United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ)


HQ: New York, USA

Focal Point: Violaine Haeringer

Email: greeningunhq [at] un.org


Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions*

*The data collection methodology has changed over the years and is being standardized with the implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across the UN Secretariat. 

Key Figure: Waste

Key Figures: Water


Secretary-General's Message


“Climate change is undeniable. Climate action is unstoppable. And climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable”

António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General




The Secretariat in New York, along with other Secretariat offices away from headquarters, services the other principal organs of the United Nations and supports the administration of their programmes and policies.

The duties carried out by the Secretariat are as varied as the problems dealt with by the United Nations. These range from administering peacekeeping operations to mediating international disputes, from surveying economic and social trends and problems to preparing studies on human rights and sustainable development.

Secretariat staff also inform the world’s media about the work of the UN and organize international conferences on issues of worldwide concern.

Within its distinctive areas of responsibility and in coordination with the UN System, Governments, private sector and civil society, the Secretariat supports the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, of which environmental management is an important dimension.


Experience so far


Secretariat-based efforts have been instrumental in achieving UN system-wide milestones, such as the call by Member States at Rio+20 Conference for the UN to integrate sustainable development considerations more fully into its management practices and the high-level decision in favour of the introduction of Environmental Management Systems into all UN organizations. The UN General Assembly further requested the Secretariat for an action plan to integrate sustainable development practices into its operations and facilities management, which was presented and endorsed at its 72nd session. To this aim, a UN Secretariat Steering Group on Environmental Sustainability Management was established in July 2017 to lead the Secretariat internal environmental sustainability efforts and the implementation of the Action Plan.

On the ground in New York, efforts continue to integrate environmental sustainability considerations and related operational efficiencies into the Secretariat’s day-to-day planning and business systems. They are led by the NY Steering Group on Environmental Sustainability Management established in 2011.

The renovation of the Secretariat building, which voluntarily followed gold LEED requirements, and continuous improvements since, have resulted in sustained energy efficiencies of over 60% and water efficiencies of around 80%. In addition, the electricity for the main complex is sourced from renewable energy and the generation of solar energy will be introduced in 2019.

Air quality has been improved through removal of hazardous materials and ozone-depleting refrigerants, and the use of lower global warming HVAC coolants.

Tighter restrictions on business class travel and closer review of the need to travel as well as the use of video conferencing have had a positive environmental impact.
The significant achievements in resource efficiencies combined with policy changes and other operational measures have led to a downward trend in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years, particularly for facilities related GHG.


EMS and Reduction efforts


The establishment of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) at all locations is a key element of the Secretary-General’s action plan to integrate sustainable development practices into Secretariat operations. The Secretariat in New York is facilitating the implementation of the action plan with progress on EMS being made at headquarters and at Secretariat offices away from headquarters.

The planning of the local EMS is near completion, with the adoption of its priority environmental aspects based on the results of an Initial Environmental Review:

  1. Energy use
  2. Waste generation and management, including E-waste
  3. Air travel
  4. Hosting of conferences/events
  5. Purchasing of products and services, within existing regulations and as feasible, for areas of high impact on the environment
  6. Environmental competence, training and awareness

A plan of action on waste management has been approved by the NY Steering Group on ESM and is being implemented while plans of action for other priority areas are under development.

Through its EMS, UNHQ is committed to make systematic and continuous improvements in GHG reductions and overall environmental performance.


Inventory Management Plans


The inventory report includes building related emissions of UN Secretariat offices located at the UNHQ complex and its leased buildings, including New York based operations of DFS, DPA and DPKO. The travel emissions were calculated based on air travel funded by UNHQ entities (Umoja business area S100). It excludes NY offices of UN Environment and non-Secretariat agencies (IFAD, UNESCO, FAO, IAEA, ISA, UNIDO, UNITAR, UNU, UNISDR, UNCCD, and ICSC).




The Secretariat in New York is offsetting its reported GHG emissions for 2017 through the purchase of Adaptation Fund Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) issued for Clean Development Mechanism projects under the Kyoto Protocol.

In addition, the emission related to the travel of participants to the 2017 Ocean Conference were offset through UNFCCC Climate Now platform.


Waste management


Waste management is a priority of UNHQ Environmental Management System. A plan of action has been developed following an exhaustive Initial Environmental Review, including upstream and downstream waste audits. It is being implemented to reduce waste, particularly single plastic use, and increase composting, recycling and re-use. 

For the buildings that it controls, UNHQ has achieved zero waste to landfill. It recycles 100% of its paper, bulk metal and textile/carpeting waste, 85% of its construction waste, and around 25% of its mixed waste. 22% of the mixed waste and 100% of the garden waste is composted. The waste that is not recycled nor composted is converted into energy in a facility that exceeds emission regulations.

Past and current highlights:

  • Material and waste efficiencies were achieved during the Secretariat renovation through the use of recycled materials and the recycling of over 90% of construction materials. Furniture was also repurposed where feasible.
  • Photocopy paper is 100% recycled and furniture has recycled and/or recyclable content.
  • Energy-efficient multifunctional networked devices, digital printing technologies, event management applications and Enterprise Resource Planning platforms continue to drastically reduce paper consumption, saving money while also improving meeting efficiencies.
  • Plastic reduction initiatives are underway at the cafeteria, cafes and main conference rooms of the inter-governmental bodies. Plastic straws, stirrers and food containers at the buffets have been eliminated with more actions planned.
  • The waste separation infrastructure is being improved and centralized waste stations are now the norm on remodeled floors.
  • A re-use programme for discarded materials and furniture has been established that benefit schools and community organizations.
  • Campaigns are on-going to encourage staff to reduce consumption of disposable products, including single use plastics and paper towels.

Water Management


Water usage has been reported since 2016. The renovation of the Secretariat building, through the installation of low-flow restroom fixtures, sensors, and other infrastructure upgrades, resulted in an 80% reduction in water consumption. UNHQ has also instituted good water management practices in the buildings it owns:

  • Water meters installed to identify water usage by various site operations
  • Water efficient irrigation methods for landscaping used
  • Water system regularly checked for leaks
  • User-friendly method in place for staff to report leaks and fix them immediately
  • Boiler cycles and blowdown closely monitored
  • Cooling systems optimized to prevent excess water usage

Next steps


The Secretariat in New York will continue to support efforts to integrate sustainable practices into UN Secretariat operations worldwide, including through the implementation of the Secretary-General action plan and development of a Secretariat environmental management framework. Locally, it will pursue the establishment of an Environmental Management System and actions to meet its environmental objectives.


UN and sustainability
UNHQ case studies