related disclosure report aligned with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. Building a Sustainable Future highlights the CIBC’s governance, strategy, and risk management approach to climate related issues. It provides specific metrics and targets, especially for its own operational footprint, but also a commitment: “to a $150 billion environmental and sustainable finance goal over 10 years (2018-2027).”

Scotiabank also announced climate-related changes in November, including “that it would “mobilize $100 billion by 2025 to support the transition to a lower-carbon and more resilient economy”; ensure robust climate-related governance and reporting; enhance integration of climate risk assessments in lending, financing and investing activities; deploy innovative solutions to decarbonize operations; and establish a Climate Change Centre of Excellence “to provide our employees with the tools and knowledge to empower them to act in support of our climate commitments. This includes training and education, promoting internal collaboration, and knowledge and information sharing.”  Their 4-page statement on climate commitment  is here. Their  2018 Sustainable Business Report (latest available) includes detailed metrics and description of the bank’s own operations, including that they use an Internal Carbon Price of CAD$15/tonne CO2, to be reviewed every two years.

RBC, ranked Canada’s worst fossil-fueling bank in the 2019 edition of Banking on Climate Change , released a 1-page statement of their Commitment to Sustainable Finance (April 2019)  and an undated Climate Blueprint  with a target of $100 billion in sustainable financing by 2025.  However, in their new research report,  Navigating the 2020’s: How Canada can thrive in a decade of change , the bank characterizes the coming decade as “Greener, Greyer, Smarter, Slower”, but offers little hope of a change in direction. For example, the report states “ Canada’s natural gas exports can also play a role in reducing emissions intensity abroad. LNG shipments to emerging economies in Asia, where energy demand is growing much faster than in Canada, can help replace coal in electricity production, just as natural gas is doing here in Canada. …As climate concerns mount, Canada’s challenge will be to better sell ourselves as a responsible, cleaner energy producer.”

Australian companies are moving to renewable energy to meet employee expectations for climate action

reenergizingREenergising Australian business: the corporate race to 100% renewable energy was released by  Greenpeace Australia Pacific on December 4.

Drawing on public information as well as 34 responses to a survey sent to 80 “big-brand” companies, the report presents analysis of the corporate move to renewable energy, covering seven major industry sectors, as well as case studies of individual companies. Of the 80 companies profiled: 30% have committed to move to 100% renewable energy ;  26% have signed a corporate power purchase agreement , and  65% have invested in rooftop or onsite solar.

Regarding job creation: The report estimates the impact if companies moved to 100% renewable energy to power their operations: for 3 of Australia’s largest companies  (Woolworths, Coles and Telstra)  it would create 4194 construction job-years and 232 ongoing jobs ; the 10 largest companies in the property and construction sector would create more than 1000 construction job-years, and the 14 largest telecommunications, IT, and technology companies would create around 2000 construction job-years.

What is driving the corporate move to renewables? “The UComms polling found 67% of Australians would prefer to work for a company that uses renewable energy, rather than one that doesn’t, while 100% of companies surveyed by Greenpeace reported that a key reason for shifting to renewable energy is employee expectation. In 2019, the Edelman Trust Barometer found 67% of employees “expect that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues” and 76% say “CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.”