United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ)


HQ: New York, USA

Focal Point: Violaine Haeringer


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. 2015 was the first year the new ERP data was used for the inventory and included travel from meeting participants not previously captured.


Key Figure: Waste


Secretary-General's Message

"Five years ago, the Executive Heads of all UN agencies, funds and programmes responded to my call to make the UN more efficient in its operations and committed to move their organizations towards climate neutrality. At the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, Member States asked the UN to integrate sustainable development considerations more fully into our management practices. The UN will continue to cut greenhouse gas emissions and take a more holistic approach to environmental sustainability management. As the world addresses the climate challenge and strives towards a new, comprehensive, legally binding agreement, the Organization must lead by example."

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations 


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.

Experience so far

  • In 2011, the position of Senior Advisor for Sustainability was established under a collaborative arrangement between the Department of Management and UNEP. In the same year, a cross-departmental steering group on environmental sustainability was created to guide the Secretariat’s progress.
  • 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.
  • 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, as below.
  • Following awareness-raising campaigns in 2012 (seminar with Chilean and UK missions, outdoors display on paper consumption and recycling), in 2013 the lights of the Secretariat building were once more turned out for Earth Hour, greening volunteers took part in a UNICEF-organized Green Fair, and Green Tips posters were developed for display in the Secretariat and for downloading world-wide from Greening the Blue.


Emissions related to the 2009 Summit on Climate Change were offset through the purchase of Gold Standard Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) provided by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The offsets were achieved through the Bagepalli CDM Biogas Programme, a renewable energy project in India, which delivers both environment and development benefits. 

Reduction efforts

  • The renovated Secretariat building is designed to use 50% less energy, 40% less water and produce 45% fewer GHG emissions. Together with the switch to 100% renewable (wind) energy for the bulk of the Secretariat’s electricity, this will significantly reduce facilities-related GHG emissions.
  • Energy efficiencies are being achieved through:
    • improved building envelope: double-glazed curtain wall, automated interior blinds, new insulation on roofs and exterior wall
    • improved heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system: new electric- steam chiller plant and automated building management system
    • improved lighting systems: high-efficiency lamps and ballasts, occupancy sensors, daylight harvesting system
  • Air quality has been improved through removal of hazardous materials and ozone-depleting refrigerants, and the use of lower global warming HVAC coolants.
  • Among changes in travel policy, tighter restrictions on business class travel and closer review of the need to travel will have a positive impact on GHG emissions


  • Installation of low-flow restroom fixtures in the Secretariat building is expected to reduce water use by 40%.
  • A number of leased buildings have also upgraded restroom fixtures to use less water.


  • Material and waste efficiencies during the Secretariat renovation were achieved through use of recycled materials and the recycling of over 90% of construction materials. Furniture was also repurposed where feasible.
  • Items that are recycled on a regular basis vary by building. All locations recycle paper and cardboard; cans, plastic and glass bottles; and used printer cartridges. In addition, some locations recycle medical waste, light bulbs, batteries, carpet, garden waste, metal, paint & oil, refrigerants, and polystyrene packing materials.
  • In 2013, the Secretariat collaborated with the management of its two largest leased buildings to support their revised waste management system and improve the effective rate of recycling.
  • Photocopy paper is 100% recycled and furniture has recycled and/or recyclable content.
  • Paper use is being reduced through the phasing out of desk-top printers in favour of energy-efficient multifunctional networked devices.
  • Unite Events and PaperSmart systems for meeting management, developed by the Office of Information and Communications Technology and the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, continue to save UN organizations paper and money while also improving meeting efficiencies. The paper-smart technology was first utilized on a large scale at Rio+20, in 2012, where it was credited with saving over 19 million sheets of paper.

Click here for more information on waste management at UNHQ..

Staff training

  • Ongoing presentations on Greening the Blue as part of regular orientation courses for new staff.

Next steps

  • Develop an Environmental Management System for the Secretariat in New York.
  • Review and build confidence in the Secretariat building’s waste management system.

UN and sustainability
UNHQ case studies