“Every job can be a climate job”: Employee guide to climate action by Project Drawdown

Climate Solutions at Work is a newly published guide by Drawdown Labs, focussed on the potential for all employees to take climate action through their workplace. The Guide acknowledges that “Inside most companies, only a handful of people with “sustainability” roles consider climate issues part of their workday. But in this most all-encompassing challenge in human history, every job must be a climate job.” 

According to the Drawdown website, “This employee-focused guide has two main objectives: 1. To democratize climate action, so that all employees can contribute – preferably through creating or joining collaborative group efforts;  and 2. To use a  “new drawdown-aligned business framework” to help companies look beyond their existing “net-zero” goals –  (which Greta Thunberg famously told us on September 28, often are just “blah blah blah” ) . The Guide offers a detailed action plan for individuals in the workplace.

 Drawdown Labs is an initiative of Project Drawdown , founded in 2014 as  a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Their flagship publication, the Drawdown  Review was first published in 2017 and offers an holistic, long-term approach to climate actions.   They also offer learning materials – for example,  Climate Solutions 101 ,  a online video series produced with such partner organizations as the National Council for Science and the Environment in the U.S. (now the Global Council for Science and the Environment ).   

Wales TUC releases a Just Transition toolkit

Greener workplaces for a Just Transition  is a toolkit published in March by the Wales Trades Union Congress, aiming to provide information, tools and ideas for union representatives working towards climate solutions.  Intended as a training resource, the 202-page manual includes case studies, bargaining checklists, action plans, and sample documents which workplace reps can adapt to use for their own workplaces.  Workplace issues addressed include homeworking, procurement and ethical supply chains, waste and conservation measures, financial disclosure and pension management, among others.  The sample documents include a workplace survey, and a joint environment and climate change agreement, which includes language for workplace Joint Environment Committees and Green Workplace Representatives.   The toolkit is quite specific to Wales, although the topics are relevant to any jurisdiction.  It follows the 2020 policy publication by the Wales TUC , A Green Recovery and a Just Transition.

Working from home may not save as much energy as we think

“A systematic review of the energy and climate impacts of teleworking”  appeared as an “accepted manuscript” for Environmental Research Letters in April.  Written by four academics from the University of Sussex, the article aims to identify the conditions under which teleworking can lead to a net reduction in overall energy consumption, and the circumstances where the benefits from teleworking are outweighed by the unintended impacts” (rebound effects)-  such as greater private travel or increased non-work energy consumption by home workers.  It does not consider the large research about other impacts of telecommuting or homework – such as gender effects, or health and mental health impacts.

The authors identified and examined the results of 39 academic studies from around the world, some dating back to the 1990’s. Of those, 26 suggest that teleworking reduces energy use, and 8  suggest that teleworking  has a neutral impact, or even possibly causes an increase  in energy use.  The authors provide a thorough discussion of the topic, and note great variation in methodology and scope. They also note that most research focusses on the U.S., with some from the EU and only three from the Global South. From Canada, only 2 studies were included:  (1.  Bussière and Lewis (2002) . “Impact of telework and flexitime on reducing future urban travel demand: the case of Montreal and Quebec (Canada), 1996-2016, and 2.  Lachapelle, Tanguay, and Neumark-Gaudet. (2018). “Telecommuting and sustainable travel: Reduction of overall travel time, increases in non-motorised travel and congestion relief?”) .

Both Canadian studies were part of the group which was ranked as average or poor in methodology, and which found neutral or mixed impacts. Relying on the  “more rigorous studies that include a wider range of impacts”  the authors conclude that, despite a widely-held positive verdict on teleworking as an energy-saving practice, “the available evidence suggests that economy-wide energy savings are typically modest, and in many circumstances could be negative or non-existent.”

Climate change and health: U.K. National Health Service launches new campaign for greener health care; more medical associations divest from fossil fuels

England’s National Health Service (NHS) is the country’s largest employer with 1.3 million staff, and its operations are responsible for approximately 4-5% of England’s carbon footprint. On January 25, the Chief executive officer of the NHS announced a new campaign to tackle the global climate change health emergency through a greener health care system.  A website for the new campaign, “For a Greener NHS”, focuses on a goal of a net zero national health service, with an Expert Panel to compile experiences and make recommendations in an interim report due in summer 2020, and a final report scheduled for Fall 2020.  In the meantime, the Greener NHS campaign will encourage such initiatives as switching from coal or oil-fired boilers to renewable heat sources for buildings; switching to less polluting anaesthetic gases and better asthma inhalers in treatment; and introducing technological solutions to reduce the number of patient visits and travel miles.

Another part of the initiative is a grassroots campaign for front-line workers, supported by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change – which includes representative bodies covering over 650,000 NHS staff, including the union UNISON . The NHS press release quotes UNISON:  “Involving staff is crucial if the NHS is to help the UK meet its emissions targets in good time. They know more than anyone how the health service ticks and so are best placed to make practical green suggestions to get the NHS to where it needs to be.”  Examples of existing staff-oriented programs are described in case studies :  reducing the use of disposable plastic gloves;  an electric bike courier system for delivery of medical and laboratory samples; and a sustainable travel initiative  to encourage staff use of transit, shuttle buses, bicycles and walking for journeys to work.

British medical associations and organizations are also acting at the societal level. In January, the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an editorial: “Investing in humanity: The BMJ’s divestment campaign” , which calls on individuals and organizations to act immediately, stating: “Divestment offers health professionals and medical organisations, for the duty is both individual and collective, an opportunity to influence politicians and industry towards behaviours that are better for the planet and people’s health.”  While urging divestment, the BMJ states: ” we will not accept advertising or research funded by companies that produce fossil fuels. We will also explore how else our business might be dependent on fossil fuel companies and take steps to end any such reliance. The BMA has no direct holdings in tobacco or fossil fuel companies.”  (Note that The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. also announced in February 2020 that  it will ban any fossil fuel advertising. ) According to a press release from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, six constituent groups of the Alliance have announced an intention, or are already divesting, from fossil fuels:  the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,  and in January 2020, the Royal College of Physicians .   The Canadian Medical Association has also divested from fossil fuels.

Canada Post and its unions will collaborate to reduce environmental footprint

POSTES CANADA -Fourgonnettes ˆ marchepied entirement ŽlectriquesFrom an August 30 press release on the website of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers(CUPW) comes the news that as of April 2019,  Canada Post and its unions have reached a formal agreement to collaborate to reduce Canada Post’s environmental footprint. The joint statement outlines six principles for collaboration, including long-term commitment, good faith, meaningful participation, and openness and transparency.  The full 2-page statement is here , signed by the Association of Postal Officials of Canada, the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and the Union of Postal Communications Employees, as well as Canada Post.

The initial focus of activities will be towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and single-use disposable plastics from Canada Post operations. In early 2020, the parties will publish an action plan for 2020-2022 , with agreed- upon targets for 2020-2030.  After identifying a process and timelines, the parties will implement joint initiatives, “Working together with bargaining agents to develop methods of engaging all employees on local opportunities to reduce waste, emissions and energy.”

At the CUPW Convention in May 2019, the union approved its own Action Plan 2019-2023   with detailed objectives, with environmental objectives including: research and prepare detailed proposals to reduce the environmental impact of Canada’s postal operations, utilizing the provisions of Appendix “T” of the Urban Postal Operations (UPO) collective agreement ; Ensure new jobs for servicing new vehicles and equipment to reduce the environmental impact; Conduct a thorough environmental analysis of CUPW operations at the Local, Regional and National levels and ensure structural changes include an environmental impact assessment; Work with the academic and environmental communities on initiatives beyond the postal system; Participate in conferences and organizations dealing with the impact of climate change and solutions to halt and reverse the damage to our planet.

Many of these environmental objectives spring from CUPW’s  innovative Delivering Community Power initiative, first unveiled in 2016, and also including a high-profile  campaign for a national postal banking system .  The latest progress on the Community Power initiative is summarized in a Report to the Convention in May 2019.

Air pollution savings by substituting Videoconferencing for airline travel

According to a ranking by Project Drawdown, businesses around the world could eliminate 82 billion hours of  air travel time for employees by substituting travel to meetings with high-quality video conferencing systems –  a work practice with the potential to cut atmospheric carbon dioxide by 1.99 gigatons by 2050.  This solution, dubbed Telepresence,  is ranked as 63rd out of 100 solutions to global warming  in the Project Drawdown  study which compares the cost and GHG savings of three adoption scenarios  (ranging from 16% – 50%)  in the period  2020-2050.

Project Drawdown describes its  work as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”.  In an April 25  New York Times interview , Paul Hawkin, Project Drawdown’s executive director, states:  “A primary goal of Drawdown is to help people who feel overwhelmed by gloom-and-doom messages see that reversing global warming is bursting with possibility: walkable cities, afforestation, bamboo, high-rises built of wood, marine permaculture, multistrata agroforestry, clean cookstoves, plant-rich diet, assisting women smallholders, regenerative agriculture, supporting girls’ ongoing education, smart glass, in-stream hydro, on and on.”   The solutions have been proposed and researched by an international collaboration of “ geologists, engineers, agronomists, researchers, fellows, writers, climatologists, biologists, botanists, economists, financial analysts, architects, companies, agencies, NGOs, activists, and other experts” .

The complete list of 100 proposals  was published by Penguin Books in 2017  and is available at the Project Drawdown website.  Canadian news outlet The Energy Mix  is currently posting  excerpts from Project Drawdown, and highlighted Telepresence in its May 11 issue.

ILO Director-General report identifies key themes in the greening of work, and worker delegates respond

The 106th Session of the International Labour Conference convenes fromILO 2017 conference  June 5-16 in Geneva – see an overview here .  To open the annual Conference, Director General Guy Ryder presented his report, Work in a changing climate: The Green Initiative  , and for those who question the role of the workplace in the fight against climate change, the report states: “… if climate change is a consequence of human activity, then that activity is, for the most part, work or work-related. It is no coincidence that climate change tends to be benchmarked against pre-industrial levels. And if work is the predominant cause of climate change, then inevitably it must be central to strategies to prevent, mitigate and adapt to it.”

The main body of the Director-General’s Report describes and updates the accomplishments of the  ILO Green Centenary Initiative, which  was launched in 2013, “to promote the considerable potential for creation of decent work associated with the transition to a low carbon sustainable development path and to minimize and manage the inevitable dislocation that will accompany it.” The report emphasizes the need for research and policy analysis, and announces that the 2018 edition of the ILO World Employment and Social Outlook Report will focus on “greening with jobs”, with sectoral and country-specific information.

Some important themes:  The report emphasizes the need for tripartite responses to climate change, and offers the examples of countries with tripartite consultations:  Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru , South Africa, and Brazil, which developed its Intended Nationally- Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement with tripartite involvement.

Global carbon pricing is identified as “an outstanding question of the greatest magnitude –a political game changer in the eyes of some.” And, “Independently of the specific merits of taxing carbon, the general message is clear: predictable and appropriate regulation, together with informed tripartite involvement, are key ingredients for successful just transition.”

Regarding the greening of the work process, the report states: “The extraordinary process of structural transformation in production systems, made necessary by the fight against climate change, needs also to incorporate two further ingredients which have a proven record in facilitating socially acceptable and beneficial change at work: skills development and social protection.”

marie walker ILO VP 2017Canadian Labour Congress Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker   was elected Vice-President (Workers) on June 5, and is a member of the ILO Governing Body.    Luc Cortebeeck,  Chairperson of the Workers’ Group, presented a Discussion of the Director-General’s report  on June 7. The 3-page discussion is generally constructive, for example, congratulating the ILO for its climate neutrality goals and its the recognition of the need to aim for zero emissions as soon as possible, and pledging support for Skills for Green Jobs initiatives.  However, it highlights differences about the goals for the future, stating:  “Such an ambitious assessment on the state of affairs does not seem to be followed by an equally ambitious take on future measures.”  Further, “The workers’ group regrets the absence of references to the importance of piloting in as many countries as possible the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition, as a means to show they are a useful tool for tackling climate change in a socially progressive way.”  The Workers Group also considers it “vital” that the ILO develop and execute its own economic modelling research regarding the potentially negative distributional aspects of carbon pricing and regulation, and not rely on research by the  OECD  and other active agencies.

The Role of Work and the Labour Movement to Slow Global Warming

PrintWork in a Warming World, released by McGill Queen’s University Press on April 15, begins with the acknowledgement that the world of work – goods, services, and resources – produces most of the greenhouse gases created by human activity. In ten chapters, the book’s contributors demonstrate “how the world of work and the labour movement need to become involved in the struggle to slow global warming, and the ways in which environmental and economic policies need to be linked dynamically in order to effect positive change”. The book is organized into “Trends and Challenges”, such as the dilemma of the Canadian labour movement, and gender analysis of emissions reduction, and “Making Green Work”, with examples from the construction, hospitality, and energy industry, as well as chapters on sustainable infrastructure and its implications for the engineering profession, and the role of cities and the green economy. The book has a Canadian focus, but includes an international context. Chapters were written by associates of the Work in a Warming World research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, led by Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé.

Employee-Related Initiatives at Canada’s Greenest Workplaces

The results of the 9th annual Canada’s Greenest Employers competition were made available online at the Globe and Mail on Earth Day. “Canada’s greenest employers help the Earth – and their bottom lines” (April 22) is a quick overview, but the online list of winners allows readers to select each employer by name, and find much more detail on the reasons why they were selected: e.g. unique initiatives, presence of an environmental audit, organizational responsibility for green initiatives, building LEED rating, community initiatives, etc. Companies are listed both for the environmental impact of their products/services, and their workplace policies. For example, Nature’s Path is an organic food manufacturer in Richmond, B.C., but was also cited for its mandatory sustainability training for all new employees. Keilhauer, a custom furniture manufacturer in Toronto, is included for its in-house “Design for Environment” employee training program, which began in 2011 and sparked the switch to more environmentally-responsible manufacturing processes such as water-based wood stains and  FSC-certified wood. Not all employers on the list produce green products: e.g. Labatt’s Breweries is included because of its significant water and waste reduction programs, and for its employee engagement initiatives – all employee suggestions for green improvements are entered into a searchable database so employees in any of the parent company Anheuser-Busch locations around the world can learn from each other. The Greenest Employers list is linked to the Eluta job search engine to aid job-seekers who prefer to work for a green company.

CUPE Provides a New Guide for Greener Workplaces

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, in advance of Earth Day in April 2015, has released Healthy Clean and Green: A Worker’s Action Guide to a Greener Workplace. CUPE answers the basic question, “Is climate change a union issue?” and then focuses on workplace actions and solutions, with examples and tips to improve energy efficiency, recycling and reduction of resources, worker education, and workplace environment committees. The book also describes the LEED features of the CUPE National Headquarters in Ottawa. To further encourage greening activities, the union announced the 2015 CUPE Green Workplace Contest, with a deadline of May 2015.

Canadian Companies Going Green with Energy Efficiency and More

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “Living Planet @ Work” campaign profiles successful Canadian companies who have switched  to 100% renewable energy and are employing green business practices. Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing and Miratel Solutions (a fundraising, call-centre, and online and mailing services company) have been featured so far.

In the case of Steam Whistle Brewing, facilities are kept cool by harnessing cold water from the bottom of Lake Ontario; company vehicles are fueled with biodiesel, and renewable energy, via Bullfrog Power, saves the equivalent of 128 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Miratel Solutions began the path to greening the workplace with a ban on plastic water bottles, an extensive recycling program, eco-friendly lighting and retrofitting, and energy-efficient electronics. Since 2006, Bullfrog Power allowed the company to support the transition to renewable energy despite the fact that they rent office space and can’t control its energy supply. Miratel saves the equivalent of 38.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Other Canadian case studies of energy efficiency projects are profiled in Heads-up CIPEC, the online newsletter of the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC) of Natural Resources Canada.

Greening the Workplace: UK Unions Experience

A July report from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), The Union Effect: Greening the Workplace, explores six U.K. case studies in which notable attempts were made to improve workplace environmental footprints, including a government department, a hospital, a port, and a financial services company. While some initiatives were instigated by management and achieved variable success rates, unions played key roles overall. In some cases, unions pro-actively worked for environmental change, for example by educating members directly or instigating campaigns.

In other cases, they supported initiatives by helping shape workplace behaviour and “staff culture”, working closely with management, and adding staff input to the planning process. In general, unions saw it as their role to lobby employers to view a green workplace as a long-term inves'The Union Effect: greening the workplace report cover tment. Unfortunately, the current reliance on voluntary commitments meant that environmental initiatives sometimes stalled or failed as enthusiasm waned. The report concludes that “the right for a recognised trade union to appoint union environmental reps could have a transformative effect”, and that there are three essential underpinnings to success: “sufficient time off for appropriate and relevant environmental training; sufficient time to carry out an energy and environmental audit with management; by agreement with management, the option to establish a joint environment forum”.

LINKS:

The Union Effect: Greening the Workplace is available at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/economic-issues/social-issues/environment/climate-change/union-effect-greening-workplace