Since 2018, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has taken progressive measures to reduce single-use packaging and food waste at its board meetings. With hundreds of participants, staff members, and support personnel on site during the weeklong events, the Board meetings require many resources to keep proceedings running smoothly.
To reduce the environmental impact of board meetings, GCF has been opting out of single-use water bottles and packaged soft drinks as refreshments for meeting participants. Instead, glasses and mugs are provided for use with water and juice dispensers. Participants are also encouraged to bring their own reusable drink containers prior to their arrival at the meetings. To commemorate the launch of the “post-plastic” initiative, GCF provided a one-time gift of stainless steel water bottles to participants and staff. By declining to procure single-use packaged and disposable drinks, GCF diverts over 3,000 non-recyclable containers from the waste stream for each Board meeting held at its headquarters.
In addition to single-use drink waste, GCF takes measures to reduce waste in other areas of the Board meetings. For example, to minimize food waste, staff members are invited to take away leftovers in their own containers from the buffets after the end of the scheduled meal periods. Signs sharing tips for reducing food waste are also posted and reused for each Board meeting to raise awareness on its environmental impact. GCF has also begun tracking its paper usage to identify areas where paper waste can be reduced, and implemented a lanyard reuse program.
In the design of the initiatives, the sustainability of promotional materials was taken into account. By considering the source and life cycle of support materials, their environmental impact is minimized and the materials can be reused. For example, the commemorative water bottles were locally produced and certified as manufactured with green technologies minimizing carbon emissions and pollutants. Their designs were simple and non-specific, and were therefore also suitable as gifts for other events. The signs prompting meeting participants to reduce their plastic and food waste were designed to be used over and over, and most were made from recycled and repurposed items allowing easy dismantling and reuse of component parts. GCF also avoided procuring new items to support its initiatives, and instead made use of existing supplies such as bins and folders as lanyard collection containers and table stands.
Reactions to the sustainability initiatives by staff and meeting participants were positive. The removal of plastic water bottles and soft drinks was welcomed and many participants obliged in bringing their own receptables for drinks. The commemorative water bottles made reappearances over the years as participants brought them back to subsequent board meetings. Taking leftovers from buffets was also enthusiastically adopted by staff and has become a well-anticipated tradition.
However, the initiatives were not without their difficulties. Due to limited resources at headquarters and the relative rarity of low waste events locally, a number of logistical issues came to light. For example, the number of glasses and mugs available was initially inadequate when participants used multiple glasses per day rather than a single one for multiple uses. The lack of kitchens on site made washing and replenishing the glasses difficult. There were also concerns with allowing staff members to take leftover food due to safety regulations, and data related to waste diverted was not readily available. As a result, some sustainability measures had to be adjusted to accommodate the setbacks, and, consequently, the actual impact of the initiatives is difficult to obtain.
Despite the speed bumps in adopting the sustainability initiatives for its Board meetings, GCF and its partners have nevertheless managed to maintain successful operations while reducing the environmental impact. Practices which helped create a positive and lasting impression for the initiatives include kicking off the efforts in a memorable way and providing clear and consistent reminders for the initiatives. Backup plans were also necessary to accommodate organizational difficulties. With creativity, a long-term perspective, and a flexible approach, GCF was able to adopt Earth-friendly practices as part of its normal operations with popular support. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a pause on hosting meetings on site, GCF nevertheless strives to find more ways to further reduce its footprint in future events to come.