Greening The FAO: The Role Of The Environmental Coordinator

Thu, 01/04/10

Leading the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on to a greener path - that's the essence of what Julie MacKenzie was asked to do, over a 20 month period from 2008 to 2009. More specifically, as the organization's Environmental Management Coordinator and Climate Neutrality Advisor, she was to “prepare a strategy, related policies and a multi-year action plan for an environmental management system to bring FAO as close as possible to climate neutrality by 2012”. 

To say that her brief was broad would be putting it mildly. She was asked to “provide overall leadership, develop strategic relationships across sectors and levels, propose policy, facilitate problem-solving and decision-making, engage in inter-agency networking, develop and launch communication and advocacy initiatives

It was clearly, she says, “a very challenging job!” So how did she go about it

“On reflection, I think I brought two advantages to the work. Firstly, as can often be the case with pioneering, it was useful that the stimulus for action came largely from the outside. Sometimes the mere fact of being part of an established system, with established duties and an established way of doing things, puts unintentional brakes on taking new initiatives. Secondly, I had enough organizational experience to know that I nonetheless needed to insert myself and my mandate into that pre-existing system, and to create partnerships up and down and across FAO, so as to obtain management and staff buy-in.

“The architecture I set up accordingly involved: 

1) a top-down consultative body, the Green Advisory Group (GAG), made up of selected Assistant Director Generals and Department Directors, and chaired by the Deputy Director General, who agreed to my request that he become FAO’s Senior Green Champion
2) a bottom-up pressure group, the Going Green Group, made up of any staff with the interest and time to dedicate to supporting awareness-raising events or messages, and
3) a mid-level group of sectoral experts, the Green Task Force (GTF), made up of hands-on technical managers who could advise on actually getting the job done. 

“There was no set calendar of meetings for any of those three groups. Indeed, the GAG and GTF met very infrequently, when I needed input or a steer on major proposals such as a draft corporate policy. Much of keeping everyone in the loop took place via email. What might look like a heavy structure in writing, therefore, was kept relatively light in practice.

“The biggest challenges were capturing the interest of over-burdened members of senior management (but my bottom line was that even negative interest was fine, as long as they could not deny knowledge), and ensuring timely and meaningful communication with staff about any changes that would impact on them.

“The greatest fun was preparing attention-grabbing events such as the plastic water bottle campaign and catchy Green Tips for electronic distribution, and replying honestly and factually to reasonable and less reasonable complaints from staff, avoiding any descent into moralizing. Communication that disarms is communication that works!

“For business cases on proposals such as the installation of water fountains, the phasing out of R22 refrigerant gas, introduction of paid parking, etc, I developed a distinctive template that provided an immediate 'environmentally inspired' identity.

“Money is what attracts the attention of senior management most. So to obtain senior management interest, I provided information on estimated costs, savings and pay-back periods for potential action steps. On the communications front, I attempted to encourage colleagues less used to being so open to let me reply on their behalf, as it is my experience that silence or stand-offs can only lead to misinterpretation and resentment. Who needs that?

“The results to date can be measured in terms of a generally raised level of awareness among staff of why and how to behave in a more environmentally sustainable way. Although there is still a long way to go to make such behaviour widely second nature!

“Meanwhile, quite a lot has been achieved so far: the installation of 50 plumbed-in water fountains in Rome HQ, with a drastic reduction in availability of plastic bottled water from vending machines, commencement of retrofit and replacement of heating/air conditioning systems to comply with EU regulations on ozone-depleting substances, the now automatic insertion of a 'green meetings' component into the organization of all large (and some small) meetings hosted at FAO HQ, streamlining of office paper supplies so all are recycled or ecologically produced, biodegradable not petroleum-based plastic drink containers in the bars (wherever first-choice porcelain is not feasible) and improved labelling of differentiated waste bins. The big ticket item, a review of travel policy, is yet to be tackled. It will be controversial.” 

Categories: Leadership, Staff Engagement