The BC Insulator Union’s Campaign to Promote Climate Literacy in Construction (Salamander Report)

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The role of the labour movement in contributing to Canada’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use has not been the subject of scholarly attention in much of the climate change literature in recent years. Unions have largely been ignored as the academic literature and popular media have focused on the role of climate scientists, environmental NGOs, governments, industry, and professionals in addressing Canada’s climate challenges. To the extent that union actions have been acknowledged, too often it has been in the context of construction unions supporting further fossil fuel developments or forestry unions clashing with the environmental movement – narratives that fit well with the neoliberal attack on the legitimacy and rights of the labour movement. However, there are good examples of unions exercising significant climate leadership in the industries employing their members. These merit much more attention than they have so far received and point to the potential of the labour movement to exercise leadership on this vital issue.

The focus of this research paper is to document the efforts of a small British Columbia (BC) based union, the BC Insulators, to reduce energy use and GHG emissions in the work performed by its members while attempting to foster climate literacy in the broader construction industry. The union’s campaign has targeted its own members and apprentices, other construction trades, contractors, engineers, architects and industry professionals, developers, environmental NGOs, building owners and various levels of government. It has systematically expanded the focus of its campaign over the past decade, identifying new ways to promote its climate agenda and new target audiences, both in its home province of BC, nationally, and in the US insulation industry. The current paper builds on two previous studies, produced as part of the ‘Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change’ research program funded by the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada. (Calvert and Tallon 2016; Tallon and Calvert 2017). 

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Salamander Report