UNFPA: An Economical Green Campaign

Thu, 01/04/10

Operating on only a small budget, an easily replicated 'green' awareness-raising initiative at the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) could serve as a showcase for the entire UN system.

All UNFPA personnel in the organization's 120 offices around the world now takes part in a ’Green Learning Afternoon’ training session that takes about two hours to complete. Its four modules comprise a CD with an introductory film about climate change, a presentation on behaviour change, a virtual quiz game, and a final presentation which connects the whole subject with the UNFPA's own mandate by exploring the relationships between climate change and population issues. The training programme is accompanied by a practical package of reusable mugs, bottles and bags, and backed up by a 'Green Office Guide' and information and activities on the special UNFPA Going Green internal website. 'Green Focal Points' at UNFPA field offices help maintain the momentum, and regular sessions keep the UNFPA's global volunteer Green Team up to speed.

The whole initiative is really Oliver Buhler's baby. A facilities management specialist who is UNFPA's Climate Neutral Focal Point, he needed something that could get off the ground with minimal funding. So his first step was to hire a climate neutral consultant – Biljana Markova—that would execute the Greening Initiative at UNFPA, which included creating the Green Learning Afternoon as well as the Green Office Guide, improving the Intranet site, developing the GHG Emissions Calculator online tool, and drafting the UNFPA Climate Neutral Strategy: 2010-2013. And as a green organizational culture is indispensable, the volunteer Green Team has played an important part in the awareness-raising campaign by spreading the 'green' message within their workplace and therewith bringing about many beneficial changes in their colleagues’ office behaviour. With the right training and proper information sharing, Mr. Buhler believes, cultural change can be extremely effective at a relatively low cost. ”Most UN staff members can be convinced by good arguments,” he says, “and there is no better argument than helping to save the world from a catastrophe.” 

The easy to read style of the Green Office Guide, the refreshing tone of the intranet site and the 'fun' dimension of the green training for all staff has helped keep the green message free of the UN's usual bureaucratic jargon, creating more interest in the green cause and ensuring that more volunteers keep coming forward to join the team. There is now a Green Focal Point in every UNFPA office around the world and Green Team members come up with ideas independently for each of them – many of which can and do get replicated elsewhere. 

Working on the greening of a UN agency is very rewarding, says Mr Buhler. The positive feedback the Green Team receives is most encouraging and motivating, and it is great that so many staff members join in its work on top of their regular jobs, because they really believe in the cause of making the organization climate neutral. However, it is important to back up these cultural change activities with action on the ground, such as the improvement of UNFPA facilities, which is only possible if the necessary funding is provided. The greatest challenge is to get the funding to start implementing these more costly projects.

The UNFPA's achievements include:

  • developing an easy-to-use online tool for calculating the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other environmental impacts of UNFPA facilities and operations, following the methodology used in the UN GHG emissions calculator and the International Civil Aviation Organization's air travel calculator;
  • producing a user-friendly Green Office Guide to help field offices take immediate and cost effective steps to make their day-to-day operations greener;
  • getting an official circular issued to all staff from senior management making it mandatory practice to use double-sided printing as standard, to save and recycle paper and toner, to turn off lights and computers when not in use, and maximise use of 'day lighting', with additional measures at headquarters to improve the recycling system and switch to using 100% recycled paper and ink-saving 'eco' fonts;
  • improving the internal UNFPA Going Green website, which includes extensive information on 'being green' at the office and beyond, forums for discussion on green topics, links to resources for information on environmental issues, and much more;
  • creating the 'Green Learning Afternoon’ two hour training programme for all UNFPA staff, in English, French and Spanish, distributed to all field offices and also available on the intranet; and
  • working out a detailed Climate Neutral Strategy to determine the next policy steps and actions towards climate neutrality.

Costs and benefits

The UNFPA Climate Neutral team had a budget of USD 100,000 in 2009, which paid the salary of Ms. Markova and the cost of buying staff their Green UNFPA mugs, bottles and bags. 

The low cost awareness campaign, a real success in terms of cross-cutting communications within the UNFPA, has engaged and involved 2,961 personnel worldwide in 120 locations. Green training has resulted in a significant increase in awareness, with the Green UNFPA mugs, bottles and bags serving as a constant reminder and motivator. Staff is keen to assist in saving energy and water, resulting in real financial and emissions savings for the organization. 

Categories: Energy, Leadership, Staff Engagement