UN leaders paint a vision of a sustainable UN

Wed, 13/02/13

What would a ‘sustainable’ United Nations look like? What would it feel like to work for such an organisation? And what are the barriers to bringing it about?

These are just some of the questions that are investigated in a new report published today by the United Nations.
The report, A Vision of a Sustainable UN, was commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme and written by Forum for the Future.
Based on interviews with over twenty leaders from across the UN including Helen Clark from UNDP, Achim Steiner from UNEP and Raymond Benjamin from ICAO, the report gives voice to their ideas about how the UN could build on current activities to ‘green the blue’ and become more sustainable by 2020.

The report shows that UN leaders are enthusiastic about making this happen and are committed to creating a UN that leads the world in sustainable practices. The greatest barrier they identified is the culture and structure of the UN.

A vision of a sustainable UN

The report presents a vision of the UN in 2020 that reflects the ideas of the UN leaders. It focuses on five key concepts. In 2020:
Commitment – The UN continually demonstrates its commitment to sustainability through setting the agenda and long-term vision for sustainability, and demonstrating leadership. A consistent approach is taken across the UN. Funding flows match the UN commitment on sustainability.
Efficiency – The UN fully captures the synergies of cost efficiency and environmental efficiency measures. It makes efficient use of resources and minimizes waste, allowing it to prioritise resources for programming. Pooling assets, reducing the number and scale of international meetings and a more ‘virtual’ approach’ to collaboration and inter-agency working have freed up vital resources. Through engagement in the evolving offsetting regime, the UN has been able to offset within the system, which has created further efficiencies.
Outcomes focused – The UN is strongly focused on its core mission and outcomes across all its agencies. This has allowed it to become more ‘fleet of foot’ and responsive, and freed it from some of the bureaucratic baggage that had built up in the past. This makes the UN more sustainable as fewer resources are tied up in politics and bureaucracy, funding flows more easily around the system, and international travel has been greatly reduced.
Dynamism – The UN is open to change and embraces flexibility in its processes. The system has the capacity to adapt and react to rapid shifts in its operating environment. This has allowed it to respond nimbly to crisis as they occur, and for example keep peacekeeping operations secure event in the face of social and environmental unrest.
Networked – The UN functions as a network of agencies and expert technical bodies, bringing in expertise from outside when necessary. Agencies communicate actively about sustainable development and share best practice on operations and procedure.

The final chapter of the report presents a typical day-in-the-life of a UN staffer in 2020. This gives readers a sense of what a sustainable UN might look like and how staff might experience it. Readers follow Samuel as he goes to work and moves around his building, interacting with colleagues, attending meetings and making the most of new technology to reduce this footprint.


The report authors interviewed leaders from some of the most influential agencies in the organization:
The United Nations must respond by pursuing sustainability in all our operations, facilities and work practices. To do so, we will have to seek out and adopt the latest thinking and technology and be prepared to embrace – as well as advocate for – change. The journey has begun.“
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
This report is not designed to provide answers but to open a debate and give voice to conversations that are already underway in respect to how best to adapt and accelerate a transition towards a sustainable UN.”
Achim Steiner, Chair, Environmental Management Group,
Executive Director, UNEP, Under-Secretary-General, UN
As a leading organization on sustainable development, UNDP is walking the talk on tackling climate change by reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from our operations.”
Helen Clark, Administrator, UNDP
The distinction between the administrative and the programmatic is artificial. If you want to walk the talk, this has to go across both aspects.
Flavia Pansieri, Executive Co-ordinator, UNV
A sustainable UN requires a sea change in organisational culture at every level.
Irina Bokova, Director General, UNESCO
The full report can be downloaded here

Categories: Leadership