UNV: Supporting Staff From The Top

Personal engagement at the top can be crucial in making an organization's policies, its staff behaviour and its whole ethos more sustainable. As Executive Coordinator of United Nations Volunteers (UNV) since February 2008, Flavia Pansieri has not been shirking this challenge.

For a start, there's her support for the UNV Green Team. This had already been set up before she arrived, and she has backed its efforts in every possible way – beginning by making sure all staff know that every document they send her should be printed double-sided and on recycled paper, with no colour printing unless necessary for comprehension. She has also introduced a 'go by train' rule, inspired by the UN Climate Change Secretariat, under which no air travel is authorized if the journey can be done by train in six hours or less, so long as the train is no more than 15%more expensive. The rule makes it clear that it is worth paying more than the cheapest air fare,to reduce the environmental impact. Underlining her commitment to this principle, Flavia herself went by train from UNV's Bonn headquarters to Copenhagen for the climate change summit in December 2009.

She has also strongly supported the Sustainable United Nations (SUN) climate neutral initiative, and encouraged staff to engage with it. UNV has now collected all the data required to calculate its climate footprint, and is working on an Emission Reduction Plan. Realizing that air travel represents 74% of UNV staff emissions, the new travel services contract (which also covers all the other 18 Bonn-based UN entities) contains a clause requiring the travel agent to specify the rate of carbon emissions for all journeys when assessing quotes,and ensuring that these are taken into account when selecting travel routes.

Staff culture and behaviour established over many years is hard to change, and there is a constant need for reassurance and guidance from the top, so it has been very motivating for UNV staff to see their Executive Coordinator walking the talk, obliging them to follow suit. Flavia saw the idea of an All Staff Green Meeting, with all staff asked to participate, as a great opportunity to share suggestions and encourage extra steps towards climate neutrality. As well as reinforcing her 'travel less' and 'travel greener' messages, she mentioned how she was aiming to reduce her own travel by arranging a videoconference instead whenever possible. Asking staff to so the same, she reminded them of other possibilities such as using Skype more often for teleconferencing.

Flavia's personal motivation is strong, as she has long been an environmental advocate, and she tries to use every opportunity to demonstrate that change is possible. This naturally extends to personal habits too, although she would be the first to admit that she could be more consistent about coming to work by bicycle rather than by car.As she says, “climate change impacts all of us. Addressing this challenge, while at the same time protecting the most vulnerable, will require the ingenuity and solidarity of every citizen. Through voluntary action all of us can take responsibility and make a contribution. Taken together, all our small actions can lead to big results.”

One thing of which she is especially proud is the ‘Volunteering for our Planet' campaign, run by UNV in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).As she explains: “UNV mobilizes volunteers to contribute to peace and development, including tackling environmental challenges and building sustainable livelihoods. For International Volunteer Day on 5 December 2009 we wanted to recognize all the people who already volunteer to save our planet and contribute to sustainable development. We also wanted to inspire more volunteers to get involved.” The idea was for individuals to indicate how many hours they volunteered for the environment between 5 June 2009 (World Environment Day) and 5 December 2009 (International Volunteer Day). Thanks to the use of innovative (and carbon-neutral!) social media, over 1.5 million hours were registered on the website. Flavia's enthusiasm for this initiative, launched at her prompting and met initially with some in-house scepticism, thus proved amply justified by the collective achievement it recorded.

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