8 March 2023 Success story: Interview with Head of CSLI and FAO CER Focal Point

The Infrastructure and Facilities Management Service (CSLI) team makes a significant contribution to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) internal sustainability. This year CSLI once again demonstrated its achievements and received the ONE FAO Team award. Tina Mittendorf, Head of CSLI and FAO CER Focal Point, shared her team's success story and talked with Greening the Blue (GtB) about current projects and future plans. 

GtB: The Corporate Environmental Strategy annual report was published in December 2022, once again demonstrating FAO's achievements in inclusive, resilient and sustainable development. What are the most significant efforts and landmarks that have led to these results? 

Tina: May 2021 saw the launch of the Corporate Environmental Strategy (CER) 2020-2030 by FAO’s Director-General. This moment was long in the making, with the seeds of sustainability in FAO already sown as far back as 2008, when FAO laid the groundwork for promoting sustainability in the Organization and began its efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.  The launch of the CER Strategy was a call to action, increasing the awareness and visibility of FAO’s corporate sustainability. Since then, the CER team has expanded its scope and ambition, in all aspects. In 2021, FAO and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) entered a Service Level Agreement for Energy Solutions for FAO’s Decentralized Offices, which will facilitate interagency collaboration in the future installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in FAO facilities. In 2022, the CER team also launched a Call for Expression of Interest for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in FAO Decentralized Offices. This process will scale up and systematize the CER team’s efforts to enhance energy efficiency installations across the Organization.  

Together with The Food and Nutrition Division (ESN) and the Office of Innovation (OIN), the CER team have explored behavioral science as a potential tool to facilitate behavioral change. These efforts have already produced some encouraging results regarding waste sorting and healthy food choices. 

 Support from management and the Green Champions network was crucial to catalyze these changes. Each interaction with FAO’s Green Champions network is a constant source of inspiration and an opportunity for mutual learning and growth. 

GtB: What innovative tools are used to track and compare the implementation of the CER strategy, identify areas for improvement and evaluate performance? 

Tina: To ensure that Decentralized Offices have an easy reference to track the performance of their offices, and to ensure that the CER Strategy implementation can likewise be monitored, the CER team has developed two dashboards. One reflects the progress of the work plans prepared and submitted by the strategy focal points in each regional office and division. The other can be used by Decentralized Offices to monitor the environmental footprint of their office using an easy visual aid. To leverage the power of data visualisation, the new Country Office Management & Monitoring Tool (COMMIT) has also been recently launched. It is a corporate tool, which allows Country Offices to assess their performance across a variety of parameters. Environmental performance indicators, including on emissions, have also been integrated into this tool, to give an extra layer of visibility to these metrics. 

These tools will be used to track and compare progress, and to identify and better target areas of improvement. Strategy implementation progress currently stands at 56.8 per cent. 

GtB: Which FAO offices led the way in implementing the Corporate Environmental Responsibility Strategy 2020-2030 in 2022? 

Tina: We have received great support from our regional offices, which have been instrumental in setting an example in their respective regions. They each are represented in the working group for the CER Strategy implementation, and have helped identifying challenges, areas of improvement, and next steps.  

For example, FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) in Bangkok completed the installation of a new air conditioning system designed to promote environmental and human health in March 2022, and in September completed the installation of a 132.84 kilowatts peak  (kWp) grid-tied system that is expected to result in 20–30 percent annual energy savings, reducing around 80 tCO2 per year.  Other offices, such as the FAO Regional Office for Africa have created green teams that have provided great support, developing their own action plans targeting energy, waste, water, travel, and awareness raising.  

In general, the CER team’s work is defined by collaboration. We have received the enthusiastic support of Country Offices, such as FAO Jordan, which inaugurated a new solar system in 2022, demonstrating its commitment to increase the prevalence of renewable energy across FAO. FAO El Salvador set another milestone, where holistic greening criteria were used for a complete office remodel, serving as an example to other Organizations in the region.  

We see this environmental proactivity increasing more and more in Decentralised Offices. For example, the FAO Dominican Republic Representation has recently developed its own CER Action Plan. This CER team will continue to build upon the synergies that have been established with our Green Champions network, and to build new partnerships with other offices. 

GtB: The joint work of the CER team and the UNDP Green Energy Team to install green energy solutions in FAO facilities and operations around the world is a great example of fruitful collaboration between UN entities. What have you achieved last year through your joint efforts? 

Tina: In 2022, thanks to the joint efforts between the CER and UNDP Green Energy Teams, a 13 kWp grid-tied solar system was completed in the FAO Jordan Office. The system was inaugurated with a hybrid event on the 13th of June, and was attended by Jordanian Ministers, the General Manager of the Jordanian Electric Power Company, and representatives of FAO senior management from FAO Jordan as well as FAO Headquarters (FAO HQ), exemplifying the commitment from all parties to green FAO premises. Another solar project was recently completed in Sierra Leone. It consists of a 15 kWp system with a 42 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery that will provide a 37 per cent renewable fraction to the Office. 

Other solar projects are at various stages of implementation thanks to the FAO-UNDP partnership. In FAO Burundi, a 40 kWp solar PV hybrid solution with an 81kWh battery bank has been designed, while in FAO Congo a 15 kWp system with a 34 kWh battery that will provide a 71 percent renewable energy fraction is also underway. These projects are estimated to cumulatively save 18tCO2e annually. In FAO’s São Tomé and Príncipe Country Office, the design of a 12.5 kWp system with 12 kWh batteries has been approved and is awaiting procurement and shipment of components. 

This collaboration between the CER team and the UNDP Green Energy Team has gone from strength to strength, to the point where it often feels we are operating as one team. We look forward to developing this partnership even more in the future, to reach new heights together and show what can be achieved through inter-agency collaboration. 

GtB: As part of World Environment Day 2022, the CER team launched a sustainability  photo competition. How effective is the creative format for increasing environmental awareness and changing the collective habits of FAO employees? 

Tina: The theme of World Environment Day 2022 was #OnlyOneEarth, focusing on sustainable consumption patterns and sustainable behaviours towards living in harmony with nature. This was an opportunity for FAO employees around the world to show which environmental concerns are important to them and give a new perspective, depth, and focus on sustainability. While the competition only received limited responses, they represented diverse subject matters from FAO employees across the world. While it is difficult to judge how effective a photo competition may be, there is ample evidence pointing to the power of creative instruments in grabbing people’s attention. 

The creative medium provides an unparalleled opportunity to get a glimpse of the depths that often lay beneath the surface of our emotions. As we have become accustomed to following similar means and formats of communication, human expression has become more homogenized. Creativity allows individuals to rise above these norms. It is an opportunity to imbibe words or images with meaning and substance. It allows people to offer a unique piece of themselves to the world. All, regardless of language or background, can understand an emotion. 

For FAO, creative means of expression are a clear way to raise environmental awareness and to drive collective changes in the habits of FAO employees. In an environment where we are often saturated by information, it is easy to feel overwhelmed or disconnected. The creative format will undoubtedly help us to pierce this shroud, in order to increase environmental awareness and, more importantly, to encourage FAO employees to change in a way that aligns with their principles and values.  

GtB: FAO has made significant progress in energy efficiency. This year, CSLI decided to build on this success and launched a Call for Expression of Interest: Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in FAO Decentralized Offices (DOs). Could you elaborate on this new project? 

Tina: The Call for Expression of Interest: Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in FAO Decentralized Offices is aligned with the UNDP Moonshot initiative. Upon the launch of the call, offices with an interest in developing energy efficiency systems were invited to submit proposals to be evaluated, with the possibility to receive technical and possibly financial support for their realization. 

CSLI received approximately 37 project proposals from 22 offices. The proposals were then ranked against feasibility criteria, to determine a list of high priority projects. In the end, 21 across 13 DOs were selected to apply for CapEx funding, with implementation to begin in 2023. Around 50 percent of these are proposals for solar PV systems, while other projects include LED lights, electrical system assessments, replacement of AC units and occupation sensors. These projects, once implemented, are expected to have a cumulative greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 2 827 038.87 kilogram of carbon dioxide (kgCO2) over 10 years. They will also entail cumulative financial savings of USD 1 164 095.60 over 10 years and are estimated to reduce diesel consumption by 32 930 litres annually. 

This is a pilot project for the CER team, but it is expected to take place biannually, in order to encourage other offices with similar potential for environmental and financial savings to embrace energy efficiency projects through future calls, hence increasing the overall benefits. 

GtB: Your team won an internal award for sustainability efforts.  What were you given the award for? 

Tina: CSLI team, which is part of the Renovation Team, was very honored to receive the ONE FAO Team award in the Employee Recognition Awards ceremony for 2022. 

This award attests to the tireless efforts of CSLI during the year to refurbish both headquarters and field premises. CSLI is steadfastly dedicated to ensuring the comfort and safety of FAO employees worldwide, as well as committing to reducing the Organization’s environmental footprint in its day-to-day work.  

For example, over the course of 2022, CSLI oversaw the completion of the renovated eight-floor catering area, the new Uzbekistan Lounge, and a new technological rooftop garden with over 1400 plants. Many other projects are also well underway, including the second phase of the new FAO garden project, which offers a beautiful green space that can be enjoyed by FAO staff and local pollinators alike. 

Regarding sustainability, many of the external facades at HQ were replaced with four new glass curtain walls. In the same vein, CSLI has replaced around 2000 windows with more energy efficient models, and installed several energy saving measures throughout the building, including an innovative elevator system that regenerates energy, all of which have contributed to reducing energy consumption by about 30 percent. CSLI also provided technical support for more than 200 projects in decentralized offices in 2022, both in terms of infrastructure and logistical projects, and in the field of sustainability, which we have discussed here.  

Our team at CSLI is the foundation upon which these successes are built. Their professionalism and determination have meant that we have been able to surmount many challenges over the years, and the ONE FAO Team award is a proud recognition of this contribution to FAO. 

GtB: What steps and projects are a priority for your team in 2023? 

Tina: The new pilot Call for Expression of Interest will certainly function as the team’s flagship program in 2023. Given the vast number of new projects that this entails, the next steps will be securing funding. If allocation of funding is secured, the projects will then begin to be implemented by order of priority. We suspect that, as these projects begin their development, it will inevitably garner the interest form more Country Offices, and we will begin processing new projects. 

Otherwise, we will continue building on the partnerships with other divisions and offices, in order to expand our sustainability portfolio, and to explore new avenues of meaningfully raising awareness and changing behavior in FAO. This includes, for example, leveraging principles of behavioral science to encourage employees to adopt new, more sustainable habits. Firm action steps and progress indicators have been established with each regional office and division in their work plans, to ensure that we are working towards measurable goals together and are able to provide support where needed. 

We are also in the process of finalizing, in collaboration with human resources and external partners, a new CER training course, soon to be released. This will be mandatory for all FAO employees, and we aim to make it as engaging and innovative as possible, to ensure the uptake of its messages.  

With all these projects, we aim to ensure that the seeds of sustainability can further spread and find fertile ground throughout the Organization. 

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