United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)


HQ: Nairobi, Kenya

Focal Point: Shoa Ehsani

Email: shoa.ehsani [at] un.org


Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions

N.B The greenhouse emissions attributed to UN Environment include that of a number of Multilateral Environment Agreement and Convention secretariats that participate in UN Environment's climate neutral strategy.

Key Figures: Waste


Key Figures: Water



UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

Experience so far


UNEP has been climate neutral since 1st January 2008. This was achieved by working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions - from 2011-2018 we reduced our GHG emissions by about 31%; and offsetting the remaining emissions by procuring Certified Emission Reductions (CERs).

CERs are carbon credits issued by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol.
Air travel is the biggest emissions source of UNEP since UNEP started monitoring its emissions in 2008, representing more than 80% of the total emissions. To tackle this, alongside practical measures new travel guidelines were introduced in January 2019 to better monitor and manage air travels within the organization. The results of those efforts will only be seen in the 2020 inventory.

UNEP’s work to support Climate Neutral UN has resulted in harmonized methodologies within the UN, and inspired organizations within as well as outside the UN to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve improved sustainability.

66 UN organizations and three governments have already received or are receiving support from UNEP, through provision of tools and methodologies, training, awareness raising, coordination and information sharing.
UNEP also facilitated UN inter-agency groups on travel, facilities management, information and communications technology, and procurement work for low-carbon solutions.

EMS and Reduction efforts

In August 2015, UNEP Executive Director signed the Environmental Policy Statement establishing an Environmental Management System (EMS) for UNEP HQ and main offices around the world.

The EMS has identified as main environmental aspects to be systematically monitored and reduced i) GHG emissions (buildings + air travel); ii) Waste generation and management; iii) Fresh water use and management; iv) Staff awareness; v) Energy use and management.

The EMS is an important step forward towards greater environmental sustainable management of UNEP facilities and operations . It is also a way to continuously improve and work towards the Climate Neutral Strategy approved in 2010, by which UNEP set itself a target of reducing its emissions by 3% year on year.

The first UNEP EMS cycle ends in 2019, so this year an overall EMS review is underway. In 2020 the new EMS cycle will start with a focus on flight reductions, fine tuning the NOF buildings operations, improving water and waste management at the compound in collaboration with the facilities management (UNON) and at the use of biofuels in official vehicles. Furthermore, UNEP will start using the new EMS toolkit, developed by UNEP in collaboration with the Swedish EPA, to better monitor and keep track of its EMS.

Further goals include the instituting of EMS in four other UNEP Offices worldwide.

The biggest source of emissions is from work related flights, of which events and meetings participants travel accounts for 55%. In 2011 air travel accounted for 94% of total emissions, but by 2018 their contribution had fallen to 85%. As UNEP’s number of flights have increased in 2017 (by around 25%), in addition to new travel guidelines, efforts have been made to come up with a strategy to reduce air travel:
  • Staff are encouraged to use e-communication technologies
  • Using train travel instead of short haul flights where possible
  • Combine/ lump missions together
  • Give people a flex-day of leave if they fly economy when entitled to business class (TBD).
  • Publish per capita emissions for divisions or individuals to see who the most polluting are, and create competition.
  • Use regional offices to act on behalf of HQ in the field to reduce the costs and distances travelled

Since 2011 UNEP’s headquarters is located in a state-of the art green building (The New Office Facility); this move has resulted in a 50% reduction of office emissions and a 25% reduction of all facility-based emissions despite the expansion of office areas and auxiliary buildings and plants. The NOF building generates electricity from solar power (roof-top solar panels), uses light wells, passive cooling, motion and lux sensors for efficient lighting operations and low-energy lighting fixtures to achieve energy and therefore emission reductions.


UNEP has been climate neutral for the past 10 years. The unavoidable emissions related to the facilities and operations of all UNEP offices around the world are offset. The 2018 emissions were offset using the CERs bought through Project 3 below,   other CER projects used for offsetting in the past are also shown?
  • Project 1: 50,000 CERs from Wind Project in Tamil Nadu, India. (Procurement date: February 2013)
  • Project 2: 25,000 CERs from Large Dam Project (World Commission of Dams approved), Vietnam (Procurement date: February 2014)
  • Project 3: 10,000 CERs from Dam Project, India (Procurement date: December 2018)

Waste Management

At UNEP Headquarters

Waste data for UNEP HQ was obtained taken as the percentage of the UNEP leased space from the overall UN Gigiri waste data. In total 6 of the 11 reporting UNEP offices, reported on waste; this is a welcome growth in reporting.

In 2017 a new waste sorting facility was established by the United Nations Office Nairobi (UNON). In combination with the new waste contractor the UN compound Nairobi can achieve a recycling rate of up to 90 percent once sorting practices by staff are optimized. Recycling bins were introduced in all UNEP HQ offices in October 2018.

Along UNON and other UN agencies on the compound, UNEP tackled this issue by banning single-use plastic consumption. Since 1 August 2018, the UN Gigiri compound is the first UN headquarters free of single-use plastic in its cafeterias. Disposable plastic cups, cutlery, coffee lids and takeaway containers are no longer available. Instead, staff are encouraged to bring their own takeaway containers.

The below actions were taken to improve waste management at the UN Gigiri compound:

  1. The building of a new waste sorting facility; the hiring of a new waste contractor and the implementation of waste recycling initiative.
  2. Banning of all single-use plastic in the cafeterias since 1 August 2018:
  • Banning beverages that are served in plastic bottles including water and sodas. These were substituted with beverages served in glass and aluminium cans. New water suppliers use recycled glass with metal caps.
  • Banning the use of plastic straws: a paper straw or no straw policy has been implemented.
    Banning of coffee cup lids.
  • All single-use plastic take-out containers are banned, a reusable take-out container is available for sale on campus. The possibility of a long-term strategy with the Kenyan government to provide alternatives to plastic for the entire country should also be sought.
  • Plastic cutlery use in the compound: All plastic cutlery is banned; wooden coffee stirrers are available. Staff are requested to bring their own cutlery for takeaway food.
  • The use of non-plastic folders has been piloted. Various options exist using either recycled paper or renewable biomaterial

At UNEP regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean

In 2018, to tackle single-use plastics and increase awareness on waste management, most staff got equipped with reusable cutlery and bottles and signs were put up around the office as reminder for waste recycling. Moreover, recycling stations were purchased to increase the recycling rates at the office.

Water Management


UNEP receives its water data at HQ as percentage of leased space from the UN Gigiri compound. In some offices away from HQ water meters are used. A total of 3 of 11 reporting UNEP offices provided data on water.  This is the second year for water reporting, it is hoped that the number of participating offices will increase with time.

At UNEP HQ in Nairobi, where water is scarce, several methodologies are in use to improve  water efficiency:

  1. Recycling and use of grey water on compound. Most of the watering of the 140-acre compound is achieved through treated used water (grey water)
  2. Dual flush toilets
  3. Plunge taps that shut off automatically
  4. Rain water harvesting from roof of New Office Facility (estimated at 7.5 million liters a year)

Given that it is the second year of monitoring and the lack of meters in the offices, water data from year to year cannot yet be adequately compared. Comparison with other UN hubs maybe the way forward.

Other environmental measures

At UNEP Headquarters

A mobility initiative at the UN Gigiri compound was launched by UNEP in collaboration with UNON in 2018: Bicycles for internal transport have been provided with various parking stations. In addition, subsidized staff buses are in operation (running on biofuels). Finally, a carpooling App to reduce traffic in the compound is being launched.

At UNEP offices away from headquarters

At the UNEP regional office for Asia and the Pacific, in close collaboration with the facilities managers (ESCAP), efforts were put on green and sustainable meetings with a focus on food waste reduction and sustainable catering, as well as tackling single-use plastic cups use with a mug-dispenser machine.

At the UNEP IETC office in Osaka, energy efficiency measures were undertaken to decrease electricity use through more efficient appliances and lighting.

Next Steps

  • Update the EMS Actions plans for the second EMS cycle of 2020-2024
  • Continued promotion of Green Events in particular the UNEP flagship event- UNEA (done for the past 3 events); other large UNEP events
  • Partnership with Facilities Managers at UNEP HQ and in the offices around the world for improved Environmental Management and Sustainability. Expansion of EMS to 5 other large offices.
  • Better sensitization of staff on internal environmental issues and achievements.

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