United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ)


HQ: New York, USA

Focal Point: Violaine Haeringer


Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions*


*The data collection methodology has changed over the years and is being standardized with the implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across the UN Secretariat. 2015 emission data include 2014 travel data As UNHQ was transitioning to the new data collection methodology.  

Key Figure: Waste





The Secretariat in New York, along with other Secretariat offices away from headquarters, services the other principal organs of the United Nations and supports the administration of their programmes and policies.

The duties carried out by the Secretariat are as varied as the problems dealt with by the United Nations. These range from administering peacekeeping operations to mediating international disputes, from surveying economic and social trends and problems to preparing studies on human rights and sustainable development.

Secretariat staff also inform the world’s media about the work of the UN and organize international conferences on issues of worldwide concern.

Within its distinctive areas of responsibility and in coordination with the UN System, Governments, private sector and civil society, the Secretariat supports the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, of which environmental management is an important dimension.


Experience so far

  • Secretariat-based efforts have been instrumental in achieving UN system-wide milestones, such as the call by Member States at Rio+20 Conference for the UN to integrate sustainable development considerations more fully into its management practices and the high-level decision in favour of the introduction of Environmental Management Systems into all UN organizations. The UN General Assembly further requested the Secretariat for an action plan to integrate sustainable development practices into its operations and facilities management, which was presented in October 2017. To this aim, a UN Secretariat Steering Group on Environmental Sustainability Management was established in July 2017 to lead the Secretariat internal environmental sustainability efforts and the implementation of the Action Plan.
  • On the ground in New York, efforts continue to integrate environmental sustainability considerations and related operational efficiencies into the Secretariat’s day-to-day planning and business systems. As a result, emissions have been in a downward trend, reaching its lowest number in 2016 at 38,500 tons of CO2, despite a more complete measurement of UNHQ footprint. 

Reduction efforts

  • The renovation of the Secretariat building, which voluntarily followed gold LEED requirements, and continuous improvements since, have resulted in energy efficiencies of 67% and water efficiencies of 81% . In addition, the electricity for the main complex is sourced from renewable (wind) energy.
  • Air quality has been improved through removal of hazardous materials and ozone-depleting refrigerants, and the use of lower global warming HVAC coolants.
  • Among changes in travel policy, tighter restrictions on business class travel and closer review of the need to travel as well as the use of video conferencing have had a positive impact on GHG emissions

The implementation of an Environmental Management System, which is in its planning phase, will further integrate environmental considerations into operational processes, allowing UNHQ to make systematic and continuous improvements in GHG reductions.


Inventory Management Plans


The inventory includes building related emissions of UN Secretariat offices located at the UNHQ complex and its leased buildings, including New York based operations of DFS, DPA and DPKO. The travel emissions were calculated based on air travel funded by UNHQ entities (Umoja business area S100). It excludes NY offices of UN Environment and non-Secretariat agencies (FAO, IAEA, UNU, UNIDO, UNITAR, UNCCD, UNESCO and ICSC).




Emissions related to the 2009 Summit on Climate Change were offset through the purchase of Gold Standard Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) provided by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The offsets were achieved through the Bagepalli CDM Biogas Programme, a renewable energy project in India, which delivers both environment and development benefits.


Waste management

  • Waste management is a priority at UNHQ. Including owned and leased buildings, 42% of all waste is recycled and another 40% is converted into energy in a facility that exceeds emission regulations. For the buildings that it controls, UNHQ has achieved zero waste to landfill and continuously reviews its processes through auditing, with both upstream and downstream waste audits. Some significant improvements over the years include:
  • Material and waste efficiencies were achieved during the Secretariat renovation through the use of recycled materials and the recycling of over 90% of construction materials. Furniture was also repurposed where feasible.
  • Photocopy paper is 100% recycled and furniture has recycled and/or recyclable content.
  • Energy-efficient multifunctional networked devices, digital printing technologies, event management applications and Enterprise Resource Planning platforms continue to drastically reduce paper consumption, saving money while also improving meeting efficiencies.
  • Plastic reduction initiatives are underway at the cafeteria, cafes and main conference rooms of the inter-governmental bodies.
  • More needs to be done to facilitate waste separation at the source and incite staff and visitors to recycle more. Waste diversion opportunities, including re-use, are also being explored to reduce the volume of trash generated by UNHQ operations.

Click here for more information on waste management at UNHQ.


Other environmental measures

  • In addition to reducing energy consumption, the renovation of the Secretariat building, through the installation of low-flow restroom fixtures and other infrastructure upgrades, resulted in an 80% reduction in water consumption.
  • Ongoing presentations on Greening the Blue as part of regular orientation courses for new staff.

Next steps

  • UNHQ will continue to support the Secretariat efforts to integrate sustainable practices into its operations, including through the implementation of the Secretary-General action plan, development of a Secretariat environmental management framework and establishment of an Environmental Management System in New York.

UN and sustainability
UNHQ case studies