‘This challenge unites us as a union’, says new green report

The report, commissioned by UNISON and based on a survey of members, reveals the extensive role the union can play in addressing climate change issues

“There has never been a better time to recognise the need, and appetite, for increased engagement on climate change and the green economy,” says a new report commissioned by UNISON.

Compiled by Professor Vera Trappmann and Dr. Jo Cutter at Leeds University’s Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC), the report details the results of a survey of almost 400 UNISON members, compared against a nationally representative sample of 2,000 workers.

The detail and significance of the report will be covered at a lunchtime webinar on 23 March: Register to attend at the link below.

Tackling the Climate Crisis: UNISON members’ views, expectations, and opportunities for action

In the report, a number of key themes were explored, including:

  • how the threat of climate change is perceived by members;
  • who should take responsibility in climate leadership;
  • the hopes and fears, training necessities, and opinions regarding a just transition to a green economy.

The threat of climate change

UNISON members are much more worried about climate change than the average UK worker, the report claims, with 95% of members saying they are very or fairly concerned about climate change compared to only just over three quarters of the wider sample.

Just over 85% of members think we are seeing the effect of climate change in the UK already, and six out of 10 believe the issue should be addressed with extreme urgency – twice the level of the wider sample.

Not only are UNISON members concerned about the threat of climate change, almost two thirds (63%) reported very, or quite, strong feelings of ‘outrage’ compared to the UK average of 40%.

The union’s members also feel higher levels of fear (52% against 37%) and anxiety (54% against 39%) when compared to the wider sample.

The report goes on to argue that people’s emotions about climate change influence the likelihood that they will take individual or collective action. As a result, UNISON members are more likely to: try to reduce their carbon footprint at home; be involved in action to reduce emissions or protect the environment; and be involved in environmental activities or campaigns in their community than those in the wider sample.

From these statistics, the report draws the conclusion that there is a “clear opportunity for UNISON to engage more with members and employers around climate change.”

Climate leadership

The report also addresses the question of who holds the most responsibility to address climate change. UNISON members appear to believe that, in order, it is the government, then businesses, then individuals, then community groups and organisations. 

However, there was a general rejection of a ‘laissez faire’ approach to unregulated, business-led transition, with UNISON members placing a high importance on worker and community engagement.

This ties in with the results of the survey which suggest that members have a very clear idea of the ways in which their workplaces could decarbonise. However, only a third (35.3%) of members are extremely or somewhat satisfied with their involvement in decisions at work, compared to a UK worker average of just under half (46.7%).

The combination of having clear ideas of how to decarbonise combined with a lack of involvement in decisions leads the report to suggest that UNISON members believe the union could play a huge role to push through necessary change in addressing the issue of climate change.

This led the report to suggest that the existing body of knowledge held by workers across the public sector – about how systems, jobs and skills will need to change – should be drawn upon, and that there is a clear opportunity for the union to fill the gap between workers and management, to claim more involvement from employers.

Just transition

The report also discusses the opinions of members about how to support workers and communities to ensure that any green transition is ‘fair’.

On the wider political stage, members support a range of climate policies, including carbon taxes and investment in green technologies, and they are also likely to support new forms of public ownership to help drive net-zero.

One of the key findings in this area is that many UNISON members anticipate they will need to learn new green skills in their current role, so that they are able to work effectively in a more sustainable way – with climate education and specific training being seen as critical in helping workers address climate goals.

It was also found that many members would consider switching to green jobs and would be willing to learn new skills, but that access to applicable climate change training, which is currently very low, and the perceived ‘quality’ of green jobs are barriers which need to be addressed.


In summarising the report, Sampson Low, head of UNISON’s policy unit, said: “Climate denial is no longer the issue – the issue is the urgent need for climate action. This challenge unites us as a union and gives us an emotional drive to engage with the green agenda as a workplace and public service union.”

Read the full report

Or for more detailed analysis, join the lunchtime webinar on 23 March, 12:30 – 1:30. Register here.