We’ve just published a briefing on carbon literacy training by Thomas Harris, our Director of Data and Impact. We’re concerned that it will have a chilling effect on free speech in the workplace in the same way that unconscious bias training and anti-racism training does, with employees reluctant to challenge the ideas behind it for fear of jeopardising their careers.
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.
The Free Speech Union is concerned that this training is embedding a particular orthodoxy about climate change in British workplaces, leaving employees feeling unable to challenge it. 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 the problems created by climate change 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 or threatened with disciplinary action if they fail to adjust their behaviour to follow this approach, particularly in their private lives.
In those companies seeking accreditation as a ‘Carbon Literate Organisation’ (CLO), up to 80% of 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 Free Speech Union 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 because he was concerned about the repercussions on his career after he challenged the content of the training and provided 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 annual targets of staff members and evaluate their 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 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.
If you’re being forced to undergo carbon literacy training in your workplace and are worried you might get into trouble for challenging the climate activist agenda behind it, you can contact Thomas Harris at the Free Speech Union here.