A lot of the UN's work is done through conferences, and they're obviously meant to have an impact. Their environmental impacts, on the other hand, are rightly under critical scrutiny. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has made it a priority to make such events as sustainable as it can.
This FAO 'greener conference' drive was much in evidence when the agency hosted the three-day 'High Level Conference on World Food Security: Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy' in Rome in June 2008. It took this event as a big opportunity to engage staff with the issues, and gain experience both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in carbon offsetting.
Encouraging delegates to offset their own travel-related emissions is one thing. At this conference the FAO went further, by taking responsibility itself for the travel- and attendance-related carbon emissions of 434 delegates from Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDC). With funding from sponsorship, the agency offset these emissions by the purchase of Gold Standard Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs). In this instance the CERS originated from a small-scale hydro-electricity project in Honduras.
A stand-alone note posted on the conference’s dedicated website provided information about these offsets, the carbon emissions associated with attending the conference, and the various measures being taken to reduce its impact. An information leaflet entitled 'The Green Effort at FAO' was included in the delegate bags (which were made of eco-friendly material, as were the security pass straps), telling delegates about ways they could reduce their environmental footprint during the meeting, including separating and recycling waste using multi-coloured bins made available at the conference.
Among other 'green' efforts were the printing of all conference documents double sided on recycled or ecologically produced paper, provision of an organic food option (with prominent labelling), and the use of bio-degradable cups rather than plastic ones. Car pooling was encouraged and a number of the latest hybrid and fuel-efficient cars were provided as transport for delegates, thanks to conference sponsorship from car manufacturers.
The offsetting for LIFDC delegates was made possible thanks to the sponsorship of the UK Department for International Development (DfID). The extra emissions generated by the attendance of the 434 LIFDC delegates at the conference were calculated to be 1360 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2eq). The cost to offset this amount was 32,650 Euros. Other 'green' initiatives did not represent any additional cost and were implemented within the regular meeting budget, in part thanks to the support of sponsors.
The offsets provided a direct financial benefit to support sustainable development of Honduras, while the greening of the conference provided a showcase of UN commitment and an example for other UN agencies to follow. It was also an opportunity for FAO staff engagement and for raising delegates' awareness about the issues. Building on this experience, environmental considerations have now become an integral element of FAO’s meetings.