Reducing our impacts

As well the work that’s going on within individual UN organizations, there’s also a considerable amount of activity at the UN System level to reduce the UN’s environmental impacts, including:

  • Work by inter-agency groups to embed sustainability into policies and practices
  • The development of tools and guidance for specialists across the UN
  • The development of UN organization Emissions Reductions Plans and Environmental Management Systems.

The UN’s main areas of focus are:


Environmental Management Systems


Work is underway to introduce Environmental Management Systems (EMS) across UN agencies. An EMS should include an organizational structure, planning activities, well-defined responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources. It must be based on the specific operations of each organization as it is designed to help streamline and organize the organization’s environmental deliberations and activities. Read more about Environmental Management Systems in the UN.


Emission Reduction Strategies


Emission Reduction Strategies detail each organizations commitments and plans for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, 67 UN entities participated in the annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Among these, 55 entities - representing 95% of reported greenhouse gas emissions - were climate neutral for their 2018 greenhouse gas emissions.




Travel is the UN’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for around 54% of the total reported footprint in 2018. Work is underway with the inter-agency travel teams to identify ways of reducing the impacts of our travel, without jeopardizing the work that we do. Read more on travel.




Facilities account for about 46% of the UN’s 2018 greenhouse gas emissions. With offices around the world, this presents plenty of opportunities. Work is ongoing to integrate environmental considerations into procurement and decision-making processes for new buildings, leases and retro-fits and to engage staff in using buildings more efficiently. Read more on facilities.




The UN is a big spender. In 2016 alone the UN purchased goods and services worth USD 17.7 billion. The UN is therefore able to directly influence the market place by increasing demand for more sustainable goods and services. Read more on procurement.


Staff engagement


With over 290,000 staff (including peacekeepers) the UN is one of the largest employers in the world. Staff have a critical role to play in enhancing the sustainability of the organization. Read more on staff engagement.




The UN, like many large international organizations, convenes a huge number of meetings each year, from small workshops to high-profile international summits. Making our meetings more sustainable is not just critical for reducing our impact - it's also an effective way of communicating our values. Read more on meetings.

Find out how the UN is offsetting its unavoidable emissions.