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UCU environment conference 2009

2 October 2009

A major event for UCU environmental activists where we will look at developments in the education sector as well as those at national and international level.

There are a lot of UCU members who want to improve their own carbon footprint and that of their workplace. As a union we are well placed to help them achieve both objectives. This conference provided an update on what is happening in both sectors as well as nationally and internationally.

Conference report

The first ever UCU environment conference was rated a big success. The conference was attended by 50 delegates from the HE and the FE sectors. This report outlines some of the things that went on. 

The title of the conference was 'Climate Solidarity'.  This reflected the new project that UCU has started with a number of partner organisations - the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Public Commercial Services Union (PCS). The project is being co-ordinated by the Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN) and funded by Defra.

Barry Lovejoy, UCU National Head of FE and Environment opened the conference. He underlined the importance the union attached to this issue and the progress we had made since the passing of the last environment motion at UCU Congress in May, 2009. He identified the 2 main themes as being:

  • how we build the Climate Solidarity model
  • strengthening our links with organisations within the sector

Building Climate Solidarity

This theme was developed by the following speakers:

  • COIN - Tim Baster, Project Director, outlined the thinking behind Climate Solidarity and the focus on establishing Climate Action Groups (CAGs) in the workplace. He provided an outline of some of the current issues and initiated a discussion around climate change attitudes.
  • 10:10 Campaign - Daniel Voskins reported on the rapid success of this project and the thousands of individuals and organisations now signed up to the commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 10% by the end of 2010. He stressed the importance of implementing short-term measures rather than the long-term policy objectives favoured by most Governments. UCU were the first union to sign up to 10:10 and we are keen to promote their work. Delegates were urged to find out if their institution had signed.
  • National Union of Students - Olivia Knight-Adams outlined the NUS project which has also received money from the Degrees Cooler Living Fund. She stressed the importance of students and staff working together to raise awareness. UCU see the NUS as natural allies in this endeavour and we wish them every success with their project.
    NUS - greening universities through behaviour change, 25 Nov 09 [497kb]
    NUS - greening universities through behaviour change, 25 Nov 09 [1mb]

The workshops

Ideas on how to set up CAGs were then discussed in the workshops. Report backs provided the basis for a discussion which also involved representatives of the other 3 project unions. They provided a valuable insight into the areas we will need to address for our project to be successful.

UCU wants to see the establishment of CAGs as a way in which branches can contribute to sustainability measures both at work and home. It is a key part of our organising agenda to promote a union presence on an issue which is a key concern for both staff and students. Where branches are already active on the green agenda we don't want them to introduce anything that duplicates what they are already doing. In some cases it may mean just adopting some of the Climate Solidarity ideas and signing staff up on the Climate Solidarity website

In other workplaces branches may be starting from scratch where there are no green / environment groups / champions present. For the campaign to be successful we must have at least one contact in each group who is prepared to sign up for Action Group Leader training and be the point of contact with UCU Project worker. The conference provided an opportunity for delegates to start to develop a plan get things started in their institution.

Building links within the sectors

The other main focus of the conference was how UCU can engage more effectively with organisations that are supporting sustainability initiatives. There is a clear link between this objective and building Climate Solidarity. The following organisations were represented:

  • Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) - Andrew Smith, Head of Estates, felt that partnership working was important and welcomed the UCU project. He pointed out that HE has seen a 34% rise in carbon emissions since 1990. This was primarily a result of the growth of ICT and student numbers. Andrew outlined the Carbon Reduction Strategy that will be adopted in 2010. UCU had made a submission to this. All HE institutions will need carbon management plans and it will be important that all stakeholders are involved in the discussions prior to adoption:
    HE carbon reduction strategy, HEFCE, 25 Nov 09 [527kb]
    HE carbon reduction strategy, HEFCE, 25 Nov 09 [2mb]
  • Environment Association Universities and Colleges (EAUC) - Iain Patton, the Chief Executive, emphasised the role for trade unions in sustainable development. He also referred to the importance of FE to ensure that action looked 'outward' to the community. Only one third of FE colleges are members of the EAUC. FE colleges have to publish carbon reduction targets. The EAUC are active on a wide range of SD issues and institutions are urged to affiliate.
    EAUC - THE sustainability one-stop-shop for further and higher education across the UK, 25 Nov 09 [682kb]
    EAUC - THE sustainability one-stop-shop for further and higher education across the UK, 25 Nov 09 [5mb]
  • Jonathan Neale, Campaign against Climate Change, provided a political context for discussions on climate change. He stressed the importance of unions pushing this up their agenda. It had to be linked to a campaign for the creation of 1 million climate jobs. The Vestas occupation had highlighted the importance of this issue. Jonathan also spoke about the Education Against Climate Change initiative that UCU were launching in the run-up to Copenhagen. This will be part of a much longer term project to embed sustainability in the curriculum.

The conference closed with a final set of contributions from the floor and participants being urged to build the climate solidarity project within their branch.

Last updated: 29 January 2020