Greening the workplace – environmental rights at work

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 Workplace manualThis is a chapter from the The TUC Workplace Manual. Purchase the complete booklet

It's well known that union representatives have proven ability to deliver progressive change on working conditions, safety and equality. But these days unions can also boast an ever-growing network of union environmental representatives who are making a substantial contribution towards reducing the environmental impact of the workplace and combating climate change. Workplace action has a key role to play in tackling climate change. The TUC's GreenWorkplaces monthly newsletter is a useful starting place for finding out more.

Climate change and workplace action

The scientific evidence for climate change (the warming of our climate system) is now indisputable. Despite what the sceptics will have you believe, climate change is the greatest environmental threat we face today, with the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere pushing up global temperatures.

Climate change poses an enormous threat to working lives and the UK economy. In 2006, the government's Stern Review concluded that failing to act now on climate change could lead to a reduction in global income of between 5 per cent and 20 per cent. It is predicted that the UK will face damage to its infrastructure from storms, flooding and regular periods of drought, and an increase in heat-related deaths due to dangerously hot summers in our cities. Climate change will bring less predictable, more extreme weather patterns. It will harm living and working conditions, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. It is critical that the UK moves towards a low-carbon economy - and fast.

Half of UK carbon emissions are produced by work activity. Workplaces burn energy, consume resources and generate waste and travel.

Organisations are far better placed than individuals to install cost-effective green measures.

To ensure that the transition to a low-carbon economy is socially just, union environmental representatives have a key role to play in securing consultation and the active participation of their members in climate change initiatives at work.

Cutting carbon, not jobs

In hard economic times, unions are under pressure to focus on other priorities like saving jobs and cutting costs. With many employers facing tight budgets in the coming years, union action to green the workplace can help ensure that financial savings from resource and energy efficiency ease the pressure on other costs and helps to protect jobs. The need to strengthen the link between sustainable workplaces and sustainable jobs has never been more urgent.

Going green at work

Greening the Workplace is a workplace-based initiative that brings together the practical engagement of both workers and management to secure energy savings and reduce the environmental impact of the workplace. This can be achieved through awareness-raising events, staff surveys and training workshops. Successful projects often set up joint management and union environmental committees with joint framework agreements that embed workforce engagement on carbon reduction and environmental sustainability into the way organisations do their work.

The union environmental or 'green' representative

Just as unions and employers work together to improve health and safety in the workplace through safety committees where trade union-appointed safety representatives negotiate with management, union environmental (or 'green') representatives can be elected to champion environmental issues in the workplace. They can raise awareness of green issues and ensure that they are included in the negotiating or bargaining agenda at work.

The main concern of a union green representative is to agree a joint approach to 'greening the workplace', ideally one formalised in a collective agreement and overseen by an employer or union committee that addresses environmental issues.

The rights of green representatives

Technically there is no legal right for a union to elect a specifically green representative and expect the same benefits that other representatives have. But in green workplaces across the UK, unions have been extending the consultation agenda to cover a widening environmental agenda at work. This means that, through an agreement with the employer, the scope of union activities can be extended to cover environmental issues such as energy use, recycling and green travel plans, whether that role is covered by shop stewards, health and safety representatives or formally recognised union green representatives who may be new to union activites. In other words, the law is lagging behind best practice.

The TUC is campaigning for better rights for union green representatives to help them influence the environmental agenda at work, just as for health and safety representatives. The campaign includes the call for legal rights to paid time off to carry out these functions and to attend training, through amendments to the Acas Code of Practice, Time off for trade union duties and activities.But even without these new rights, many trade unionists have decided to just get on with the job and have negotiated new rights to be involved in environmental issues, for employers to formally recognise the role of union green representatives and for voluntary agreements on facilities and facilities time.

Representatives have also negotiated the creation of new joint environmental committees. In most workplaces the bargaining agenda is decided through negotiation, not by law, so there is no reason why environmental issues such as energy saving or green travel plans should not be formally included in the bargaining agenda.

Climate change as a trade union issue

Climate change will affect us all, hitting our quality of life whether we live in developed or developing nations. As trade unionists, we must speak out for workers everywhere in the fight for social and environmental justice.

The TUC and its affiliates are calling for a just transition to a low-carbon economy, that is for the costs and benefits of new environmental measures and the inevitable economic restructuring that will occur to be shared out fairly. The work of union environmental representatives, or green representatives as they are also called, is a key part of the trade union movement's just transition strategy.

There are many benefits to unions and workers if environmental issues are included in the collective bargaining agenda. You can use the following arguments to win over sceptical colleagues, members and employers:

  • The bottom line is that making workplaces sustainable saves money and helps to make jobs sustainable. Energy inefficiency in businesses and organisations means that extra costs are passed on to consumers and service users. Trade union members are being hit with a double whammy.
  • Working practices may need to be adapted to cope with more frequent experience of higher temperatures. Dress codes, uniforms and equipment all need to be suitable for workplace conditions under a changing climate, and shift patterns and breaks may need to be reconsidered by employers and renegotiated.
  • Extending the union consultation agenda helps representatives anticipate future changes and priorities, increasing awareness of external pressures on an organisation, for instance any non-compliance with environmental regulations, or financial penalties and fines it may face.
  • Changes in working procedures need to be assessed for their environmental impact. By working closely with branch representatives and members, green representatives can identify any concerns that are at odds with other employee interests and ensure change is fairly negotiated.
  • Cost savings can be fed into staff bonus schemes or ring-fenced for investment in environmental improvements.
  • Recruitment spin-offs can result from union involvement in the environmental agenda, bringing new members and representatives into the union.
  • Union renewal: unions need to be seen as modern and relevant organisations that deal with the big issues of the day. You don't get much bigger or more important than global climate change.
  • Environmental improvements can maximise natural daylight, improve heating and ventilation controls and improve air quality, making workplaces healthier, safer, less stressful and more comfortable places in which to work.
  • Staff engagement: many employers have their own environmental champion schemes, but TUC GreenWorkplaces projects have found that workers on the frontline are often unaware of these. Union environmental representatives, by comparison, are answerable to union members.
  • Green jobs: encouraging employers to focus on green issues can lead to the creation of new green jobs.

Convincing employers to green their workplaces

Employers need to recognise that more efficient use of resources is a long-term investment in their organisation's future rather than just a short-term cost. The Carbon Trust in 2010 estimated that finance directors in large businesses are undervaluing the financial returns from energy saving by over a half and that energy-saving measures, such as upgrades to heating and lighting, energy policies and staff training, could save businesses at least £1.6 billion per year - money that could be invested in protecting jobs. Unions are in a unique position to lead on environmental and energy efficiency in the workplace and encourage behavioural change. Employers who recognise that improving their environmental performance is an investment for the future and not a cost will benefit in a number of ways:

Financial pressures and incentives to go green

  • Economic competitiveness and reducing overheads: with energy prices rising, cutting expenditure is a priority. Sound environmental management lowers energy bills, landfill costs, water bills, transport costs and the costs of consumables, hardware and repairs.
  • Tax incentives: workplaces can save tax by going green, for example: exemptions from the Climate Change Levy for energy-intensive industries adopting good environmental practice; Enhanced Capital Allowances (ECAs) that enable businesses to buy energy and water-efficient equipment ( Employers can also gain from reduced landfill tax, reductions in fuel duty, vehicle excise duty and air passenger duty through environmental measures. For more information visit
  • Subsidies and grants: these include: unsecured, interest-free energy-efficiency loans available from the Carbon Trust, businesses in Northern Ireland and Wales can borrow £3,000 to £100,000 for up to four years, (visit www.; feed-in tariffs (FIT) for electricity generated from small-scale renewables and other low-carbon generation technologies, (visit for more information); subsidised eco training for drivers and advice on fleet management to help lower running costs and reduce vehicle emissions ( Business/Transport-advice). All UK organisations can get energy efficiency financing of £1000 and upwards designed so that finance payments are offset against anticipated energy savings, (visit
  • Reducing insurance premiums: in some sectors, such as the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, environmental audits are needed before insurance companies will provide cover.

Reputation and investor, consumer and employee pressures

  • Attracting customers and green investment: customers, businesses in supply chains and governments all prefer companies with a clean and green record.
  • Improved recruitment, retention, morale and productivity: 60 per cent of UK employees say it's important to work for a company that has an active policy to reduce its carbon emissions (Source: YouGov survey of 1,217 employees across the UK, 2007).

Legislation from the UK and Europe

  • Compliance with legislation and preparing for new laws: the UK's Climate Change Act 2008 sets a target for an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, and by 34 per cent by 2020. This means that organisations are under ever-increasing pressure to comply with new laws and regulations in relation to environmental protection.
  • The Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC): this is an energy-saving and carbon-emissions reduction scheme for the UK that came into effect on 1 April 2010. Organisations need to monitor their carbon emissions and purchase allowances to emit CO2. Registered participants are listed on the environment agency's web site at www. pollution/117652.aspx. It covers large energy users in the public and private sector such as hospitals, councils, colleges and universities, government departments and agencies, hotel and restaurant chains, retailers, banks, insurance companies, large warehouses and other major service employers. There are tough penalties and fines for non-compliance. Unions need to ensure that the CRC is on the agenda at joint union or management meetings.
  • EU directives and regulations: these cover a host of environmental laws on issues such as water quality, waste disposal, air pollution and vehicle emissions. Employers can face stiff penalties and fines for non-compliance. For more information visit
  • Emissions trading scheme: under this scheme for heavy industrial employs, participants can sell spare emission permits if they reduce their emissions. Visit

Making the case for trade union involvement

The Carbon Trust estimates that most businesses could easily save between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of their energy costs through simple low-cost or even cost-free measures. But, to do this, workers on the ground must be involved. Staff will not be able to deliver changes if they don't understand and support the reasons why they are being introduced. The TUC's GreenWorkplaces projects demonstrate that employers need to see unions as part of the solution. Union involvement can lead to business benefits through improved environmental performance. To find out more, visit the British Museum case study at

Points to consider:

  • Union environmental representatives can play a key role in securing workplace consultation and the active participation of union members in environmental initiatives at work. Union communication networks and consultative arrangements can offer ready-made links with employees on the ground that employers find hard to reach.
  • Unions have the confidence of their members, so union involvement in environmental projects will reassure employees that their interests are being taken into account and that the latest green campaign isn't just 'greenwash' - that is, only pretending to be genuinely concerned about the environment.
  • Setting up joint management and union environmental committees and negotiating framework agreements with employers can embed workforce engagement on carbon reduction and environmental sustainability into the way organisations work. Obtaining senior management buy-in is crucial to making a difference.
  • If an organisation manages its environmental performance via an environmental management system (EMS), union involvement will strengthen the EMS and can form an important part of the
  • evidence employers use to gain accreditation. Visit for more information.
  • The TUC GreenWorkplaces projects found that joint work on environmental issues between management and unions helped to develop a mutual appreciation of the benefits of carbon reduction and improved industrial relations.

Unions are best placed to:

  • monitor the effectiveness of environmental policies and provide staff input
  • gain staff support for changes to workplace practices
  • use existing union structures and procedures to influence and develop members' thinking and actions
  • raise staff awareness and encourage behavioural change
  • improve operational procedures.

First steps in greening the workplace

If you are new to trade union involvement in environmental issues you might want to look at training courses. Visit courses/index.cfm. Get in touch with your union - some provide their own environmental training for representatives.

Other actions and points to consider:

  • Check your union website: is there an environment page? If yes, check for resources.
  • Has your union got a policy on green representatives? If yes, have any attempts been made to get recognition at a local or national level?
  • Map your union organisation and potential activists.
  • Consider organising a green event in your workplace. For more advice visit www.tuc. Talk to the union learning representative and take up opportunities to link events with training initiatives like continuous professional development (CPD) programmes.
  • Consider carrying out an environmental survey to get staff opinions and identify staff concerns on environmental issues in the workplace. This will highlight ideas and solutions, give staff ownership of the project and raise the profile of the union's environmental work. For a model survey visit
  • Check the resources available to union environmental representatives (see the More Information section below).

Appointing a green representative

Finding people to take on the role of a green representative needs planning and publicity, but where individuals have expressed an interest there should be a discussion around what they are willing and able to do and arrangements made for training and facilities. Initially, the person may want only to be a point of contact for the union on environmental issues. This may involve distributing leaflets and reporting any concerns. Over time, and as new representatives gain in confidence, this role can be expanded. Recruiting new representatives to take on the green representative role will avoid overburdening existing union representatives.

Negotiating on climate change

If your employer has no local or national agreement on union environmental representatives (check with your union), you'll need to convince them that green representatives have a role to play. Consider:

  • checking for any existing environmental policies or sector documents
  • finding out if existing policies make reference to staff engagement or involvement
  • identifying a range of points that could be put to management to illustrate why involving the union is the best way to achieve better environmental standards, highlighting how unions can help the employer to manage risks. Use examples of where union involvement has improved environmental and business performance. If you can't find anything for your industry or company, use relevant examples from TUC GreenWorkplaces projects and contact your own union for examples of best practice.

Unions in action

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust

At Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust (GOSH) in London, union members identified the potential for a systematic approach to cutting resource use in the workplace. In line with the NHS carbon management programme, the hospital has an initial target of a 15 per cent reduction in its carbon emissions between 2008 and 2012.

With work underway to redevelop and refurbish the hospital site, the UNISON branch submitted a project brief to the staff involvement forum (SIF), the chief joint management- union negotiating body at GOSH, for a union-led GreenWorkplace project.

The initiative won the support of all other unions and professional bodies - the British Dietetic Association, the British Medical Association, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the Royal College of Nursing and Unite - as well as the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust.

Joint consultations with the environmental services manager took place and the unions issued a staff survey on workplace environmental issues to find out the issues staff thought should be prioritised.

A green fair organised by union representatives followed, with a welcome from the Chief Executive of the Trust, outside speakers, films and stalls. At the event, staff signed up for two training sessions provided by the TUC's national GreenWorkplaces project.

Following the training, a joint management- union environment committee (JEC), including senior management and union representation, was established. The 30-member strong committee meets every six to eight weeks. The main focus of work is a rolling programme of environmental audits of every department and ward using environmental checklists designed by the committee. With its remit agreed by the Trust's management board, all members are granted reasonable time off to conduct official committee business during work hours and to carry out audits.

To help spread the environmental message in a fun, child-friendly way, the JEC has launched an environmental mascot (a green representative wearing a pantomime elephant suit) and with its help committee members have introduced the union's environmental work to staff at departmental awaydays and to patients and families across the hospital at green events.

Union representatives have also launched a poster campaign to publicise green events, aiming to raise awareness of their newly formed joint management- union environment committee. Children at the hospital's school and staff crèche designed logos for the committee and received energy-saving gadgets as prizes. As a thank you, the schoolchildren were given recycling bins for their classroom.

Sarah Lewis, UNISON branch secretary and chair of the JEC highlights what motivates staff to get involved: 'The NHS creates one million tons of carbon emissions every year. If the NHS shaved 15 per cent off its energy consumption, it would save £50 million per year on its energy bills. That's equivalent to 7,000 heart bypass operations. We need to do our bit at Great Ormond Street, and help share good practice throughout the NHS.'

For greater detail on how to draw up an action plan for your workplace and advice on getting active on greening the workplace visit www.tuc.

Establishing a committee

In most cases, you will need a forum to meet management. This may be a sub-committee of an existing structure like a health, safety and environment committee, or a separate arrangement. Either way you will need to consider:

  • Membership: the management side should be represented by a senior manager and include roles like facilities, purchasing and any staff with a specific environmental management role. The staff side should consist of union representatives from recognised unions. Additional involvement may be needed on an ad hoc basis, for example, the HR department or specific staff who deal with particular aspects of policy and implementation.
  • Conduct: establishing procedures on how the committee will function. For example, frequency of meetings, who will chair the committee and its relationship to other bodies.
  • Terms of reference: this should outline the range of issues to be discussed.

Negotiating a joint environment or climate change agreement or policy

The TUC has produced a model agreement in the handbook for green representatives, Go Green at Work This includes tips on the contents of policies.

The agreement or policy should cover the main issues, such as waste management, but make sure it also cross references any other more detailed policies which exist that may include specific targets and action points. For further advice on negotiating on climate change visit

A&P Marine

A&P Marine in Falmouth is a large dockyard employing more than 450 staff and many more casual workers. The company's main business is the refitting and repair of large vessels, many from the Ministry of Defence but also from private companies. It has now branched out to work with renewable energy companies to develop wave power generators to be used at Cornwall's Wave Hub, the UK's first offshore facility to act as a test site for different devices that can convert wave power into energy.

Union learning representatives have been instrumental in negotiating time off for environmental training for employees at the company in a bid to reduce the environmental impact of the workplace and boost union recruitment and organising strategies.

A&P has a workplace energy team, which has identified various energy-saving initiatives across the large site. These have included: replacing the compressor system (which provides the docks with compressed air used to power tools) with a more energy-efficient model, a £100,000 outlay that paid for itself within 18 months; and installing a new energy-efficient pump for one of its three dry docks at a cost of £12,000. This pays for itself every nine months.

The South West TUC's GreenWorkplaces project has been working with the GMB learning representative and the workplace energy team at A&P at the invitation of Gary Palmer, a GMB project worker. The energy team wanted to widen the reach of its projects by involving the wider workforce in on-site energy saving.

To do this, an agreement was reached for the South West TUC GreenWorkplaces project to deliver an energy saving at work training session for staff from different workshops and departments across the dockyard. The initial pilot session was attended by both GMB and Unite members from various departments across the site.

During the training session, employees identified how they felt the company could save money on energy, identified how best to engage the workforce in doing this and highlighted some of the initiatives already put in place. The workshop also looked into how staff could use the ideas from the day to save energy, and costs, at home.

'These courses,' said Gary, 'will, we hope, lead to developing a long-term culture within the yard of undertaking simple energy-saving actions. These really can make a difference in both reducing energy usage for the company and in developing a culture of energy saving which could lead to reductions and savings in energy costs for staff in their homes.'

The GreenWorkplaces Network

The TUC is building a network of green representatives across the UK to help trade unionists link up with other representatives in their region, gain advice and access to online resources, and to find out more about training opportunities that are available. To find out more visit

More information

GreenWorkplaces websites and publications
National TUC GreenWorkplaces projects

South West TUC GreenWorkplaces project

Go Green at Workhandbook

Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme briefing

Changing Work in a Changing Climate - a TUC report on adaptation to climate change in the UK and the implications for employment.

Unionreps bulletin boards

Unionlearn's green skills cfm?mins=183

Training resources

TUC training courses

Targeting Climate Change- a TUC Education workbook for trade unionists

Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN) courses and materials aimed at trade unionists unionists

Other useful resources

Carbon Trust publications, factsheet, posters and leaflets

Free environmental guidance for UK businesses at

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