Missions and UN share lessons on sustainability management

Thu, 02/02/12

Recent visitors to the UN in New York can hardly have failed to notice the huge (10 meter diameter) green balloon outside the main building last week. The balloon, which represents 1 tonne of CO2, was installed to raise awareness of our individual emissions (8 tonnes per annum for the average UN staffer, for example) and how we can reduce them.

But there is another story behind the Chilean Permanent Mission’s brainchild. The balloon was there to mark an important event: the first ever meeting between diplomatic Permanent Missions to the UN and the UN itself on environmental sustainability management.

Designed to raise awareness and to show how even simple measures can make a difference, Sharing Lessons and Best Practices on Sustainability Initiatives included talks by representatives of the Green Diplomacy programmes of the Permanent Missions of Chile and the United Kingdom, and the UN’s Greening the Blue initiative.

The Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has committed to an ambitious Zero Carbon Programme, to measure and reduce carbon emissions from its Headquarters in Santiago and five of its diplomatic missions abroad. The Permanent Representative of the Chilean Mission to the UN, Ambassador Octavio Errázuriz Guilisasti, said, “The goal is to raise awareness and identify practical solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The UK Permanent Mission’s Green Team is actively promoting practical steps to create an environmentally friendly work place. Sharing weekly ‘green tips’ on how to waste less energy, reduce, reuse and recycle, the Permanent Mission is inspiring staff to take on ‘green’ lifestyles. Percentage targets have been set for reductions in paper use, waste generation and CO2 emissions. “We are committed to putting policies into action, to practicing what we preach,” said the UK Deputy Permanent Representative, Ambassador Philip Parham.

Greening the Blue is the communication platform for the UN system’s Climate Neutral Strategy, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from premises and work practices world-wide. “The concept of in-house environmental sustainability is not new to the UN system and credit needs to be given to initiatives taken in the past,” said Julie MacKenzie, the UN’s Senior Advisor on Sustainability.

Over the past 3 years, however, an inter-agency network supported by UNEP’s Sustainable UN facility has developed common systems to take those efforts from the ad hoc to the coordinated, so we can measure and improve our performance organization by organization and UN-wide.”

The newly renovated UN Secretariat building is expected to make a significant contribution to cleaning up UN New York’s act, by reducing emissions by over 40 percent. A newly established senior level steering group will set the pace for further action. Efforts are also being made at the grass root level, via green teams that have been established in many UN organizations, including Greening UNHQ in New York.

Comments and questions from the floor addressed issues such as reducing the environmental impacts of peacekeeping missions, sustainable procurement and the environmental impacts of electronic devices such as laptops. One audience member asked if the Rio+20 outcome should include a call to the UN to move towards environmental sustainability in its own operations. “Leading by example” and “practicing what we preach” were common catchwords.

To further the sharing of lessons and best practices, the UN’s Greening the Blue has set up a Green Permanent Missions page with a secure on-line chat room where Permanent Missions can provide and receive mutual support and advice.