UNOPS reduces environmental footprint in Accra and Kabul

Thu, 08/12/16

As of July 2016, UNOPS Office in Accra has achieved an 80% decrease in paper consumption, compared to previous months. What had triggered such an impressive change? The achievement came after the Office received the prestigious ISO 14001 certification in June, the world’s most widely recognized environmental management standard – a first for a UNOPS country office in Africa.

UNOPS is strongly committed to “greening” its infrastructure projects, having been awarded the ISO 14001 certification in 2013. It is working towards expanding the Environmental Management System (EMS) to all offices and operations.

The EMS assists offices on how to handle waste and reduce carbon emissions, taking into account potential challenges and opportunities in the local community. As the latest UNOPS office to successfully implement the EMS, Ghana was able to meet and exceed their target of reducing, reusing or recycling various waste streams, including paper, by over 50 percent with no negative impact on their daily operations. It also introduced rain water harvesting and rapidly halved its water consumption and relative bill.

After launching the EMS process in February 2016, areas and functions with heavy paper use were identified, which included: human resources, administration, support services and programme management. It soon became evident that paper use in these offices was abnormally high as a result of printing and that over 80 percent of these was printing for signatures. “Our policies actually encourage the use of electronic records,” said Joshua Oyewale, the office’s EMS focal point in Accra. He continued: “As soon as we looked into new ways of saving resources, it became immediately evident that going paperless makes very good sense”.

To address the issue, digital self-signed electronic signatures were configured on all computers for personnel to sign documents with. The e-signatures come with encryption after being edited and signed on the documents.

The effect of employing e-signatures was immediate. After the software installation, the printing of paper dropped from 2,515 to 430 sheets per month. Not only does the office now have secure, tamper-proof and signed electronic records: the solution came at zero cost to the organisation as the required software was already included in UNOPS software packages and tools. An additional benefit, even if not officially measured, is that staff is now observing much faster turnaround in approvals. 

Like Ghana, UNOPS Afghanistan Operational Hub’s Office also achieved remarkable results in its efforts to improve its environmental footprint. The efforts of the office focused on the reduction of energy and fuel consumption in their day to day activities. Only through efficiency measures, the team in Kabul managed to reduce fuel consumption and relative carbon emissions by 14.4% in 2015 compared to the previous year.

In order to achieve this reduction, the Office took several measures. First, separate lines for air conditioners (ACs) and lights were established and ACs and other power-heavy electrical equipment were switched off in the hours between 19:00 and 6:00 the next day. Second, an automatic on/off system for security lights was installed, standardizing lights off during daylight hours and on in the evening. Third, 500W security light bulbs were changed and replaced by 50W LED bulbs. Fourth, due to the reduced need for electricity during the spring and autumn seasons (6-8 months per year), two 350KVA generator sets were synchronized, in order to be used during these months and avoid underloading bigger generator sets. Finally, the office roofs were insulated, in order to reduce the need for heating and cooling of the premises.

Generators alone contribute to more than 50% of the Kabul office GHG emissions. However, with the difficult security situation in Afghanistan it would have been easy to dismiss it as a secondary priority. This was not the approach of the UNOPS team, who wanted to demonstrate that the UN can lead by example in environmental management, even despite difficult circumstances.

"We have saved a total of 52,000 liters of fuel only in 2015,” explained Sayed Qasem Orfani, who is the GHG inventory focal point and is spearheading the Office environmental efforts.

The office aims to reduce consumption even further in the future. “We have seen a significant saving in dollars and in emissions, and our contribution to make the air in the city more breathable is an important priority."

Accra and Kabul are both prime examples of UNOPS offices making strong headway into emission reductions and good environmental management, despite local challenges. Both run on UNOPS ISO 14001 certified EMS.

Categories: Staff Engagement