Driving forward environmental aims and objectives



There are many issues in the workplace that require discussion, for example, attention to health and safety at work. This helps to keep accidents to a minimum. Other important issues include the environment, training, facilities for staff, pay and conditions and equal rights. These affect employees' ability to do their jobs well and happily.

When these issues arise, employees frequently need help to resolve problems or conflicts. It is difficult for individual employees to discuss every issue with their managers. They may need representation. A trade union does this by representing their interests with management in order to protect members' interests and rights.

A trade union is an organisation that helps and supports working people.  The largest public services trade union in Britain is UNISON. It has:

  • 1.3 million members
  • headquarters in London
  • 12 regional offices, including one in South Wales and one in Northern Ireland
  • 1,200 staff
  • 1,300 branches

UNISON performs many different roles for its members. It organises conferences and represents and supports its members across a range of issues. Its members are mainly from the public services. These include local authorities, the NHS, colleges and schools, transport and the voluntary sector. It also represents workers in utility companies like electricity, gas and water.

This case study focuses on just one of these issues - the way businesses impact on the environment. 

One of UNISON's aims is to help to improve the environment at work and, by so doing, contribute to efforts to tackle climate change. UNISON believes the key to this is changing behaviours at work. UNISON has therefore developed aims and objectives designed to facilitate new ways of working.

There are many shared roles for employers and trade unions in the workplace. Employers and trade unions work together to ensure that workplaces are safe and healthy places. Working to safeguard the environment is a similar issue. Focusing on maintaining 'green' environments ensures less pollution, better working conditions and lessens the impact of work on the wider environment too. This can also help to reduce costs, which means an organisation can use its resources more effectively, leading to improved business profits and better terms and conditions for the workforce.

UNISON is currently focusing on two approaches to make the workplace 'greener':

  • It has been lobbying government. UNISON has talked to members of parliament about environmental issues within the workplace in order to promote the idea of a sustainable workplace. This has helped politicians realise how important this issue is. Government now knows what people really think about the environment. UNISON therefore influences the decisions government makes.
  • UNISON has also been talking with employers. The impact of business on the environment is a very important issue for employers and is one in which they have responsibilities. Environmental issues have become part of the bargaining agenda. UNISON helps to make employers more supportive by including them in its plans.

Aims and objectives

The planet we live on faces a challenge. Every week more evidence is uncovered about climate change. As a trade union, UNISON is committed to playing an active part in responding to the problems of climate change. Its first response was to set a direction for its members on how to save energy within the workplace. It also concentrated on ways of reducing waste and improving processes for recycling.

In order to create direction for where it wants to be, an organisation sets aims and objectives. An aim is a broad statement that identifies the direction an organisation wants to take. Objectives are the steps it plans to take to achieve its aims.

UNISON wants its green agenda to integrate with and influence its other objectives. Its aim for this green project is: 'to support UNISON members to broaden the workplace agenda to include environmental issues, with particular focus on tackling climate change.'

Specific objectives support this aim. These objectives establish UNISON”s profile as an environmentally responsible organisation which: 'recognises the need for change in the workplace to tackle climate change is seen as the leader on green issues within the labour movement contributes a distinctive voice to public debate about tackling climate change

  • is seen as a key advocate for the role that public services must play in tackling climate change plays an active role in lobbying for sustainable energy and transport policies
  • recognises the aspirations of members of UNISON to play an active part in environmental campaigns'.

 'Green' aims and objectives

Creating 'green' aims and objectives has helped UNISON establish itself as an environmentally friendly organisation. This has resulted in better interaction with employers, enabling change to take place more easily. It is also popular with members and potential members, many of whom care deeply about environmental issues.

Setting objectives is a starting point for a series of actions. These actions lead to results or outcomes. For each of its objectives, UNISON has developed a series of strategies and tactics. These identify what it intends to achieve and by when.

For example, by October 2007 UNISON had responded to consultations on the Government's Climate Change Bill and implemented changes to its practices. These included training its members and briefing them on its new approach to climate change.

Developing a strategy and creating tactics

UNISON has developed a long term strategy designed to meet its aims and objectives. Its strategy involves engaging with the government. It also involves working with its members, who set the overall direction for the union”s work.

Most of UNISON's members work in the public sector. This sector accounts for more than five million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. Public services are a huge part of the UK economy. For example, each year the NHS consumes vast amounts of water and energy.  Within the economy as a whole, over 50% of environmental impacts are work-related.  It is therefore important that UNISON plays a part in supporting the government”s climate change bill. UNISON has responded by showing the government how UNISON plans could help its members reach the targets for the reduction of emissions.


UNISON has also engaged in a series of tactics. These are shorter-term environmental measures. For example, it has developed training materials for employees. This helps members to improve the environment in the workplace.

UNISON has also sponsored courses and run events, like its conference on greening the public services at which the government minister David Miliband took part. These have helped to promote the need for environmental measures at the workplace.

SMART objectives

Precise objectives are an essential part of a strategy.  Without clear objectives, it is difficult to evaluate what a strategy is trying to do or whether it has been achieved. Using the SMART approach to setting objectives helps to make them:

  • Specific objectives should specify what they want to achieve
  • Measurable an organisation should measure whether they are meeting objectives
  • Achievable - the objectives set must be achievable and attainable
  • Realistic the objectives must be realistic
  • Time the timeframe to achieve the objective must be clear

As UNISON developed its objectives, it added the following requirements, namely that objectives need to be:

  • understandable- so that everyone knows what they are trying to achieve.
  • challenging - so everyone has something to strive for.

UNISON's objectives relate to three key work streams that have specific and measurable activities:

1. UNISON is reviewing its own carbon footprint in order to set an example for other organisations to follow.  Activities include:

  • carrying out an audit by the Carbon Trust, an independent company set up by the government to assist organisations in reducing their carbon emissions. The trust identified how the union uses energy and gave options for being more energy efficient
  • changing the power provider for the union”s HQ and many of its regional offices to green electricity tariffs (electricity produced from natural resources e.g. solar/wind)
  • introducing recycling facilities on site, for example, bottle banks
  • arranging hybrid cars for union officers which will reduce carbon emissions.

2. To help members to make their own workplaces more environmentally friendly, UNISON is:

  • developing supporting materials for its web pages (www.UNISON.org.uk/green) to help members put green issues on the agenda at workplace meetings
  • working with members on pilot projects so that the union can learn by doing
  • supporting environmental campaigns such as Water at Work by providing members with materials that include best practice examples and top tips

3. UNISON is undertaking campaign and policy work with other organisations also focused on environment issues. For example, it is working with the organisation Stop Climate Chaos. This collaboration aims to:

  • increase the target for carbon emissions to an 80% reduction by 2050
  • incorporate aviation and shipping as part of the climate change bill
  • set annual reviews to focus and keep track of the carbon reduction target

Stakeholder communication

Stakeholders are individuals, groups or organisations who affect or are affected by an organisation. For example, the government may set targets that organisations have to meet. Organisations positively affect local communities by providing employment for local people.

Some stakeholders exist inside an organisation. These include employees and managers. These internal stakeholders have an interest in how the organisation performs. Other stakeholders are external to an organisation. These include local communities, the government and society as a whole.

Everybody in the country is affected in one way or another by the environment. As a large part of the economy, public services, local government, schools and hospitals have a huge responsibility to take effective action over green issues.

Effective communication of UNISON”s approach to the environment has helped to provide:

  • direction for its members
  • an understanding to many different groups of what environmental issues involve
  • help and support for those who need or require it
  • the ability to influence opinion about the environment. This has helped to achieve many changes in the workplace

Communication methods

To communicate to its stakeholders and to create awareness of environmental issues UNISON has:

  • organised conferences to get member engagement in the project
  • set up promotional campaigns to keep members and the public informed
  • hosted events to raise awareness of UNISON”s activities
  • created posters and newsletters to publicise how to make workplaces greener

These activities reach each of the main stakeholder groups. They help individuals and organisations to embrace the environmental aims and objectives of UNISON. UNISON hopes that the activities of its members will contribute to reducing the affects of climate change.


Recently, Frances O'Grady, Deputy General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) praised UNISON for showing 'real leadership on climate change'. A recent government report, the Stern Report, concluded that 'there is still time to avoid the worst impact of climate change, if we take strong action now'.

UNISON's aims and objectives have a strong environmental emphasis. They have helped it to develop a strategy involving other organisations. These have already motivated many organisations to adopt new approaches and reduce their carbon footprints.

As the largest public services trade union in the country, UNISON is exercising responsibility in a way that benefits its members.  More importantly, UNISON is positively influencing other stakeholders as well as society as a whole.

By keeping its objectives SMART, UNISON will be able to measure how far its activities are making a difference.

UNISON | Driving forward environmental aims and objectives