Friday, May 30, 2008

Public supports public delivery of services

Well this shouldn't be such a big surprise. Among other things, it tells us we've been on the right track letting the public know about the threats to public services and should continue to do so (along with the rest of the union movement). It would great to see those numbers rise. This latest poll was conducted by CUPE.

A majority of Canadians said they trust their municipal government more for all nine public services: sewage treatment (75.8%), drinking water treatment and delivery (75.5%), community and social services (75.1%), maintenance and upkeep of parks (69.4%), public transit (68.6%), road maintenance (64.7%), garbage and recycling services (64.6%), recreation facilities such as rinks and swimming pools (64.5%), and electricity generation and distribution (60.6%).
With the exceptions of social services, all of these other services have major environmental components. So one could extrapolate to say that most of the public doesn't trust the private sector to protect our environment (good call!)

Hat tip to Wendy Elliot for this story.

Some easy energy saving tips

Hat tip to Francis Rustia at OPSEU head office for these Energy Conservation Week (and beyond) suggestions:

At Home :

  1. Use clothes lines outside (weather permitting) or in the basement to dry most clothes, beddings, towels instead of dryers. Reduce your electric bills as well.
  2. Reduce your house heat temperature by 1 or 2 degrees especially during sleep time.
  3. Use clothes washer and dish washers to maximum capacity only or hand wash the dishes.
  4. Turn off lights / appliances not being used. Use only energy efficient appliances and light bulbs.
In the Office :
  1. Last person to leave a department should turn off all lights.
  2. Minimize use of lights when building is being cleaned at night.
Other :
  1. When you are doing your grocery shopping – bring your own green bags – avoid using the grocery plastic bags.

War in the Amazon?

A fascinating story and pics from Survival International. At a time when the world is grappling with sustainability issues, the continuing pattern of encroachment, theft and cultural genocide continues to feed unsustainable practices such as deforestation which have already messed up the planet.

Members of one of the world’s last uncontacted tribes have been spotted and photographed from the air near the Brazil-Peru border. The photos were taken during several flights over one of the remotest parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil’s Acre state...

Meirelles says that the group’s numbers are increasing. But other uncontacted groups in the region, whose homes have been photographed from the air, are in severe danger from illegal logging in Peru. Logging is driving uncontacted tribes over the border and could lead to conflict with the estimated five hundred uncontacted Indians already living on the Brazilian side.

‘What is happening in this region [of Peru] is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the ‘civilised’ ones, treat the world,’ said Meirelles.

Why is it that war seems to always go hand in hand with human rights abuses, economic expansion and environmental destruction? Colonizers have always used the strategy of encouraging indigenous peoples to make war on each other.

"F*** off"

"P*** off"

"Go away"

Stories of "uncontacted peoples" always piqued my interest as a young boy. In 1979 I was fortunate enough to travel by river through Guatemala & Mexico and honoured to spend a few days as a guest of a group of Lacandons in far southern Mexico.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Keynes on local production

"I sympathize, therefore, with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel--these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible, and, above all, let finance be primarily national. Yet, at the same time, those who seek to disembarrass a country of its entanglements should be very slow and wary. It should not be a matter of tearing up roots but of slowly training a plant to grow in a different direction."
John Maynard Keynes, 1933
Tip of the hat to Randy Robinson for this quote and his own - "This from a guy who had never heard of environmentalism"

Count Every Kilowatt Day

Today is Count Every Kilowatt Day - an important part of Energy Conservation Week. The ECW website has lots of helpful tips for reducing electricity usage. The Ontario Power Authority will be monitoring usage looking for significant drops in usage today.

I won't reprint the entire list but here's a very important one you can do year round.

Ghost bust those phantom loads
Sometimes referred to as standby power, phantom load is electricity consumed by electronic devices even when turned off, such as a TVs, phone chargers, DVDs, VCRs, even coffeemakers with clocks and timers. Use a power bar with an integrated timer to shut off all your devices at the end of the day, or unplug your electronics when you're away from home for an extended period of time.
Apparently phantom loads in Ontario use more electricity each year than all refrigeration usage combined.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Energy Conservation Week at Lesmill

More than 50 staff attended the first annual Energy Conservation Week event at 100 Lesmill on Tuesday. The meeting was chaired by Greening OPSEU MDT (and blog editor) - yours truly - Gary Shaul.

Staff were brought up to date on OPSEU's Energy Conservation
Week activities and announcements including building
improvements and the phase-out of bottled water at OPSEU
functions and facilities.

Gary & Randy - Randy Robinson discusses OPSEU's energy &
greenhouse gas reduction targets policy. On the table
beside the large water bottle is a bin full of 100 watt
stairwell lightbulbs which were replaced with compact

Emily Visser and Gary plug the June 3 organizing meeting for the
proposed green patio and native plants sanctuary at 100 Lesmill.

There was strong support for a proposal from Marnie Niemi to invite an Al Gore-certified speaker to a "lunch and learn" to hear the Canadian version of "An Inconvenient Truth". There was also some support for a bike to work day in June proposed by Randy R & Heino Nielson.

No papers distributed at the event. Everyone brought their mugs down for fair trade coffee & tea and healthy snacks were provided. There was no travel footprint for this meeting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

CLC Climate Change Policy Document

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is meeting this week in Toronto.

Here's their policy statement "Climate Change and Green Jobs: Labour’s Challenges and Opportunities".

I'll have a few comments after I've read it in detail. For now, the only thing I would say is that if the labour movement is going to play a leadership role, there should be something in the policy about unions reducing their own carbon footprints. It may not be a big part of the overall problem in Canada, but you can only lead by example - not just by telling others what they should be doing.

(Aside: I was an elected CLC delegate from Region 5 but due to a dispute between NUPGE & the CLC, OPSEU is not attending this year's convention which actually does reduce our carbon footprint but leaves us out of loop. )

Monday, May 26, 2008

G8 Environment Ministers Meet

This is headline - not my words! "Strong will" means next to nothing unfortunately.

G8 Ministers Pledge ‘Strong Will’ on Climate Amid Doubts
KOBE, Japan - Environment ministers from the world’s top industrial powers called Monday for more effort to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but little headway was seen in setting more immediate goals....

But to the dismay of some the talks in Kobe did not signal a direction on the more immediate goal — coming up with commitments on slashing greenhouse gas emissions once the Kyoto Protocol’s obligations expire in 2012...

UN scientists who shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize warned that unless human-made climate change is halted, the world risks a growing number of natural disasters and droughts, putting millions of people at risk and threatening the extinction of some animals and plants.
One might wonder where Canada stands on the critical issue of immediate targets. I checked the Environment Canada website and google news and I'm still looking. I imagine we're right where Bush wants us to be. Stalling.

Remember this guy? He was Mike Harris' poor-basher in chief. This is a bio I wrote a on my blog a couple of years ago about the man who is now Minister of the Environment - John Baird.

Reaching back into memory lane, how many people can forget this story?
When the mother of a severely disabled five-year-old child was ejected from the legislature in 1995 for protesting the Harris government's cutbacks, Baird shouted "She's an OPSEU [Ontario Public Service Employees Union] member" as many as three times. Some considered this to be a cavalier insult, and his seatmate Chris Stockwell later recalled that he told Baird to "shut the fuck up" after the last such occurrence.

Gaza's first electric car

Electric car hits the road in fuel-starved Gaza

GAZA, May 20 (Reuters) - A Palestinian-designed electric car drew admiring stares on Tuesday from Gazans forced to use cooking oil to power their cars because of a fuel shortage.

"At first people laughed, saying it would not work, now people are begging us to convert their cars," said Fayez Anan.

Working with fellow electrical engineer Wasim al-Khuzundar, Anan hooked up an engine to 32 batteries.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Insightful. No holds barred. Compelling. Interesting. Entertaining. Spiritual. These are a few of the words that could be used to describe the speech delivered by environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. last night at the Memorial Centre in Peterborough. OPSEU purchased 10 tickets from our Environment Fund to support Great Lakes research and provide some soul food for some OPSEU green keeners including 1st VP Patty Rout, Region 3 EBM Claire Rowett, MNR member John Shirk, Sarah Labelle from Oshawa, some members from Trent University and yours truly.

Kennedy touched on several themes:

  • his regular visits to Canada for recreation and business representing First Nations bands
  • the Riverkeepers organization
  • the need for restoration of the Fairness Doctrine for the media
  • Bush's rollback of 30 years of environmental law
  • warning for Canadians not to follow the same path
  • how polluting the air is a form of privatization because it takes what once belonged to everyone and has spoiled it for its own interests
  • coal burning power plants and the impact of the mercury emissions on children
  • mining practices in West Virginia where 460 mountains have been flattened
  • privatization of the public commons
  • the link between privatization and creeping totalitarianism
  • union bashing
  • crony capitalism
  • the deep connection between humanity and natural wilderness
  • fishing
Kennedy is an unabashed free marketeer. He argues that private enterprise will be able to find solutions to clean up the mess left behind by, er... private enterprise. He makes the case that polluters receive a public subsidy by off-loading clean-up and health costs onto the public purse. Therefore, these companies are not true free market players and have to stop polluting and start paying. Personally, I don't expect that business will ever operate in a true free market.

But Kennedy is right on the money in being able to sharply identify the problem and call the polluters what they really are - criminals.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Energy Conservation Week - May 25 - 31

Organized by the Ontario Power Authority, the objective of Energy Conservation Week is to raise awareness and make efforts to reduce energy consumption - particularly during peak periods. OPSEU is taking part this year. Members are asked to participate in "Count every kilowatt day" on May 29th.

"A day intended to demonstrate the power of individual initiatives on the province’s overall conservation goals. Ontarians will be encouraged to “Take Part. Take Action” as we monitor Ontario’s energy consumption."
Please visit their website for their handy-dandy list of things you can do to conserve power - on May 29th or any day. While we can't let governments and corporations off the hook for doing their part in reducing energy consumption, it can't be a bad thing for people to work together to make a difference. That's the union way.

Latest news release about who's behind ECW, the objectives and municipal and corporate participation.

More to follow on OPSEU's plan.

Exxon revolt?

Exxon facing shareholder revolt over approach to climate change

A shareholder revolt at ExxonMobil led by the billionaire Rockefeller family has won the support of four significant British institutional investors who will call on Monday for a shakeup in the governance of the world's biggest oil company.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Battling invasive species...

You might be interested in checking this out from the Nature Conservancy of Canada if you're in the midst of planning your gardening for this season.

Studies around the world show that in many cases where invasive alien species have not been controlled, native plants and animals are entirely eliminated from a region and the economic costs of trying to control and re-establish native populations are extremely prohibitive.
There are a lot of advantages to promoting native/indigenous plants.

Here's a list of wildflowers that are native to Ontario.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Make your own bug repellant....

Here's something for the coming summer season. Learn how to make your own bug repellant.

Several plant-based essential oils are effective in keeping insects away, including tea tree, citronella, juniper, lemon, lavender, pine, rose geranium, and rosemary. Most of the essential oils listed have a distinct aroma, crisp and refreshing. Lemon and citronella essential oils have a citrus smell to them. Rose geranium has a sweeter flowery scent.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Texas windfarm project

$2 Billion Wind Turbine Order Is Largest Ever
Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens has placed an the largest ever order for wind turbines: he ordered 667 wind turbines from GE, each costing $3 million dollars, making the total order $2 billion. Picken plans to develop the world’s largest wind farm in the panhandle of Texas. Read more...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

OPSEU sets greenhouse gas reduction targets

In what may be a first for an Ontario union, on May 15th, OPSEU's Executive Board adopted a greenhouse gas reduction target policy for OPSEU. The policy was brought forward by 1st VP/Treasurer Patty Rout, Environment Committee (Gino Franche, Sandra Snider, Jennifer Giroux) and staff (Randy Robinson). The policy sets annual union-wide targets of between 2% and 3% until 2040 for a cumulative, absolute reduction of 80% from 2006 emissions.


OPSEU's Reduction of greenhouse gases emission policy - Adopted May 15, 2008

Enabling motion

WHEREAS Convention 2006 committed our union to “Greening OPSEU,” a plan to improve our union’s environmental performance in a wide range of areas;
AND WHEREAS global warming is the most pressing environmental issue facing life on Earth today;
AND WHEREAS global warming is driven by combustion of fossil fuels for electricity generation, heating, and travel;
AND WHEREAS energy use consumes a significant part of the OPSEU budget and is wholly responsible for our greenhouse gas emissions;
AND WHEREAS there are many benefits to reducing energy use, including environmental, economic, and public relations benefits;
AND WHEREAS adopting GHG emission-reduction targets can open up new avenues of communication and co-operation with other organizations and with government at all levels;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that OPSEU commit itself to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from the union’s operations based on the following targets:
• A 12 per cent reduction from 2006 levels by 2014 (2 per cent per year 2008-2014);
• A 30 per cent reduction from 2006 levels by 2020 (3.0 per cent per year 2014-2020);
• A 55 per cent reduction from 2006 levels by 2030; (2.5 per cent per year 2020-2030); and
• An 80 per cent reduction from 2006 levels by 2040 (2.5 per cent per year 2030-2040).

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, henceforth, all operational decisions of the union be made with due consideration for these targets.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the First Vice-President/Treasurer provide a report to Convention each year on progress towards these targets.

In 2006, OPSEU Convention passed “Greening OPSEU,” an ambitious plan to help the union do more to protect our natural environment. Of the plan’s many goals, none is more important than tackling the most pressing environmental issue of the day: global warming. Doing our part to reduce the effects of global warming begins with setting targets.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that to avoid the worst effects of global warming we must keep average global temperatures at 2 degrees Celsius or less above pre-industrial levels. To do so, the UCS says, industrialized nations must cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

In Ontario, the McGuinty government’s targets, if achieved, will reduce greenhouse gases as follows:
• six per cent below 1990 levels by 2014;
• 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020;
• 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

These targets put Ontario near the head of the pack among North American jurisdictions over the long term. Manitoba, the Canadian leader, aims to be 18 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010.
Federally, the response to climate change from the Harper government has been weaker. The Harper plan would reduce emissions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020 and by 60-70 per cent below 2006 levels by 2050 (see endnote).

OPSEU faces a number of issues when setting a GHG reduction target:

1. Deciding on a base year. While the Kyoto Protocol set 1990 as the base year for emission reduction targets, we do not have accurate data about our energy consumption in 1990. A better choice might be 2006. That is a year for which data are readily available, and it is the year Convention launched Greening OPSEU.

2. Measurement. Keeping track of all our consumption of electricity, natural gas, water (which is treated and pumped by electricity), gasoline (gas cards and kilometre charges), plus estimating fuel consumption related to flights, train trips, and bus trips, is no small job. It will require a commitment to building and maintaining a solid database.

3. Growth of the union. OPSEU is still growing. One possible response to this would be to set our GHG targets based on member numbers. This would be a version of what are called “intensity” targets. By reaching these targets, we would be reducing our energy use per capita even if our overall energy consumption might be rising in terms. The problem with this is that the negative effects of global warming relate to total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, not amounts relative to the number of people using energy.

4. Technological change. It is likely that new technology will play a significant role in reducing GHG emissions for society as a whole. Indeed, 20 per cent of the McGuinty government’s plan is based on “research and innovation,” i.e., ideas that haven’t been thought of or developed yet. Other technologies that exist now, such as web conferencing, are likely to become better and more affordable as time passes.

5. External factors beyond our control.
• Coal-fired electricity generation produces about one-eighth of Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions. The McGuinty government plans to phase out these plants means that the electricity we use will create fewer GHG emissions even if our electricity consumption remains at the same level.
• Changes to energy prices, government subsidies, taxes, and laws governing emissions may also influence OPSEU’s ability to meet targets. Of course, any change that occurs is likely to make conservation cheaper, not more expensive. That increases our financial incentive to conserve.
• Changes to public transit. Improved public transit would reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the whole province, including OPSEU.

6. What’s needed. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ estimate that industrialized nations need to reduce GHG emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 (from 1990 levels) is in the ballpark of figures used by progressive organizations concerned about global warming. It is also important to note that what happens to the planet depends on total, not annual, emissions. This means that the faster reductions happen, the better.

7. What’s realistic. OPSEU would not be able to cut 80 per cent of greenhouse gas production in one year without shutting down operations altogether. There’s no point setting a target that we have no hope of achieving.

Since emission levels were much lower in 1990 than in 2006, using 1990 as the base year is much tougher than using 2006. Canada’s emissions rose by more than 25 per cent from 1990 to 2005. This brought Canada’s emissions to 32.7 per cent above the Kyoto Protocol target (1990 minus 6 per cent).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The future of food

The future of food and farming: UN debate concludes in Johannesburg

Johannesburg, South Africa - On April 12, 2008, 57 world governments agreed on a final report of the UN’s International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)...

The IAASTD report concludes that small-scale, agro-ecological farming will be more effective at meeting today’s challenges than the old energy- and chemical-intensive paradigm of industrial agricultural production....

The report notes that the most widespread forms of industrial agriculture have degraded the natural resource base on which human survival depends, and contribute daily to worsening water and climate crises.
According to this report, Canada joined the US and Australia in voting against the final report which was produced by over 400 scientists from around the world over a 3-year period. The report is an indictment of the food industry's failure to deliver on its own promises to solve world hunger with gmos and chemicals.
It acknowledges that GM crops are highly controversial. IAASTD director, Robert Watson, chief scientist at the UK food and farming department DEFRA, said much more research was needed to prove whether GM crops offer any benefits and do not harm human health and the environment.

Biotech companies Monsanto, Syngenta, and BASF withdrew from IAASTD because it did not back GMOs as a solution to reduce poverty and hunger.
Maybe they took the Canadians, Americans & Australians out to eat.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Airfares soar - Conferencing on the horizon

From Financial Week
As airlines skyjack-up prices, biz rethinks budgets, policies

Average fare soars 12.2% in 12 months, while fees run wild. High time to teleconference?...

Colleen Cunningham, former president and CEO of Financial Executives International, said she expects companies to make investments in videoconferencing and other communications technology to help offset the effects of higher food and oil prices on travel expenses.

“I am on a board that has moved two of its four board meetings to teleconferences to manage meeting and travel expenses,” she said.
Interesting that the high cost of travel is the main disincentive for business to look at alternatives like videoconferencing. You won't even find the word "environment" in the story.

On the other hand, NUPGE is investing in a new videoconferencing system and OPSEU will be receiving a unit. OPSEU is currently investigating conferencing technology. While dollar costs are important, travel has a cost to the environment. This is what motivated NUPGE to invest in this technology and for OPSEU to look at ways of conducting business and growing without growing our greenhouse footprint.

Conferencing is part of my responsibilities during my MDT stint here at OPSEU. Here's the three part plan I'm working with:
a) conduct a needs assessment of meetings in OPSEU
b) review conferencing technology in the context of OPSEU's current infrastructure
c) report to 1st Vice-President with recommendations

I'm currently wrapping up part "a" and dabbling in part "b".

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guest Editorial - Janice Hagan - Why me? Why us?

"It’s not that I’m against the environment. I recycle. I clean with baking soda. I even take public transit. But I have enough to do already: organizing, mobilizing, defending, supporting, meeting. Why can’t the environmentalists fight for the environment? My members didn’t elect me for that. They want OPSEU to fight in the workplace and at the bargaining table. These social issues take time and money away from union work."

Decades ago, critics used the same reasoning against sisters and brothers who wanted our union to fight sexism, racism and other social injustices.

Defending human rights is now a core duty for unions. A more tolerant and equitable workplace is essential for (1) quality of life, (2) health and safety, (3) fair compensation and (4) employment stability. The fight for human rights has resulted in huge gains in all of these areas for all workers.

In addition, in the fight for human rights, (reason #5) union activists contribute powerful tools that have made social change happen in our workplaces, communities and beyond. Through grievances, legal challenges, negotiations, equity seeking caucuses, public debate, and a conscious, steady commitment to increased expectations of tolerance and respect in the workplace, unions and union activists have lead the way like no other individual or social organization could.

And now, while we continue that fight, we must also use the lessons we have learned and fight for the same steady, long term improvement of our environment, with the same passion and for all the same reasons.

(1) Quality of Life

OPSEU cannot sit on a fence in this hazardous environment. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Our green stewards must lead the way to reducing the ecological footprint of our union and our work. This will be achieved in our usual manner: by organizing, educating and fighting the power of the greedy, self-interests that stand in our way. We must seek out ways to remove unsustainable practices at work and in the union with the same relentless vigilance we use to remove Health & Safety hazards and barriers to equity and human rights.

(2) Health & Safety.

Last year, more Canadians died from work than in decades, due to the growing incidences of environmental diseases. New laws in the European Union, based on the precautionary principle, have resulted in the banning of 60,000 chemicals. In Michigan, if substitutions to workplace hazardous chemicals, materials or processes are available, workers can demand they be used, by law. In Ontario, we rely on manufacturers to tell us if their products are safe. It’s time to go beyond MSDS and start insisting the precautionary principle be applied at work. We need to educate our occupational health & safety reps about the science of pollution. We need to share and compare what we have learned.

(3) Fair Compensation and (4) Employment Stability

The rapidly increasing price of oil and food will soon have a catastrophic impact on our wages and pension sustainability. Eventually, it will lead to large scale, employment instability, such as we’ve never seen. We are running out of oil as fast as we are running out of fertile land for food. Who will suffer from this gross lack of governance? Those made rich off the exploitation of the land? Or their workers and the unemployed? I once heard an environmentalist measure the success of the British, anti-coal campaign by the number of lost jobs. These unionized workers were replaced by non-unionized wage-slaves in a more competitive and fragmented market.

What will happen to our jobs due to global warming or as a result of the changes we must make to the way we live in our environment? It is critical that unions organize, educate and demand a JUST TRANSITION from problem to solution, which is fair to the working class. If we plan and strategize now, we have can protect our younger brothers and sisters from irreparable harm. Otherwise, everything we have gained will be lost.

(5) Unions Possess the Tools for Social Change

Finally, unions must involve themselves actively in this fight because we may be the only organizations capable of creating the social change we need. We have rights under the Occupational Health & Safety Act, and the ability to organize, mobilize, negotiate, educate and withhold our labour. Our commitment to social justice is also key, because along with everything else, it will take global, social justice to save the human species. That is because the developing world will soon be emitting more greenhouse gasses and using more resources than their rich cousins to the North.

If unions are not part of this historical fight for change, then who will represent workers and the most vulnerable in our communities as critical decisions are made? If not me, if not my union, then who?

Janice Hagan is Green Steward, Healthy & Safety Rep., and Chief Steward, Local 561 at Seneca College. She has a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from York University, specialized in Labour, Work and the Ecological Crisis.

Janice has committed to providing regular articles for this blog!

Labour's response at UN Conference

A Trade Union Review on Agriculture, Rural Development, Desertification, Drought, Land & Africa
16th Commission on Sustainable Development CSD‐16
New York, 5‐16 May 2008

This is labour's position at United Nation's CSD-16. It's an interesting read that gives a sense of the scope of the problems and challenges that lie ahead. Both CUPE and UFCW are participating from Canada.

Hat tip to Barb Thomas for the link.

Organizing a meeting? Green it up!

There are at least a thousand meetings organized every year under OPSEU's name. From local general meetings to staff meetings to our convention to picket lines and demos to meetings with employers. One of the ways OPSEU can meet its greenhouse reduction targets (2% for 2008) is by conducting greener meetings. Here are just a few things that are already considered for most meetings.

  1. Avoid - bottled water, styrofoam, cans and other small bottles
  2. Reduce - paper, travel, meat, single driver trips
  3. Reuse - coffee mugs, dish & cutlery set, badges
  4. Recycle - binders, cans, bottles, paper, purchase recycled products where possible
  5. Compost - biodegradable plates, cups, cutlery, food scraps
  6. Innovate - buy local food, carpool
  7. Communicate - acknowledge the steps taken at the outset of every meeting
A slight change in how we do things can add up to significant results. For example, if everyone were expected to bring their own drinking vessel to every OPSEU meeting they went to, that would permanently eliminate the need for a lot of paper, plastic & styrofoam cups and glasses.

Those were just a few examples. OPSEU is laying the ground to enable greener meetings. That work is underway on water and biodegradable products. OPSEU can use its purchasing power to ensure the availability and affordability of alternative meeting supplies.

There will still be barriers as each municipality has its own recycling program. Are there biodegradable, green bin programs available for offices around the province? I don't know?

While we don't yet have an OPSEU green meeting guide (add to the to do list), check out Environment Canada's Green Meeting guide for helpful tips on reducing the environmental impact of your meetings.
Organizations of all types are increasingly aware of the need to consider the environmental consequences of their actions. Whether the issue is saving energy and money, reducing waste and pollution produced by an event or protecting human health, we have numerous suggestions on how to act sustainably.
There are a number of useful checklists in the guide.

If anyone would like to take a shot at drafting an OPSEU version, please drop me a line -

Greenpeace report - False Hope

False Hope - Why carbon capture and storage won't save the climate

CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change. The earliest possibility for deployment of CCS at utility scale is not expected before 2030. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions have to start falling after 2015, just seven years away.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

PSAC Vancouver bottled water statement

This is a very succinct statement from the Vancouver Regional Office of the Public Service Alliance of Canada on the issue of bottled water and their reasons for discontinuing its use in favour of tap water.

Water is the most important public service in the world. It is also a fundamental human right and according to the United Nations, “the human right to drinking water is fundamental to life and health.”
For a list of other organizations that have taken action on bottled water, click here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Welcome to GreenUnion

The blog edition.

I'm Gary Shaul, GreenUnion blog editor, reporting from OPSEU Head Office where I am on a leave from my government job supporting the greening OPSEU program. This is the 5th blog I've created and managed - I see a pattern emerging. I'll let you be judge of how useful and entertaining this blog is. If you like what you see, please plug GreenUnion with your networks.

And while I may be the editor, this blog is not about me. Its purpose is to support OPSEU's environmental policies and programs by involving you. How so?

  1. By letting you know what OPSEU is doing on the environmental front - from our offices to our members around the province.
  2. By giving you the chance to pass this information along to your fellow members.
  3. By providing a union publication where active members can provide comments, share experiences and write guest articles on what you, your local and your region may be doing or anything else you might find interesting on the environmental front.
  4. By bringing you interesting commentary and articles about the environmental issues of our times.
The GreenUnion blog is meant to complement OPSEU's official website where you'll find more information and documents in the Greening OPSEU aisle where, for example, you'll find OPSEU's draft 3-year green plan.

The "comments" section here will be fully enabled to allow you to comment immediately about a specific post. Your emails are also welcome.

Green Roofs

This is pretty cool. A collection of photos of green roofs from around the world.

Here's an example

Welcome to the Greenbelt

My Green Belt

Neighbourhood Farmers’ Markets | Restaurants, stores offering local fare | VQA Wine Taste Testing Tours | Family Farm Adventures | Fabulous Rural Festivals & agricultural Fairs | Weekend Getaways | and more!
Bon apetit!

p.s. - Save a tree. Please don't print the entire guide unless you need to.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Understanding plastics

If you've ever wondered what the numbers and symbols on plastic means, check out this website:

Container Recycling Institute

Since it's an "industry" website, the information is all very "positive".

Eden Mills - North America's 1st carbon neutral village?

Eden Mills is in the Georgetown area, (OPSEU Region 2).

We are aiming to become the first village in North America to achieve carbon neutrality. We will share freely with cities, towns and neighbourhoods around the world our knowledge, resources and experience to assist others in their pursuit of carbon neutrality.

What is ‘carbon neutral’?

Put simply, it means that the carbon we emit must be equaled by the carbon we absorb to become carbon neutral.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Running the Numbers

A photographic look at statistics

Chris Jordan Photographic Arts - Click on the "Running the Numbers" photo to see this series.

This series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on.... Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 410,000 paper cups used every fifteen minutes.
Here's a couple samples of Chris' work.

Plastic cups

Partial zoom:

Full zoom

450,000 cell phones are "retired" daily in U.S.

Full zoom

Perri-Air - Canned Oxygen Could be the Next Bottled Water

I've been saying (to myself) for years that as soon as big business can figure out a way to charge for the air that we breathe, they will do so. Here we go:

Ever since you were born, you’ve been breathing oxygen for free, Right? Well the masters of mundane marketing agree that it is time for you to adjust your thinking. Yes, you can breathe air for free; but how lame is that? Naturally occuring oxygen is just so 10,000 years ago. It’s time for you to begin breathing more pure, more refreshing oxygen.
Why clean up the air when you can buy fresh air?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Green jobs listing

Some interesting opportunities for some summer jobs for students or work for someone unemployed but interested in the environment.

Good Work Canada

Environmentalists divided about burying CO2

OSLO (Reuters) - Greenpeace and more than 100 other environmental groups denounced projects for burying industrial greenhouse gases on Monday, exposing splits in the green movement about whether such schemes can slow global warming.
An interesting article about the debate within the environmental movement about capturing carbon from coal fired plants.

You can download Greenpeace's report here.

This is a debate that the union movement ought to be having soon. I'm doing my best to put it on OPSEU's agenda.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

OPSEU Convention '08

Convention '08 (April 17 - 19) provided a great opportunity to bring OPSEU members up to date on the union's activities over the past year and to highlight priorities for 2008.

Green stewards meeting
A lunchtime meeting was held on April 18th for green stewards. To our delight, more than 40 people attended. Members heard from the Green Committee (Gino Franche, Sandra Snider and Jennifer Giroux) as well as from 1st Vice-President Patty Rout and myself, Gary Shaul. Highlights of the draft 2008-2010 green plan were presented. There was also an opportunity to get feedback on the plan and to hear about some local activities from members. Everyone attending the meeting received a copy of "Cool Comforts: Bargaining for our Survival", a booklet written by Peter Corbyn and produced by our sister union in New Brunswick.

Environmental displays table
OPSEU was joined by a number of organizations who set up displays at this year's convention. These included Friends of the Earth, Planet in Focus and the Native Plant Society as well as OPSEU's own display which included a symbolic clothesline with reused Barbie clothes*. Many members stopped by the displays to chat and pick up information and new ideas.

* During Convention, the McGuinty government got around to vetoing the ability of municipalities and housing associations to ban clotheslines.

Friendlier drinking cups
OPSEU negotiated with the Sheraton Centre to provide bio-degradable drinking cups made from corn plastic on the convention floor. It was noted that while this was a great step, that members should also re-use the cups and not take a fresh cup for every glass of water. As well, members are encouraged to bring their own drinking vessels to OPSEU events. While friendlier than regular plastic, corn plastic cups still need to be hauled off for composting and that there is still an energy footprint. (You're strongly encouraged to provide corn plastic cups and other products at your meetings but it's important that the waste end up in a composting program, not in the garbage - more on this in a future article.)

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