Environmental Sustainability

Industry 4.0 has to cope with the necessity of producing within environmental constraints in order to meet the challenge of sustainability. On the one hand, it has been contended that new technologies (e.g., advanced robotics, internet of things, additive manufacturing) can produce an increase in resource efficiency, for instance by reducing errors and improving the precision of production operations, allowing for predictive maintenance and reducing manufacturing waste, in line with the circular economy paradigm. On the other hand, despite possibilities of energy optimisation provided by algorithms and data analytics, energy consumption represents a concrete challenge especially in relation to additive manufacturing; furthermore, the demands of raw materials and rare earth elements (e.g., lithium, dysprosium/terbium and rhenium) are expected to grow for the production of drones, sensors and other devices. Not to mention the increasing concerns for e-waste dumping in the Global South where no protocols or regulations exist.

To deal with this challenge, workers’ reps should deepen their knowledge about the environmental impact of Industry 4.0-related technologies and raise workers’ awareness of the role they can play in gearing modern production towards sustainability. Above all, a strong sustainability culture (overcoming 

the presumed trade-off between work, production and the environment) must be created in workplaces and workers’ reps should tailor training activities towards this objective. More participatory rights at all levels of industrial relations are also needed to allow workers and their representatives to be informed in due time about development strategies and play a concrete role in converging Industry 4.0 and environmental sustainability. This may entail, for instance, the revision of school curricula and company training courses and the provision of occupational transition programmes assisting workers potentially affected by radical company restructuring. Trade unions must thus adopt a future-oriented perspective, entailing partnerships and alliances with civil society actors and other key public and private stakeholders to design and build green industries and economies.

In 2020 in Bulgaria, some ‘green clauses’ were included for the first time in the renewal of the NCLA for the metal industry, in an effort to identify the rights and duties of workers and employers on environmental issues and to make them a subject of social dialogue. Notably, sectoral social partners provided for the employers’ obligation to inform workers and their representatives of possible plans on polluting emissions’ reductions, in accordance with the timelines scheduled by the European Commission. Moreover, according to the NCLA, employers must carry out preventive assessments on both possible health and safety risks linked to the creation of ‘green jobs’ and the actions for minimising these hazards. Employers and unions are also to be involved in organising annual workers’ training paths on health and safety issues and on the environmental and economic impacts of green transitions. Finally, company-level social partners are expected to develop plans for the energy saving in production processes. Moreover, the NCLA introduced some recommendations concerning the promotion of ‘green collective bargaining’ at company level. Notably, company-level collective agreements should deal with issues, such as the introduction of sustainable energy sources as well as systems for resources reuse, recycle and saving, the organisation of information and awareness-raising initiatives on environmental issues, the deployment of more sustainable mobility plans, and so on.
The collective agreement of the Spanish transport company, Ara Vinc has introduced the so-called ‘environmental delegate’, to be selected from the members of the works council. Their functions include: Collaborating with company management to improve actions promoting environmental protection; Promoting and encouraging the cooperation of workers in compliance with environmental regulations; Carrying out follow-up work on compliance with environmental regulations, as well as environmental policies and objectives established by the company; Receiving information on the implementation of new technologies from which environmental risks could arise, as well as on the development of environmental management systems; Proposing the adoption of measures aimed at reducing environmental risks and improving environmental management; Collaborating in the development of training actions on matters related to the company’s environmental obligations; Receiving information about the environment that is given to workers’ representatives.
Since 2016, the collective agreement of TenarisDalmine, the giant steal multinational corporation based in the area of Bergamo, introduced the Environmental Prevention Bonus (Premio Prevenzione per l’Ambiente – PPA), with the aim to promote the environmental improvement in operational areas in the form of a proper management of resources such as waste, water or chemical substances. The PPA is linked to three indicators which measure the quality of prevention management in each plant or operational service: the report on the Origins of Anomalies (R.O.A.); inspections; training on the environment. As regards the first indicator, direct supervisors and operational teams are called to report the environmental anomalies occurred in their area of responsibility so as to guarantee a proper analysis that could inspire corrective and preventive actions and integrate, if it is necessary, the operational practices. The reports on anomalies can result from the daily field observation of workers and their direct supervisors and respectively, from their prealerts or alerts; or from the so-called ‘green hour’, that is the activity performed once a month by unit leaders and maintenance technicians and expressly dedicated to identifying opportunities of improvement and workers’ training on environmental issues. The indicator is measured as the Ratio of the Origins of Anomalies: R.O.A. =(a/b) x 100. A percentage of the target is fixed for each annual budget. The second indicator is based on a system of inspections biannually conducted in every area by a commission composed of an environmental company technician, a floor manager and a workers’ representative for safety. This parameter, more than any other, measures the efficacy of the prevention system and the achieved level of environmental culture. The biannually inspections are performed on the basis of an evaluation form composed of three sections (water consumption, waste management, chemical substances) and 15 questions, to which the commission is called to answer with yes or no depending on whether or not the environmental rules/procedures are respected. A maximum number of negative answers (beyond which the respective share of the bonus is not provided) is established for each annual budget. The third indicator is linked to training on the environment, considered by the parties as a fundamental prevention activity, encompassing classroom training as well as on-the-job training, and the workers’ participation in the ‘green hour’. Annual goals regard training ratios on environmental prevention that shall be averagely provided to workers, as well as minimum rates of the workforce that during the year shall be involved in at least one training activity on environmental issues.