The Union as Climate Change Advocate: the BC Insulator’s Campaign to “Green” the Culture of the Building Industry in British Columbia

By John Calvert and Corrine Tallon, Simon Fraser University (SFU)

Prepared for the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC) Berlin, Germany, April 2016

Abstract:

This paper examines the efforts of one Canadian building trades’ union, the BC Insulators, to influence the culture and climate change policies of the construction industry in British Columbia. The union’s members install and inspect mechanical insulation (MI) on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in commercial and industrial buildings. Its climate advocacy was prompted by the failure of the province’s construction industry to implement appropriate quality standards due to its culture of low bid construction practices and its unwillingness to train and employ qualified insulation workers. This failure was compounded by the reluctance of government to impose and enforce stringent building codes to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Recognizing the significant contribution that MI can make to reducing energy use and GHG emissions, the union embarked on a major campaign to promote the climate benefits of MI. It funded independent, technical research papers, commissioned best practice manuals with detailed guidelines on installing MI and initiated an extensive and carefully organized public education campaign to pressure industry and government to raise standards. It approached municipalities, building contractors, government officials, property developers, industry professionals and trade organizations to alert them to the importance of reducing the energy footprint of buildings. It pressured governments to raise MI standards in procurement of new and refurbished buildings and implement tougher requirements in their building codes. And it introduced climate change literacy into the curriculum of the apprenticeship system it oversees. This paper documents the union’s comprehensive campaign as an illustration of the contribution labour can make to addressing the critical challenge of global warming.

 

Download the full report (PDF)