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Housing Service Delivery Officer and Green Rep
“We didn’t know what a green rep was for before we got one, but now we’re co-creating council policy for 15,000 colleagues and over a million local residents!” 

What’s a green rep? 

I’d been a member of UNISON at Harrogate Borough Council for years and always gone along to our branch meetings, supporting the various union actions and disputes we had with management. I’d just trained as a shop steward and, at the same time, I was becoming more active in local politics. 

Annual elections came up, and I noticed a vacant role I hadn’t noticed before—Green Rep. 

I spoke to my branch secretary, and he didn’t really know much about it. It was a new role, and we didn’t know any green reps locally. 

I was worried about climate change. I’d stopped eating meat a few years earlier when I learnt that deforestation was mostly driven by the meat industry, I shopped with ethical considerations, and I’d been to a few XR rallies. But I hadn’t really considered it as a workplace matter before. 

But then I started looking at my employer’s sustainability and environmental plans in detail, and thinking about what they meant for us as employees. And I thought, “Hang on, why are we not involved with this!” The council consulted with us on health and safety matters, on new contract terms, on training, and on departmental restructures, but on what were really their most significant strategic plans of all—whether and how to safeguard all of our jobs and a habitable planet into the future—there was no involvement from workers! 

It was then that the significance of the green rep role came into focus. I was elected as our first green rep, and got on with insisting that management heard us! 

Union-led green action committee 

One of the first things I realised was that I was pushing at a door which, while not already open, was much less stiff than we were used to. The council sustainability officer wanted allies and was only too happy to have our combined weight behind these things. At the same time, some members of management were worried about the carbon footprint of the council but didn’t know what could be done about it. 

The council had already committed to creating a ‘staff green group’ some time before but nothing had come of it—and it’s possible that no-one really knew what that meant anyway. We raised the matter and got a meeting in place to define what that group should look like. The result of this was the creation of a council-wide committee, open to members of staff of any level, which would meet regularly, have access to a small budget, have authority to discuss ‘staff green issues’, and be led by the UNISON Green Rep. 

With a negotiated position that allowed blue sky thinking and put workers in the driving seat, we set about systematically raising a whole suite of topics to be addressed. I was keen to not raise anything unless we had a solution, and to set our programmes within existing departmental budgets rather than use our own allowance or risk big decisions having to go to management board. 

But it turned out that we didn’t need to fight or mobilise member pressure for the majority of our work; we were able to leverage support by reference to speaking with the authority of the management-sponsored green action committee. 

In the first year, we got the council to: 

  • create new mandatory carbon literacy training for new starters and recommend all existing staff complete the course on work time 
  • pay for me to create the Green Harrogate subsite on the staff intranet to provide empowering information, grow support for our efforts, and educate colleagues 
  • expand what recycling they collected in the offices and promote education about what precisely could be recycled in which bins 
  • revise the trade waste refuse lorry routes to ensure all council sites had recycling provision 
  • add electric vehicle (EV) charging points (and priority parking) to the staff carpark, while also relaunching and expanding the car share scheme and priority parking bays 
  • increase security for the bike shed 
  • put in a valeting service for the EV pool cars to make using them more desirable for colleagues 
  • add Staff Green Group representation to key procurement panels, and carry out environmental impact assessment for internal procurement; and 
  • create a Carbon Footprint Report (with metrics that I defined) to be regularly circulated among staff and published externally. 

We also negotiated new benefits for colleagues. We got: 

  • employee deals with local zero-waste shops 
  • an expansion of the public transport season ticket salary sacrifice scheme 
  • the introduction of an EV purchasing salary sacrifice scheme 
  • mileage rates for bicycle use; and 
  • the addition of an electric bike to the pool vehicle scheme. 

Planting a legacy 

I realised that green reps have a job mobilising other union members as well as negotiating with management. 

There has been a survey of UNISON members and we’re apparently much more worried about climate change than the general population—85.1% of us report recognising the effects of climate breakdown in the UK compared to a UK average of 54.4%. But we still don’t necessarily mobilise because of it. The climate crisis is like that: It can still feel more like a terrible thing that’s about to happen, rather than something that requires action today. 


We wanted to raise the profile of the issue, and the solution we hit upon was planting trees. The carbon-capture impact wouldn’t be enormous, but it’s an unambiguously positive activity and had the support of our branch. 

We negotiated use of an area on the council-owned Stray (which is a huge open park in the centre of Harrogate) and, although our members were happy to foot the cost, we were actually able to secure funding from a local councillor’s ward budget for the project. 

So, one wet and foggy winters’ day (apparently semi-mature trees do best when planted in late autumn), a group of unionists, with help from colleagues in the Parks department, planted our UNISON Community Pocket Wood in central Harrogate. 

We put up posters to draw the project wider than just union members, and we were met and written about by a journalist from UNISON Active magazine and several local newspapers. We also commissioned a plaque to commemorate the event and stand as a permanent monument to our activism. I like the idea that, as these trees grow, and countless people walk amongst them and over our plaque, our message of hope and worker activism will echo on. 


Growing our movement 

This year, we’ve continued our work, but our district council has now merged with six others to form a new Unitary Authority, North Yorkshire Council. Our Community Pocket Wood was partly commissioned to remember the work of our branch before the merger, but we’re keen to use the change to amplify our successes as well as remember them. 

We met with the new council leaders and the new management, and secured agreement to keep and expand our staff committee. Our plans are to set up a network of worker-led place-based committees across the old districts which will feed into a central representative body to negotiate across the whole county. 

It’s been quite a transformation. Our branch didn’t know what a green rep was for before we got one, but now we’re co-creating council policy for 15,000 colleagues and over a million local residents! 

Seeds of change 

The union movement is local and national and global, and I think that’s never so obvious as when we’re talking about green reps. 

Local issues—like our terms and conditions, how our employer behaves to us and others, and whether we feel that what we’re doing at work is sustainable—sit alongside national and global issues—like expanding our victories to our supply chain, taking action to inspire others, and decarbonising to safeguard our environment for everyone. 

I’m proud of the work I’ve done as our green rep, but I’m also conscious that there aren’t many of us and other councils and workplaces don’t have the capacity to do what we have. 

My last word would be to find yourself a green rep (or an environmental rep or sustainability rep, depending on what your union calls them) and, if you can’t find one, become one! 

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