Carbon literacy training is spreading rapidly across UK offices and places of study, with over 67,000 citizens certified as ‘carbon literate’ according to the Carbon Literacy Project (CLP), the main organisation behind the initiative. (Between financial year-end September 2021 and September 2022, CLP’s income grew from £183.8k to £637.7k, an increase of nearly 250%.) The training takes it for granted that we’re in the midst of a ‘climate emergency’ and recommends that employees embrace various radical solutions, including net zero. Carbon literacy training is often embedded within an organisation’s broader Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy.
The Free Speech Union is concerned that this training may be embedding a new form of compelled speech in British workplaces. While it’s indisputable that average global temperatures have increased since the mid-nineteenth century, people hold a range of views about the causes and severity of climate change and that in turn influences their opinion about the best way to tackle it – or, indeed, whether tackling it is possible or necessary. Different solutions to tackling climate are informed by different values and recommending one approach over another inevitably involves making a political choice. There is no-such thing as an apolitical, ‘scientific’ solution. Consequently, employees should not be put under pressure to endorse a particular approach to tackling climate change or threatened with disciplinary action if they fail to adjust their behaviour to follow this approach, particularly outside the workplace.
In those companies seeking accreditation as a Carbon Literate Organisation (CLO) – to boost their ESG rating, for instance – up to 80% staff are expected to become ‘carbon literate’. Carbon literate accreditation requires employees to embrace a particular view about climate change and identify at least one action they can take to reduce their own carbon footprint, as well as at least one action involving other people. The FSU fears that employees may be penalised if they refuse to comply with these requirements because they do not share a particular point of view.
A Free Speech Union member contacted us concerned about the repercussions on his career after challenging the content of the training and providing alternative views and different insights on the topic. We believe he was right to be concerned. To secure CLP’s platinum, gold, and silver CLO accreditation, companies are expected to embed carbon literacy in the performance targets of staff members and evaluate their annual performance accordingly. This means that employees who don’t subscribe to a particular view on climate change could find themselves missing out on pay awards or promotion unless they self-censor or pretend to hold convictions they don’t have.
The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the national accreditation body for the United Kingdom. It is appointed by the government to assess and accredit organisations that provide services including certification, testing, inspection and calibration.
As carbon literacy accreditation schemes such as CLP proliferate, particularly in the public sector, we believe it’s in the public interest for them to seek out UKAS accreditation. This would ensure that any concerns about the impact of these schemes on employees’ speech rights could be raised with an independent external body.