From education to employment

A Climate for change?

We’ve all heard about green workplaces and are conscious of the need to be environmentally friendly, but how many of us have heard the phrase ‘environmental literacy’? This is a much-heralded concept which will surely play a huge role in future workplace planning and workers’ lives. Unions are working together with employers and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to further green workplaces and ensure that environmental awareness becomes a part of all our lives. One way of doing this was through unions introducing ‘Green Reps’, who are playing a key role in cutting down on environmental waste and emissions in many workplaces. It was a challenge taken up by the PCS union at the British Museum, which improved its sustainability, increased recycling, and reassessed its heating and cooling systems. So we have seen that where there’s an environmental will, there’s a way.

Making sure that workers are environmentally literate means providing them with new skills, including the knowledge, tools, and sensitivity to properly address an environmental problem in their occupational capacity, and to routinely include the environment as one of the considerations in their work and daily living. Our hope is that just as reading becomes second nature to those who are literate, interpreting and acting for the environment ideally would become second nature to the environmentally literate citizen.

Environmental literacy is part and parcel of workplace practices at Magor Brewery, Newport, which brews 8% of the UK’s beer. It’s a great example of how saving money can save the planet. Tony Bates, the Unite Branch Chairman and a Production Technician was instrumental in setting up an initiative called Project JUPITER (Join Us People in Tackling Energy Reduction). With the emphasis very much on the workforce taking the lead on energy saving, the company has seen water usage drop 46%, electricity usage fall 49% and heating bills cut by 23%. In the first two years, the firm saved more than £2 million. Through an initial £1.4 million company investment in the ideas and initiatives put forward by the workforce, the firm recouped its outlay in less than 18 months.

This is just one of the ways in which unions are helping to green workplaces, whilst increasing workers’ skills and environmental awareness. Unionlearn is already playing a part, with plans to deliver more workshops like the recent Skill Up, Green Up and to develop environmental literacy materials through the Getting on at Work series. And we are also working with partners such the Otesha Project UK in East London as part of the East London Green Jobs Alliance, which provides green skills for young people. By embedding environmental concerns within the workplace and supporting green apprenticeships, trade unionists can spread the green message far and wide. Climate Week may only be one week in March, but for trade unions it’s an all-year round concern.

Read more about what unions are doing and the five key green priorities at the unionlearn green skills link

Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning and training organisation

Read other FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

Tax relief not reaching most effective work-related courses

Bright sparks why apprentices can shine

Preparing for a tough 2011


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