Geneva Green Group looks beyond recycling

Mon, 20/12/10

Global environmental problems sometimes appear to be beyond our control as individuals. The reality is that UN staff can contribute a lot in their day-to-day lives to building a more sustainable world – beginning in their own organizations.

Of course, there are already a number of major, official processes underway to make the UN more sustainable. These include the work of the Environment Management Group, initiatives such as Greening the Blue and UN-wide action to calculate carbon emissions and develop emission reduction plans. The Secretary-General has also urged the UN Secretariat and UN agencies, funds and programmes to lead by example and become climate-neutral and many organizations, including UNOG, are already taking measures in support of this objective.

More low-key but no less exciting is the growing number of grassroots initiatives that are flourishing thanks to UN staff members who want to see change happen fast, and are working to achieve this wherever they are and with however much time they have available. These initiatives support the overall objective of “greening the UN” and recently an informal Geneva Green Group has been formed. All those motivated to bring about environmental change are encouraged to join!

Some of the activities include:

  • Promoting tap water. The purpose behind this initiative by UNECE staff is to promote tap water and reduce waste from plastic bottles. The plan is for the Services Industriels de Genève (SIG) to test the quality of drinking water in the Palais des Nations, given the age of the pipes in the buildings. Following this, staff members aim to launch, together with cantonal authorities, an awareness initiative to increase the use of tap water for drinking and reduce the use of disposable plastic bottles. Dates for testing the water should be established shortly. Once this is done for the Palais des Nations, SIG may also perform testing at other UN buildings, if needed.
  • More sustainable cafeterias. Over 300 staff from UN and non-UN agencies recently signed a letter to DSR, the company that manages the cafeterias at the Palais and in many other buildings. They asked that DSR promote the use of ceramic rather than paper cups, reduce single-use plastic waste and offer bio-degradable rather than plastic cutlery. At a subsequent meeting between staff focal points and DSR, the company noted its existing commitment to sustainable practices and committed to, for example, offering reusable ceramic cups unless customers explicitly request paper ones. These small actions could dramatically reduce waste and give a more favorable impression to UN visitors.
  • Green transport. In OHCHR, based on an idea from a staff member, a bicycle navette scheme has been officially launched in its two buildings, Palais Wilson and Motta. Bicycles and helmets are available in both locations for the use of all staff members wishing to use them to commute between the two buildings.
  • Sustainable procurement. In various organizations, staff members are not waiting for guidance or rule changes but quietly shifting over to recycled and FSC-certified paper for photocopiers and printing whilst continuing to adhere to the UN Financial Regulations and Rules on procurement.
  • Idea sharing. The organizers of these grassroots activities have started informal lunchtime meetings of what is becoming known as the Green Group Geneva. The idea behind these informal meetings is to exchange information on what is going on in the different offices at the grassroots level, to brainstorm and seek inspiration and encouragement from one another. So far the group includes staff members from UNECE, OCHA, OHCHR, ITU and ITC.

What motivates these staff? Why not simply let the larger official UN processes run their course?

Motivations differ but a common theme is that staff members want a workplace that reflects their values. Another issue is credibility. Many staff members believe that before the UN goes out to help the rest of the world, we must first have our own house in order. More broadly, there is recognition that this is simply good practice: a green workplace has many benefits: employee retention, potential cost savings and benefits for the health and well-being of staff members. Finally, these staff members want to go beyond actions that involve only themselves and simply recycling paper and cans. They want to take actions that can have broader and more cumulative impacts, but require only a small investment of time and energy.

If you also want to ‘go beyond recycling’ and make a difference with however much time you have available, consider connecting with other members of the Green Group Geneva to share ideas and inspiration. It is completely informal, non-bureaucratic and everyone is welcome. If you are interested in joining the group, please send an email to [email protected].

This article was written by J.Drake and taken from the UNSpecial N.701, December 2010

Categories: Energy, Leadership, Procurement, Staff Engagement, Travel