Environmental Issues: AFT Joins Blue Green Alliance

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In July of 2009, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) joined the fast-growing labor-environmental partnership, the Blue Green Alliance. With the addition of one of America's largest teachers' unions, the Blue Green Alliance now unites 8 million people in pursuit of good jobs, a clean environment and a green economy.


"The American Federation of Teachers is committed to protecting the health of children and protecting the environment for the next generation of Americans," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Along with promoting green, sustainable schools, we are thrilled to ally with organizations like the Blue Green Alliance that are working to advance priorities such as public employee collective bargaining and the Employee Free Choice Act."


The AFT, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, represents the economic, social and professional interests of primarily public sector workers, including classroom teachers, school employees, healthcare workers, higher education professionals, public employees and early childhood workers. The union is known as an advocate for sound, commonsense public education policies. With the Blue Green Alliance, the AFT is working to advocate policies that will green America's public schools - making buildings more energy efficient and improving the health of America's public school students.


"The Blue Green Alliance welcomes the addition of the AFT's 1.4 million union members in our effort to build a clean energy economy in the United States," said United Steelworkers International President and Blue Green Alliance Co-Chair Leo W. Gerard. "We can, and we will, create the good jobs we need to rebuild the middle class by transitioning to clean energy, and the greening of the public school system is an integral part of that transition."


"America's teachers are educating the next generation of working people, and it is essential that we create good jobs that promote economic prosperity for the next generation and leave our planet in better shape than we found it," said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club and Co-Chair of the Blue Green Alliance. "We are thrilled to be joined by the American Federation of Teachers in this effort to build a cleaner, more efficient economy."


The Blue Green Alliance is a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the clean energy economy. Launched by the United Steelworkers and Sierra Club in 2006, the Blue Green Alliance now includes the Communications Workers of America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Laborers' International Union of North America, Service Employees International Union and the Utility Workers Union of America.


The AFT also will take part in the Blue Green Alliance Foundation's Labor Climate Project, which is an innovative partnership with the Alliance for Climate Protection to work with union members around the country to spread the word about the job-creating potential of global warming solutions.


"As this partnership grows, so does the number of Americans who are ready to unleash the enormous potential that exists in the clean energy economy to create jobs and protect the environment while reducing our dependence on foreign oil," said David Foster, Executive Director of the Blue Green Alliance.


Our Union's Roadmap to Green and Sustainable Schools



In a 2008 resolution, the AFT pledged to advocate for green schools that ensure a quality learning environment for students and staff.  We know that green and sustainable schools create a healthy environment that is conducive to learning while saving energy resources and money.  Studies show a strong positive relationship between overall building conditions and student achievement. Researchers have repeatedly found a difference of 5-17 percentile points between achievement of students in poor buildings and those in environmentally adequate buildings, when the socioeconomic status of students is controlled.  In addition, schools and colleges currently spend more money every year on energy and utility costs exceeding the combined cost of supplies and books. 


Green schools focus on improvements in site selection, daylighting, indoor air quality, thermal comfort, acoustics and classroom design—all of which have important impact on the ability of students to learn, teachers to teach, and staff to do their jobs. 


Our pledge to our members and the students we serve means the AFT will:

  • Advocate for legislation at the federal and state level that will support school districts in their efforts to design, build, renovate and operate schools that meet the U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Schools certification;

  • Work with locals to create sustainability programs and help them to be actively involved in the building design/maintenance process;

  • Work with locals to create curriculum for environmental education; and

  • Advocate for unionized trades to build green.


As a first step, the AFT produced Building Minds, Mindings Buildings: Our Union’s Road Map to Green and Sustainable Schools. This guide provides an overview of the health benefits and cost savings of building green schools. It highlights the role our affiliates and members have played in the design, construction and maintenance process.


We also have created a survey to gather from our members the ways in which they are already incorporating environmental efficiency and green issues into their classroom and school activities.

Photo by Janet Century