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Chapter 10: the environment

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Chapter 10 - the environment and sustainable development


10.1 Trade union approach to the environment and sustainable development

The TUC has supported constructive and firm action on the environment for some years. Trade union concern about the environment derives from the wish to improve both the living standards and the quality of life of this and future generations. It is not a recent concern but one that has grown naturally out of long campaigns to improve health and safety for workers both at work and in their communities. Today, post-Kyoto, it is even clearer that there needs to be a steep change in the overall approach to environmental questions. This means, specifically, that there needs to be a full integration of environmental issues into other policies.

Trade unions favour a sustainable development approach which takes into consideration three factors: economic, environment and employment/social - the three >e=s. In relation to employment this means that jobs need to be secure, satisfying and safe. Trade union members want to work in organisations that have a future, or in other words, organisations that are environmentally sustainable over time. There have been numerous cases in the past where companies which have not anticipated environmental requirements have found the very basis of their successful operation threatened.

10.2 Multi-stakeholder approach

In early December 1997, the Prime Minister called business, trade union and other leaders to a Green Summit in Downing Street. He put two questions to the meeting: >what can you do to help combat the threat of climate change?= and >What can the Government do to assist?= This initiative is being followed by a series of White Papers and other consultations on a variety of environmental issues. To be successful they need to stimulate practical initiatives that involve all the key actors and that, furthermore, create alliances for action. In this respect the TUC welcomes the decision to set up the Trade Unions for Sustainable Development Advisory Committee.

Posing the problem the way the Prime Minister did last December, forms the basis for a partnership approach of the kind the TUC has consistently supported - the multi-stakeholder approach. This is a highly topical discussion, as other organisations are beginning to consider a similar approach in promoting environmental awareness and action (for example, the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development Sub-group on Greening Business and the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment). It is an approach based on the >interested parties= concept, where the parties come together to consider the lessons to be learned and how they might contribute to the >greening= of business and other areas of socio-economic life, using the stakeholder approach.

A stakeholder approach should be one that aims for an outcome from which all the parties gain, rather than having winners and losers - in other words to achieve mutually acceptable solutions. Stakeholder dialogue may not always produce results that will satisfy all the parties equally, but the following benefits have been identified:

  • finding better solutions for and promoting awareness of environmental issues, which contribute to sustainable development objectives (environmental gain above statutory levels may be achieved);

  • all parties should gain from the process, rather than creating winners and losers. There should be an increase in mutual trust by helping to clarify problems and solutions;

  • employees would be better informed of debates around the activities of their companies (eg the effluent and waste produced) leading to more environmentally sound practices. Greater awareness can also change individual behaviour;

  • final decisions may remain with the company but dialogue should make management better informed;

  • environmental groups (NGOs) would have a structure in which they could voice concerns and question companies. There should be more realism in the dialogue and NGO reports based on the dialogue would have more credence;

  • there would be a general benefit to society, with a widening of the area of common endeavour, respecting one another=s roles and viewpoints, rather than attacking from a distance.

The multi-stakeholder approach can be seen as a series of concentric circles, in the middle of which is the company/organisation with its core employees and their representatives and also the regulators while the expanding circles extend outwards through suppliers, local authorities, local communities, environmental groups and consumers through to the media and general public. If there is insufficient clarity of the roles of those in the core, then it is unlikely that environmental action will be successful.

10.3 Trade Union and Sustainable Development Advisory Committee

The inaugural meeting of the Trade Union and Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (TUSDAC) took place on 6 July 1998. Meetings will be chaired alternately by Michael Meacher, Minister of State for the Environment, and John Edmonds. It will meet three times per year.

Mr Meacher said that trade unions had an important role to play in sustainable development and he hoped that the committee would prove to be as useful as the business advisory group (ACBE) which was set up by the previous Government. Environment Policy would be further developed through the consultation paper on the Kyoto Climate Change Agenda and the Transport White Paper both of which would be published soon. Getting positive action in the workplace was key and it was important to involve all the stakeholders as major changes in behaviour were needed. There was a clear link with health and safety and the impact on jobs was an important consideration. However, the Minister believed that the concept that environmental policy put jobs at risk was false. What was important was the way that change was handled.

Seminar on climate change, Autumn 1998

The committee held an introductory discussion on the Kyoto agenda, noting that a sectoral approach would be embodied in the consultation paper on climate change. The costings of reducing emissions had not yet been estimated but there would be a need to do so, based on both the 12.5 per cent commitment and the 20 per cent figure in the Labour Party Manifesto. The discussion over the climate change consultation would take up a major part of the next meeting of the committee and as it would be necessary to prepare for that discussion it was decided to hold a DETR seminar at the TUC in Autumn, with the next meeting of the committee following in November.

10.4 Consultative paper on business and sustainable development

The Government=s paper, Sustainable Business was published at the end of June. One of five daughter documents of the earlier Opportunities for Change consultation, it had been sent to all businesses with more than 100 employees, trade associations and to opinion formers such as ACBE, trade unions and the Green NGOs. The key themes in the document included effective stakeholder communication, voluntary agreements, resource use and consumer information as well as the link between environmental standards and associated vocational qualifications, the use of environmental management systems such as EMAS which provided for active employee participation and an approach based on sectoral strategies.

10.5 Kyoto Conference on Climate Change

The Kyoto Conference on Climate Change was hosted by Japan between 1-10 December 1997. The trade union movement was represented by the ICFTU which published a statement, Climate change and jobs: towards a strategy for sustainable employment. The trade union presence pushed the question of employment up the agenda, with the ICFTU paper focusing on how to avoid the dilemma of jobs versus the environment. It stressed the dangers to jobs of not acting on climate change and also the need to ensure a just transition in economic sectors where climate change policies will have an employment impact.

The Kyoto Protocol required the industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gases by five per cent by 2008-2012, from 1990 levels (for the most developed countries). The economies in transition can choose their base year. The base year of 1990 (or the alternative) covers the greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the first instance. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are covered by the separate Montreal Protocol. Reductions for a further three greenhouse gases: hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride may be calculated from a base year of 1995.

10.6 Kyoto and the European Union

The European Union entered the Kyoto negotiations with a proposal for a 15 per cent reduction in CO2 levels on the 1990 base year, to be achieved by 2010. Of this amount ten per cent had been divided up by country (the EU >bubble=) with the remaining five per cent to be agreed for later apportioning. In the event, the EU was required to reduce greenhouse gases by eight per cent on 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The Environment Ministers Council of 15-16 June agreed how to apportion this amount among EU countries. As a contribution to the EU target, the UK agreed to cut its greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent.

The burden sharing arrangements agreed by the Council were: Luxembourg (-28 per cent), Germany (-21 per cent), Denmark (-21 per cent), Austria (-13 per cent), UK (-12.5 per cent), Belgium (-7.5 per cent), Italy (-6.5 per cent), Netherlands (-6 per cent), France (0), Finland (0), Sweden (+4 per cent), Ireland (+13 per cent) Spain (+15 per cent), Greece (+25 per cent) Portugal (+27 per cent). The Council stressed the need for co-ordinated action at the Community level, in addition to national level measures. It recalled the importance of integrating environmental objectives into energy policies, limiting and reducing carbon dioxide emissions in transport, recognised the role economic instruments can play. In a later joint session with Transport Ministers the two Councils adopted joint conclusions on integrating the environment into transport policy.

Given that the science of climate change is insufficiently certain to impose clear targets of itself, the contradictions between economic, employment and environment factors have to be resolved politically. What made this difficult between the US, the EU and Japan at Kyoto was the considerable difference in recent years between the economic growth rates of the three economies. The US economy has been booming for several years while Europe, just now picking up, has been in the doldrums. Moreover, the US, having created 12 million jobs while EU unemployment has risen to 18 million, unsurprisingly finds itself in a position of rapid CO2 emissions increase. This serves to illustrate why greater efforts need to be made in making economic growth more environmentally friendly and especially energy efficient. Denmark is one European country that stands out, having reduced its energy usage while increasing economic growth. The need to green economic growth is made even more important by the poor energy intensity of developing countries, set beside their rapidly growing energy demand as they industrialise.

The example of China illustrates the point most clearly. It is building electricity generating capacity at a rate of 15GW per year, most of which is conventional coal, as opposed to clean coal, gas, renewables or nuclear. Mainly to satisfy electricity generating requirements Chinese coal demand is set to increase from 1.3 billion tonnes in 1995 to 2.3 billion tonnes in 2015. The contribution of developing countries to action on global warming will be discussed at the follow-up to Kyoto - the next Conference of the Parties (COP4) in Buenos Aires in November 1998. A suggestion for a voluntary contribution by developing countries was made by Argentina in the closing stages of the Kyoto Conference, but not taken up, will be on the table again.

10.7 A framework for UK action

There are three main sectors with CO2 emissions which are of a similar size by end user: industry, transport and the domestic sector. Trade unions have a clearly established role as stakeholders (through their members) in both industry and transport, as well as an indirect role in relation to their members as transport users and domestic consumers. The forthcoming Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) consultative paper on climate change will be published in the autumn but recent DETR figures on emissions of CO2 in the UK for the three sectors show the following patterns:

Figures by source show that the power generation sector has cut its CO2 emissions over the same period from 54 million tonnes to 44 million tonnes, a reduction of 18.5 per cent. This was mainly as a result of pit closures and subsequent closures of coal fired power stations. Overall UK CO2 emissions have reduced by just over 5 per cent in the period and the six greenhouse gases composite by just under 5 per cent.

The task could be established as how to green the different sectors of the economy and from the perspective of climate change in particular, business/industry, transport and the domestic sector Different approaches will need to be adopted for each sector as the institutional basis varies considerably between them. This means on the one side that interest groups will be more powerfully organised in one sector than another (as in industry), or that across the board action may influence voter behaviour and therefore be less likely to be supported by political parties (as in car use and the domestic sector).

10.8 Greening the workplace

The elements of an approach to greening the workplace could include:

  • a multi-stakeholder approach, wherein companies develop dialogue with >interested parties=, including their own workforce and through a structured system of representation. Business decisions with a clear environmental impact should be discussed as widely as possible. Workers and their representatives are crucial in any process involving cleaner production or the minimisation of waste;

  • an employment impact assessment that includes the possible cost to jobs of not making improvements, the possible consequences for jobs of making environmental improvements and the need to ensure a >just transition= with an equitable distribution of costs (the cost of retraining, for example). In relation to policies developed to deal with climate change transitional measures will have to be discussed beyond company level, up to the EU and international levels;

  • enriching innovation from an environmental viewpoint as well as a constant business practice in both production processes and product development. Workers and their representatives should be encouraged to make a direct input, especially to problem resolution;

  • ideally, the TUC and the CBI should agree a joint approach to multi-stakeholding that can be sent down the line on either side;

  • the role of the Environment Agency and Integrated Pollution Control (IPC);

  • the role of the eco-management and auditing systems.

10.9 Eco-management and auditing

There are two main environmental standards involving stakeholders:

  • ISO 14001 is a voluntary international standard for environmental management systems. Its publication in September 1996 required the withdrawal of national standards, including BS 7550, the British standard. It is part of a set of standards designed to allow organisations to evaluate how their activities, products and services interact with the environment and how improvements in overall environmental performance can be achieved. Over 600 certificates have been awarded to British companies. The BS 7750 had an annex which noted that good management practice includes employee consultation and training programmes on environmental matters;

  • EMAS is the European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, run in the UK by DETR (as of 1 May 1998 the competent body function was transferred to the Institute of Environmental Assessment). It is a voluntary environmental registration scheme for organisations involved in industrial activities. In the UK it has been extended to include local authorities. It requires participating organisations to establish an environmental management system at the site to be registered and to report publicly on its performance in an environmental statement, validated by an independent verifier.

The European law which introduced EMAS supports workforce participation. It calls for workers to be provided with information (including from outside the company) and training on environmental matters. It requires the company to >establish and maintain procedures for receiving, documenting and responding to communications (internal and external) from relevant interested parties concerning its environmental effects and management.= (EMAS Regulation Annex I.B.2) The European Union Fifth Environmental Action Programme envisages all large companies participating in EMAS by the year 2000.

EMAS requires:

  • an environmental policy for the whole organisation, which commits it to compliance with existing legislation and to reasonable, continuous improvement of environmental performance;

  • an environmental review which covers all aspects of the industrial site or local authority service registered;

  • an environmental programme that sets quantified objectives;

  • an environmental management system to give effect to the policy and programme;

  • an environmental audit cycle to provide regular information on the progress of the programme;

  • an environmental statement - a concise and comprehensible statement of progress, prepared with the general public in mind;

  • validation by an independent verifier.

Trade unions could seek:

  • formal participation in framing a companyÕs environmental policy;

  • to be informed in advance of an Environmental Review (which site?);

  • to establish the right to be consulted on the definition of site Objectives;

  • to establish the right for workers and/or their trade union representatives to be informed and participate in the Environmental Management system set up and the audit cycle;

  • an inclusion in the Statement of a reference to consultations with themselves.

EMAS is more comprehensive than ISO 14001. EMAS requires more openness and includes scope for greater control over suppliers and contractors. EMAS also has a mandatory preliminary review. ISO 14001 does not require a register of environmental effects or legislation. The European Union in a joint Council and Parliament Decision, Towards Sustainability, agreed, on 29 June, to examine as a priority the extension of EMAS to areas of activity other than manufacturing industry.

10.10 Cleaner Vehicles Task Force

The Minister for Transport, Dr Gavin Strang, established a Cleaner Vehicles Task Force, of which Assistant General Secretary, David Lea, is a member. The Task Force was set up to help the development, promotion and sales of the sort of environmentally friendly vehicles that people will buy. It also has an important role in improving the environmental performance of existing vehicles. The Task Force recognises the need for action to reduce pollution and meet air quality objectives, tackle climate change by reducing CO2 emissions, to reduce noise and to improve the efficiency with which resources are used in manufacturing vehicles.

In its interim report the Task Force covered vehicle and fuel technology, provision of information to consumers, fiscal incentives to purchase more efficient vehicles and how to encourage major vehicle fleet purchasers to give priority to fuel efficiency and other environmental factors. In the European Union, the Council and the Parliament reached a compromise position in June on the >auto oil= package, aimed at cutting the sulphur content in fuels and gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, benzene and ozone over a 15 year period.

10.11 UK Round Table on Sustainable Development - sub-group on Greening Business

The sub-group, Greening Business of the Round Table, chaired by David Lea, produced a draft report which took, as its starting point, the ACBE recommendation and guidelines for firms to engage in dialogue with >interested parties=. The sub-group report developed detailed proposals for how such >stakeholder dialogue= should be carried out. The draft will be further discussed with business members of the Round Table, taking into account the views of ACBE members and examples of good practice in stakeholder dialogue.

10.12 OECD and UN Commission on Sustainable Development

The Trade Union Advisory Committee=s statement to the OECD meeting of Environment Ministers in April 1998 stressed the need for democratisation and regulation in action for sustainable development. Agreeing with the April inter-sessional meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) which stated that workers and trade unions must be involved in the full range of sustainable development debates and the resulting implementation measures, TUAC emphasised the need to promote sustainable employment. The workplace should be seen as a springboard to environmental quality. The CSD also agreed that sustainable development must integrate economic, social and environmental concerns, including for employment and job creation.