Climate emergency webinar: the reps making a difference in their workplace

9 June 2021

At a special webinar to mark World Environment Day, a group of Prospect reps from across the union’s different sectors talked about the work they are doing in their workplaces to help combat the climate emergency.

Chairing the webinar, Sue Ferns, Prospect senior deputy general secretary, said climate and environmental issues are really important issues for our members.

A survey 18 months ago revealed that members expected Prospect to take action in three distinct ways.

“One, was in terms of lobbying government policy and decision makers and we’ve done an awful lot of work on that,” said Sue in her introductory comments.

“The second was in terms of Prospect’s own carbon footprint and we have got work in progress to measure our carbon footprint and to develop our own strategy for reducing it.”

“The third one was helping and supporting people to take action within their own workplaces and that is very much what we’re going to focus on in this webinar. I’m delighted that some of our environment reps are here to talk about the work they’ve been doing and their achievements.”

Sustainability agreement

The first rep to speak was Richard Cooper from Devonport Royal Dockyard, who said the branch had started training environment reps in 2010 and now had more than 20.

Although the business was slow to work with them, a few years later, in 2014, the Devonport Environmental Improvement Committee was set-up and unions were invited to get involved.

“We have a sustainability agreement between all the major stakeholders across our site. We’ve got three trade unions on our site who all signed up to try and reduce the impact on the environment from our work activities. It’s helpful to have whenever you’re putting on events to be able to draw attention to that,” said Richard.

Another catalyst was a corporate services director (“the money man”) who became enthusiastically engaged with the Environmental Improvement Committee and, as a result, has pledged significantly more financial support.

For example, suppliers are now told that sustainability is more important than price. “Cash is no longer king, which is massive,” says Richard. They have also been able to sponsor and support local groups in Plymouth.

“We’re currently finishing off the policy that allows everybody two days a year to go and engage on volunteering work in the community around environment and mental health,” he added.

Sam Watkins, BT, spoke about a few of the issues where her branch was focussing its efforts.

“We’re looking at meat and dairy free days for BT Openreach and making sure that our canteens and our cafes are looking to reduce meat and dairy. The worldwide aim to reduce intake by 20% has an impact of saving 7m tonnes of co2 production per year,” she said.

The branch was even extending this to fish. “Trawling for fish disturbs carbon sediment,” said Sam.

The branch had put forward a number of motions on sustainability and climate to Prospect conference over the years, but one they hope to gain traction in the future concerns fly-tipping.

“We’ve been quite keen on the fly-tipping motion because our members brought that to our attention. They care about what’s happening about waste both from a fly-tipping point of view but also from making sure waste is properly recycled.”

Sam added that it was mutually beneficial for Prospect to work hand-in-hand with BT on sustainability.

“We’re strengthening a relationship. We’re not just the people who whinge about things, but we are helping BT to get things done.”

Adrian Bond, Department for International Trade, is an environment rep as well as being chair of the DIT’s Green Network and he spoke about their approach through education, collaboration and communication.

“Starting with education, with so much stuff to read and worry about, our roles as environmental reps include providing useful and relevant information that can actually be acted upon,” Adrian explained.

“Second one is collaboration. In DIT we collaborate directly with the department’s estates and management teams. We represent DIT across government events. As cheesy as it sounds, working together means we all get better results in reducing our environmental impacts.”

Finally, on communication, Adrian said it was important to feedback both the successes and the failures of each initiative so that people would know whether their efforts were making the intended impact.

Zero waste success

Back in 2008, the management team at the Buildings Research Establishment had set goals and targets across eight areas of sustainability, such as resource efficiency, energy, transport and ecology said, Stuart Blofeld, environment rep at the branch.

Over the years there had been some big successes.

“Back in 2003 when I joined BRE, we were sending 86% of our waste to landfill. That might sound incredible today but actually that was quite normal back then in 2003,” said Stuart.

One of the 2008 goals was zero waste to landfill and within four years it had practically been achieved.

There were other initiatives such as encouraging staff to ditch disposable coffee cups by rewarding them with a free coffee for every six that they bought for their reusable mug; leaving chocolates on desks for people who turn their equipment off at night; a bike doctor to help fix bikes; and using a rebate from scrap metal to buy four foldable bikes for staff use.

One challenge for the future will be the move towards a hybrid model of working, said Stuart, and the potential negative impacts this could have, despite the clear environmental benefits.

He said: “When I think about the role of an environmental rep, I like to think wider than just the environment and think about the health and well-being of our staff as well.”

Finally, in a recorded video message, the webinar heard from Laurence Johnson, a freelancer, in Bectu’s London Production Division, who cited a recent report which found that a single $70m film in the course of its production would create as much carbon as 630 UK homes in a year.

Wanting to ‘clean up’ the industry that he works in, Laurence got himself elected as the first sustainability rep for his branch and began reaching out to other like-minded branches and individuals. Soon they had created and elected a sustainability subcommittee.

“We created five key goals that we wanted to achieve,” said Laurence.

  1. Support a net zero film and tv industry by 2030;
  2. To make sure we represent our members and to educate workers on the role that the UK film industry is playing in the climate crisis;
  3. Support members with training on reducing their environmental impact at work.
  4. To create systematic change by working with partners and stakeholders in the industry
  5. Use Bectu and Prospect’s lobbying efforts to support environmental legislation and ensure Net Zero in the UK by 2030.

“We’re currently working with the British Film Institute and other industry bodies on having a presence at COP26 later this year to really discuss what the film industry is doing to change and what we can do to go much further,” added Laurence.

Branch checklist

At the webinar, Prospect research officer Nick Kardahji also launched a new workplace checklist with simple practical steps that branches could take to help tackle the climate emergency. The document can be downloaded from the Prospect Library.

Climate emergency