Labour movement continues to go green

There was a time when preserving union jobs and the environment seemed to be two very separate goals, but not these days. The labour movement has joined forces with environmental organizations to push for a greener economy.

One such initiative is Green Jobs B.C., which includes representatives from unions and environmental organizations. The B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union, based in Burnaby, was one of the founding organizations of Green Jobs B.C.

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 “We know that climate change is a big issue, and we know that we have to good jobs, whatever the future looks like,” said Brenda Brown, a vice-president with BCGEU, who sits on the Green Jobs B.C. steering committee. “If that’s good green jobs or a transition to a different kind of green economy, labour and environmental groups need to work together.”

The challenge is addressing environmental issues while creating good employment opportunities, she said.

“One of the big focuses is lowering greenhouse gas emissions,” Brown added. “And there’s all kinds of jobs that are good jobs, that are green jobs.”

The steering committee held a strategic planning session this week, after NOW deadlines, to decide on future plans, according to Brown.

During the last provincial election, Green Jobs B.C. put out an open letter to the leaders of the four provincial party leaders, asking for a Green Jobs plan for the province.

“Economic development policy must green existing industries, workplaces, infrastructure and public services, as well as attract new and explicitly green industry,” the letter stated. “Today’s British Columbians are looking for an approach that integrates environmental care with our economic development needs – rather than positioning the environment and the economy as opposing choices.”

Currently, the provincial government is accepting written submissions for its B.C. Climate Action Plan, and Green Jobs B.C. is working on a submission for climate leadership, according to Charley Beresford, executive director of the Columbia Institute in Vancouver and a member of the steering committee.

“Given the crisis point we’re reaching with climate, there is urgency in that direction,” Beresford said.

However, she added that the organization has a hopeful rather than resigned approach to environmental challenges.

“There’s certainly light on the horizon, because it turns out that the green economy is really the fastest growing sector of any economies,” she said, pointing out the amount of green job creation in Europe.

And environmental needs can create new employment opportunities, Beresford said.

“It turns out a lot of the work that people are doing, certainly in unionized environments, is transferrable,” she explained. “You need welders, for example, to build wind mills.”

Green Jobs BC was formed after the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, according to Beresford, when the B.C. Federation of Labour reached out to other unions and environmental organizations, and a steering committee was created.

The committee then held a conference, Beresford said, adding, “Out of the conference came the idea of a continuing organization.”

Green Jobs B.C. has focused on two areas when it comes to creating green jobs; public transit and green building practices.

Some jobs, such as those in the service industry, are already inherently green, Beresford added.

Beresford also sits on the Green Economy Network, a national organization that was formed after the Canadian Labour Congress started holding Green Jobs roundtables in 2008. The network includes 25 unions, environmental and social justice organizations working together to push for an environmentally-focused economic shift in Canada.

The steering committee for Green Jobs B.C. also includes representatives from the Pembina Institute; the David Suzuki Foundation; the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Union, Local 118; Vancity; Unifor; and the Sierra Club.

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