Origins of the Green Economy Network (GEN)

The origins of the Green Economy Network are rooted in the growing fears over climate change and Canada’s failure to take effective action to reduce carbon emissions as an industrialized economy. With the mega tar sands development in full swing, Canada had its own built-in climate change machine. To reverse Canada’s role as a leading carbon emitter, however, would require nothing less than a fundamental transformation of our industrial economy. Inspired by the Blue/Green Alliance movement taking shape and form in the U.S., steps were taken to explore what could be done to build a new social movement of labour unions, environment groups, and social justice organizations for the building of an authentic green economy in this country.

In the Spring of 2008, the Canadian Labour Congress began the Green Jobs Roundtable, a dialogue between labour unions and environmental organizations. Then, in the Winter and Spring of 2008-9, the Polaris Institute took the initiative to organize a series of consultations with 6 major unions in Canada ­- three industrial unions and three public sector unions.[1] The main focus of these consultations was to discern what commitment had been made in terms of more ecologically sustainable practices in their unions, promotion of environmental policies and strategies, and the priority given to building a green economy for the future. Similar consultations were also held with a variety of leading environmental and social justice organizations. [2] At the same time, Polaris continued to pursue these initiatives in collaboration with the Canadian Labour Congress, thereby adding several other union bodies to these discussions.[3]

Following these consultations, leaders and representatives from 25 organizations gathered for a full-day round table meeting to discuss the proposal to build a new alliance of labour unions, environment and social justice organizations. After a wide ranging exchange of views, there was sufficient consensus to move forward with the proposal to form what is now called the Green Economy Network (GEN). A steering committee has since been established, composed of designated representatives from each of the participating organizations. As a “basis of unity”, a “vision statement” has also been developed, now officially endorsed by almost all of the participating organizations. As well, working groups have been set up to begin developing a common platform and program for action.

[1]  Canadian Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, Communication, Energy and      Paperworkers plus the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the public Service Alliance of Canada, and the National Union of Public and general Employees.

[2] Environmental Defence, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Pembina Institute, and World Wildlife Fund plus social justice organizations like Indigenous Environment Network, Kairos ­- ecumenical social justice network of the churches, Council of Canadians.

[3] Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Ontario Federation of Labour, Toronto and York  District Labour Council, and the Machinists.