‘Balance’ or walking a tightrope? Greening the Commission

In the context of the recent COP26 in Glasgow, where it is stated that 197 countries reached a ‘’balanced’ agreement’, we give you an update on the latest social dialogue on greening the Commission: reaching climate neutrality by 2030. Generation 2004 already raised many of these issues in October 2020 and requested a social dialogue then.  We believe that the EU institutions together should lead by example (in this and many other issues) and show that they merit the trust the general public has in them (that trust appears even to have increased during the coronavirus pandemic while trust in national governments appears to have dropped). This all comes back to transparency, honesty and fairness: no greenwashing and no vague answers: we need reasonable, practical and truly sustainable goals.  We are pleased to note that the Commission has gotten off to a promising start with this and appears to be looking at what needs to change holistically: its chosen topics encompass everything from transport to food to events.

How green is the decision on working time and teleworking?

Teleworking in general: the employer cannot and should not claim to be climate neutral while employees continue polluting during working time at home. Any study on how to become a climate-neutral institution must consider the emissions produced by individual households in their count i.e. omitting this this part is misleading and a potential shirking of responsibilities. Note also that emissions produced while teleworking can be equal or even higher than those produced while in the office.

We support the need for a proper impact assessment, but it is not just the environmental impact, what about the other impacts?

Financial impact: office equipment, supplies, ergonomic equipment, internet access, phone, heating, electricity and physical space (an office is not just a chair and a screen). The Commission cannot just save money by reducing office space (in Brussels: 20% reduction in office surface area and 50% in number of buildings) without acknowledging that it has just passed on the costs to the individual workers. Employers should not burden staff with these extra costs without any compensation, especially when many organisations and institutions(!) are already offering some kind of compensation allowance. Also, is it really greener to effectively double the offices by forcing all staff to establish another office at home, with all the equipment to be bought, used and then disposed of correctly?  How many of us have a dedicated space for the Commission to use as an office (particularly those in Luxembourg).

Health impact: less moving, more sitting, fewer steps, less human interaction, digital overload, burnout. This too is paid for in other, less-direct ways e.g. sick days, lowered morale, less motivation, a failing team spirit. We fully support an ongoing assessment of the psychological aspects and impact on the physical and mental well-being of working mainly remotely, particularly in the context of many of us being outside our own countries and distant from standard support networks.

Teleworking from abroad (see our position on TWA) includes the caveat of being recalled to the place of employment for a meeting or a couple of days! We are overwhelmingly expats, travelling is part of our lives and teleworking could (if used well) help reduce the frequency and emissions of travelling.

How green is the commute?

Any greening here should not simply be a case of reducing the availability of on-site parking: this makes life more difficult for many colleagues (particularly those with additional caring responsibilities e.g. for children/less-mobile adults) without offering reasonable alternatives. How about ensuring that there are viable public transport links (subsidised or even free, as far as possible, well done Luxembourg!) and cycling infrastructure, showers, storage and secure bike parking before reducing the on-site car parking. Look at the train link between Luxembourg and Brussels: it is so poor that the European Parliament bypasses it completely by providing a shuttle bus, a short-term ‘solution’ to a long-standing problem (journey times may well be cut from 3 hours (the fastest) to (‘only’) 2 hours after 2024) but it’s very understandable that colleagues use the shuttle bus  when this is the alternative.

There are significant reductions available in Luxembourg and Brussels for those purchasing private vehicles, the equivalent options for bikes are a little less favourable (BelgiumLuxembourg). Why must Commission service bikes be returned to their point of departure? It renders them much less useful. City bike yearly subscriptions are available via the Commission in Luxembourg, is this also true of other sites? The car fleet is to be replaced with zero-emission vehicles. Wikipedia lists bikes and go-carts (‘gravity racers‘) in this category but we believe the HR reference is to a hybrid-electric vehicle or suchlike, much as we like the idea of go-carts.

How green are our buildings and practices?

It would be unfair if the Commission made a big effort to decrease its ecological footprint (e.g. solar panels proposed for Luxembourg, Brussels and several JRC sites) and made huge budgetary savings while other institutions are not seen to mirror those efforts e.g. the European Parliament with the financial and environmental costs generated through its shuttling back and forth between Strasbourg and Brussels. How does this fit with the EU Green Deal, politically sensitive though it may be? We are perceived by the public to be one entity, the EU, might this be perceived as undermining each other’s efforts?

How will the ‘meetings and missions online by default’ principle affect our efficiency, networking and productivity, particularly in the context of open ‘dynamic’ offices? The Commission aims to reduce the business trips (‘missions’) budget by 50% in comparison to 2019 and to promote the idea of each of us (and the Commission itself) reducing the digital carbon footprint while it tries to green tenders and sites. It is also investigating the potential of a new canteen model to have the label ‘good food’ and equivalents i.e. that the menu be sustainable, not sourced from the other end of the world or out of season. At the same time, canteens should be reopened and be widely available to staff, with plant-based options. No more watermelon in winter please! This would also cover the redistribution of food leftover to people in need.

So, yes, there are changes promised, but it remains to be seen what impacts they have and, most importantly, how those impacts are measured (and perceived!).  The balance is to find ways of making the Commission greener without that resulting in it being a less attractive employer.  Where do you see waste? Where would you make changes? Go-carts for us all? Where would we park them?

As always, we would love to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to contact us or leave a comment below.

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