Interview with Isabella Marras, SUN Coordinator

Wed, 07/11/12

The following interview by Ruvan de Alwis and Rachel Miller with Isabella Marras, Coordinator, Sustainable United Nations (SUN) first appeared on UN Special. SUN is the UN facility behind Greening the Blue.

What exactly is Sustainable United Nations and what does it do?

The Sustainable United Nations (SUN) facility is a UNEP initiative that provides support to the United Nations and other organizations in measuring and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and improving their overall sustainability performance. SUN was established in response to a request by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on World Environment Day (5 June) 2007 to all UN agencies, funds and programs to reduce their carbon footprints and “go green”. This was echoed in October 2007 through a decision of the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) to adopt the UN Climate Neutral Strategy, which commits all UN organizations to move towards climate neutrality.

SUN works with the UN Environment Management Group (EMG) – an entity that coordinates environmental work within the UN – to provide guidance and develop tools to assist with emission reduction work across UN organizations. SUN uses a ‘whole organization’ approach to identify sources of emissions as well as opportunities for improving sustainability. These opportunities, many of which also deliver cost savings, focus on three key areas:

  1. Physical assets: including building, equipment, and vehicles.
  2. Management processes: including procurement, travel, and management systems.
  3. Organizational culture: including day-to-day office behavior and ‘corporate’ culture and green meeting practices.

SUN provides support to the Issue Management Group (IMG) on Sustainability Management, which includes representatives (designated as Sustainability Management Focal Points) from most UN agencies and is the key mechanism for coordinating work across the system.

SUN also works in partnership with existing initiatives and networks including the UNEP Sustainable Building and Construction Initiative (SBCI) and International Sustainable Public Procurement Initiative (SPPI), the High Level Committee on Management’s Procurement Network, the UN Inter-agency Network of Facility Managers and the UN Global Compact.

At the personal level, what made you join SUN?

I have worked for the UN for over sixteen years and have always been inspired by the idea of countries working together for a better future. For me, sustainable development is the shorthand term to describe that future, as it includes environmental as well as social improvements. We all know that this work starts at home – with us as individuals. To move beyond my own impacts, and also address those of the UN, is a natural step for me and I have a deep personal interest and commitment to drive this work forward.

Why and when did SUN move to Geneva?

SUN moved to Geneva in September 2011. Previously, SUN was based in Paris where the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics is located. The reason for our move was to be closer to UN agencies and to be able to help our UN colleagues in an easier and more direct fashion.

Are there any specific activities planned for staff of international organizations based in Geneva? 

SUN is a very small team. It consists of two full time staff in Geneva plus two part time staff in New York and in Nairobi. The task of greening the UN system is exciting but also very demanding. SUN has ‘only’ an advisory and coordinating role, whereas staff awareness and involvement in greening matters is the responsibility of individual UN organizations.

What is linkage/relationship between SUN and the Greening the Blue project? 

The Greening the Blue campaign is the public face of the SUN facility – the ‘brand’ if you like. It is the face of greening that UN staff have come to know, and the website provides a host of information to assist them in their work. The campaign has been a huge success since its launch in June 2010 and is a real example of how communications can help to change attitudes and bring about change – even within an organization as large and as complicated as the UN.

Indeed, the recent conclusions of the Rio+20 conference effectively commend UN agencies for their work to date and urge them to do more to promote both sustainability and cost efficiencies in their management. So there will certainly be much more work in greening the UN in the coming years and everyone can do their part. Change comes also from simple things: look at your own actions, challenge your seniors on UN policies that encourage or allow poor environmental decisions, challenge staff who report to you, and keep a sustainability angel on your shoulder at all times.

Categories: Leadership