UNEP: Communicating Sustainability

Thu, 01/04/10

Embracing the challenge of going climate neutral, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has had to be willing to make some major changes. But major changes cannot be made without the buy-in of management and staff. That's why UNEP's work on its greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, and creating the Climate Neutral Fund to pay for emissions offsets, has been reinforced by a drive to communicate sustainability throughout the organization.

"UNEP is like a big think tank”, says its Climate Neutral Officer Lova Andre. “Our 'business idea' is facilitating the international dialogue on environmental issues. It is entirely in line with our mandate to make it easy for our staff to practice what we preach – and it builds pride and confidence in the organization too." 

The bald facts first established by the GHG inventory in 2008 are that air travel accounts for 87% of UNEP's emissions, and nine tenths of the rest is caused by energy consumption. Reducing these emissions, by 3% each year until 2011, is a key target of the UNEP Climate Neutral strategy, the latest version of which was approved by its senior management team on 13 April 2010 – along with detailed actions to be undertaken throughout the organization.

The communications effort related to this commitment aims at making UNEP staff proud of being part of an organization that practices what it preaches. It recognizes that staff involvement and engagement is vital for the long-term improvement of UNEP's environmental performance. People need to be aware that reducing their personal emissions is beneficial in many ways. Their awareness depends on informing, engaging and involving them. Through this awareness-raising and training, attitudes can be altered and skills can be learned.

One priority is keeping staff fully acquainted with the facts and figures on the organization's emissions. UNEP's carbon footprint is on display for all to see on a noticeboard at its headquarters in Nairobi. There's a suggestion box for new ideas on what to do to reduce it, and activities and meetings devoted to the cause of the greening of UNEP. Each division meets regularly to discuss the results of the GHG inventory, to do some brainstorming and get feedback on what can be done as an organization to improve environmental performance. 

These meetings are set up to get staff and management involved both in the discussion and in finding solutions. Some staff have voluntarily started initiatives as a result of the meetings, and every UNEP division now has a small 'green team' working on how to improve its offices. The voluntary establishment of these teams, and the enthusiasm and commitment shown by staff, has been most encouraging and inspiring. 

Change can start with small steps - such as turn-off campaigns, boxes for recycling paper, energy management software on everyone's computers, double-sided printing as the default standard, phasing out of personal printers, support for car-pooling and so on. Each year UNEP conducts a 'green office competition' between all the divisions, comparing their performance and identifying a winner. The organization's 'stocktaking' on its climate neutral commitment ensures that staff are kept informed of the particular challenges they're facing, UNEP's vision for meeting those challenges, what has already been done (greening practices in divisions, offices and duty stations) and what still needs to be done. Clear targets are discussed in relation to how to achieve them, seeking suggestions and trying to pinpoint the most relevant training. 

The ONE UNEP Family Day and Baobab ceremony, an annual celebration of the work of the organization and its staff, has become an opportunity for people to involve their whole family in the sustainability initiative, with a fun-filled day of activities highlighting aspects of environmental performance. At the 2010 event, held on 26 March and attended by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and Deputy Executive Director Shafqat Kakakhel, the team of 'UNEP greenies' kept up a day-long interactive ‘Sustainable UNEP’ programme, conducting surveys and organizing a forum discussion and a family quiz on the environment, and awarding prizes such as bicycles for the best pledges and achievements.

The good work continues all year round too. Action points on the agenda include developing the UNEP sustainability website, to make it more interactive and create a place where staff members can become more involved in the UNEP community on green issues; strengthening relationships between the green teams at headquarters and country offices; developing environmental performance indicators for all offices; and improving the UNEP Annual Report, with more information on environmental performance. 

Alongside this work on staff engagement, the organization's internal procedures, incentive schemes and administrative routines have to be reviewed. Do they support and reinforce appropriate behaviour? If not, they need changing – but that process itself takes time. So communication initiatives must be properly followed through, with feed-back and updates at every step.


Costs and benefits


Reducing emissions of carbon to the atmosphere has both financial and environmental benefits. In financial terms the emission reduction plan outlined in the UNEP Climate Neutral strategy is estimated to have a pay-back time of less than 2 years. 

The accompanying drive on communicating sustainability throughout the organization places climate neutrality and sustainability at the heart of UNEP’s ethos. Increased staff awareness will also disseminate ideas and information to friends and family, encouraging them in turn to adopt more sustainable behaviour. The ONE UNEP Family Day was a great opportunity to involve staff and their families to enjoy their involvement with UNEP and participate in the campaign.

Categories: Staff Engagement