09 Feb 2023

Lieu: International Environment House I & Online | Webex

Organisation: ONU durable, Geneva Environment Network

The UN system is making steady progress towards reducing its environmental footprint. This session presented the 2022 edition of the Greening the Blue Report, which revealed that the UN system accelerated efforts on environmental governance and environmental training in 2021.

About this Session

In 2019, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination endorsed the Strategy for Sustainability Management in the United Nations System, 2020–2030 (Strategy for Sustainability) to intensify efforts to combat climate change through internal sustainability strategies.

UN system entities report their environmental footprint against the environmental impact areas (greenhouse gas emissions, waste, air pollution, water and wastewater, and biodiversity) and management functions (environmental governance, procurement, and human resources) identified in the Environmental Sustainability in the Area of Management section of the Strategy for Sustainability. They do so via the annual Greening the Blue Report, which is produced in partnership with the Sustainable UN (SUN) Facility of the UN Environment Programme.

This annual reporting shows whether the UN system is ‘walking the talk’ on environmental sustainability. It has assisted the UN system in making steady progress towards reducing its environmental footprint.

The 2022 edition of the Greening the Blue Report revealed that the UN system accelerated efforts on environmental governance and environmental training in 2021. It highlighted the 2021 environmental impacts of its 307,000 personnel in 53 reporting entities across Headquarters, field offices and operations on the ground.

At this session, leading experts discussed the UN system’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint in alignment with Strategy for Sustainability targets.


By order of intervention.

Hossein FADAEI

Head of the Secretariat, United Nations Environment Management Group


Communications Consultant, Sustainable United Nations, UN Environment Programme


Environmental Sustainability Officer, Sector for Administration and Management, UNESCO


Chief, Facilities Management Section, UNOG

Phillipe PERLIN

Programme Management Officer, UNOG


Programme Officer, Strategy & Planning Division, ITU

Jean-Pierre REYMOND

Executive Director, 2050Today


Coordinator, Sustainable United Nations, UN Environment Programme | Moderator



Hossein FADAEI | Head of the Secretariat, United Nations Environment Management Group  

I represent the United Nations Environment Management Group, which Secretariat is in Geneva and is hosted and chaired by UNEP. UN EMG includes 52 member agencies and is supporting collaboration and coordination of environmental activities of the UN system work. This includes collaboration on internal environmental sustainability, which is reflected by the Greening the Blue Report. Since 2007, the UN Secretary-General has called upon all UN entities to take concrete action towards climate neutrality. Thanks to the Greening the Blue Report, it is possible to assess advancements since 2007. Work has been progressive. For example, EMG has passed from offering entities offsetting options to reduce their GHG emissions to achieving a systemic approach to internal sustainability within the UN System. This is represented by improvements in the accuracy of datacollection methods and the enlargement of the scope beyond air pollution-related targets. Today, the scope includes both specific environmental impact areas, such as waste, water, climate and biodiversity, but also environmental governance areas through the enhancement of human resources and administration to be more compatible with environmental sustainability management issues.  

Undertaking sustainability measures within an intergovernmental system like the United Nations is a substantial challenge. Actions have cost-related implications, which can be then related to procurement and other operations, and bringing these things into equilibrium is complex.   

Given the challenges of adapting change to such a big system, works have been guided by a vision, which in turn has been transformed into a strategy and approaches. The latest vision has been put forward in the Strategy for Sustainability Management in the United Nations System 2020-2030  and aims to make the United Nations a leading entity on sustainability by 2030. The strategy is made of two components. The first component covers sustainability in terms of management facilities. The second component addresses sustainability in terms of programming and operations of the UN system. UN operations, particularly those on the ground, have a much higher impact and are more challenging sustainability-wise as they touch also on social sustainability. Achieving the vision in the two components is complex because agencies in the UN system have not been integrating sustainability in their work in the same ways. Among other reasons, this is because the nature of some mandates imposed integrating sustainability earlier. Another challenge in implementing the UN sustainability strategy are economic resources. On the other hand, the Sustainability Strategy also offers opportunities to collaborate, which is essential in order to generate support for each agency to set and achieve progressive targets. Collaboration also fosters inter-agency learning and resource-sharing and peer-to-peer support and reinforces collective action.  

Greening the Blue Report 2022 Data Highlights

Bethany PADFIELD | Communications Consultant, Sustainable United Nations, UN Environment Programme  

For a better understanding of Bethany Padfield’s presentation on Greening the Blue Report 2022, please consult her slides (available for download under the “Documents” section of the page). 

The latest edition of The Greening the Blue Report was released in 2022 but the data that it includes refers to 2021. The Report has been produced every single year since 2009. From 2009 to 2015 it was called Moving Towards a Climate Neutral UN. Since 2015 the name adopted for the report is Greening the Blue, and it is issued annually by Sustainable United Nations (SUN), under UNEP, on behalf of the entire UN system. SUN cooperates with the Working Group on Environmental Sustainability in Area Management, also known as Greening the Blue Community entities, which is under the EMG. Starting from the 2020 edition, the report began to use the environmental impact areas and management functions that are identified in the Strategy for Sustainability Management in the United Nations System 2020-2030 , especially with reference to the area of management.  

Key Findings

The Report highlights the 2021 environmental impacts of 307,000 personnel in 53 reporting entities across Headquarters, field offices and operations on the ground. The entity-level data highlights can be accessed here 



UN System Walking the Talk

Miriam TEREICK | Environmental Sustainability Officer, Sector for Administration and Management, UNESCO 

For a better understanding of Miriam Tereick’s presentation on Greening the Blue Report 2022, please consult her slides (available for download under the “Documents” section of the page). 

According to the Greening the Blue Report that was just presented, UNESCO is among the four entities (7 % of the total) that meet the environmental governance criteria. This is an important achievement since in the 2021 edition of the report UNESCO was far from meeting the criteria.  

How has UNESCO greened its activities to meet the criteria in 2022?  

Achieving environmental sustainability is very closely linked to UNESCO’s mandate. Moreover, UNESCO has had for a long time a voluntary staff initiative called “Greening UNESCO”, whose members are dedicated to making changes internally. Besides that, various initiatives and programmes within UNESCO contribute to environmental sustainability. Nevertheless, no overall systematic effort or policy to reduce UNESCO’s environmental footprint was developed before 2018/ 2019. The “Walk the Talk” momentum coincided with the publication of the UN Sustainability Management Strategy 2020-2030 and with the uprise of the Fridays for Future youth climate movement.In that period UNESCO also appointed a new Director General who wished to go forward in that direction, starting with the creation of an administrative sector to systemize all administrative and management functions together. Thanks to this new body, cross cutting themes like  environmental sustainability began to be mainstreamed into all management functions.  

In the 2019 Greening the Blue Report, UNESCO received two blank spaces on governance and on carbon neutrality. These triggered a response that has led, only three years later, to the development of UNESCO’s Environmental Sustainability Report. 

UNESCO’s EMS Roadmap  

UNESCO’s Environmental Sustainability Report 

 Since 2019, UNESCO has been able to reduce 31% of its total GHG emissions with respect to its 2030 target. UNESCO managed to approve an ambitious cut in air travel by 35% because, being a signatory of the UN Sustainability Management Strategy, it has already committed to reducing it by 45%.  

What helped achieving these results was the support of the top management and of member states. Again, having dedicated staff and very clear roles fostered collaborative effort among teams beyond the administrative and management functions. Another element that UNESCO included in its strategy was getting motivation in the team through dedicated communication efforts. These are taken over by small greening groups working on specific topics. Finally, getting inspiration from others in similar situations, like other UN agencies. 

UNESCO’s internal resources and tools 

 In the last years UNESCO developed various online and offline resources to reduce its overall environmental impact. More in the presentation.  

Staff engagement and awareness

On top of those, UNESCO conducts as many awareness activities as possible like an annual cleanup day; growing vegetable gardens at the HQ; organizing workshops and celebrating environmental occurrences as we did on the last international bike day.  UNESCO has an internal pledge to get staff on board and motivate them to participate in less popular measures like abolishing individual office bins, for example. Constraints in human and monetary resources are among the challenges, like the lack of interest by some bodies. When encountering resistance to actions, we tend to always refer to our mandate and to existing commitments like the UN strategy and to show that commitments are already in place, thus compliance is mandatory. Again, UNESCO’s strategy is a combination of undertaking formal steps, like the establishment of the EMS, in parallel to concrete technical improvements. That refers to energy reduction measures, to reduce travel and improve meetings and that really goes hand in hand with improved and increased communication. 

Marilu BLANCO MONTERRUBIO  | Chief, Facilities Management Section, UNOG 

The Palais des Nations is currently undertaking its most important renovations. Works started ten years ago and will supposedly end in two years. The aim of the renovation works is to increase the sustainability of the Palais, making it suitable for users and in conformity with local regulations and the ergonomy of the work. The project started with the construction of Building H. This state-of-the-art building is highly efficient and sustainable. It can house up to 1500 people and is being used right now as a storing space. The renovation works are being undertaken putting in place a capital investment plan, which goals are:  

  • Preserving the premises;  
  • Making the best use of space and integrate the new modalities of the work;  
  • Building an energy and sustainability capital master plan; 
  • Renovating the 40 hectares garden to bring back to its initial status after the works   

Rosario Di Pasquale | Chief Engineer Unit , UNOG 

Tracing back the sustainability path of Palais des Nations 

Our first endeavors in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency can be traced back to 2009, when the Palais started using lake water from Lake Geneva and convert it into energy to cool the building. This gave us a lot of greenhouse gas emissions reduction as it prevented the use of the chillers that we have at the Palais as a backup. Lake water is used ninety percent of the time for cooling the Palais Conference Center. Then, thanks to a donation from the local government, in 2012/2014 photovoltaic panels installed were on the roofs and windows were replaced, and the building management system was put into system. These allowed reducing energy consumption and gas emissions by 35 percent. Efficiency improvements continued thanks to the new building management system, which enabled us to fine-tune operations and parameters on technical installations.In 2020, a new heat recovery system of our data center was installed, enabling  the recovery and reduction of consumption by 2 million kilowatt/hours since 2020. In 2021, we signed a contract with the local municipal water supplier to use the lake water this time to heat the Palais des Nations. Heatgeneration presently done using fossil fuel through boilers will be replaced with heat pumps connected to the lake water. This will serve both to produce cooling and heating for the Palais. This is being undertaken in parallel and in collaboration with the SHP project with our teams in-house. 

 Current phase of renovation works 

We are now in the process of implementing an Energy Center Projectwithin the framework of the Strategic Heritage Plan (SHP), currently in the improvements phase. There is the ongoing heat recovery of the insulation of the refrigeration in the cafeteria, which will enable to recover energy produced through refrigeration installations in the cafeteria. Among the SHP goals there is the renovation of the Palais to reduce energy costs and consumptions by 15 percent. This will happen by renovating the insulation and having a new sustainable and energy efficient building. This building will substitute one of the towers, which demolition will improve technical installations of the historical part of the Palais. These activities are being implemented because the aim is not to get energy certifications for building H alone, but also for the renovated parts of the Palais.  

Among the other ideas and initiatives, UNOG is trying to implement the BREEAM environmental certification, which will approximately a year. To implement it, audits on buildings and technical installations will be held and these will then provide a roadmap of what needs to be done to improve installations and buildings in terms energy and sustainability According to this design, insulation will be given back to Building H and the renovated Palais des Nations. The next few years will also be dedicate to the optimization of the parameters of the building to ensure that the building’s consumptions are reduced even further.   

Future steps 

The plan for the 2025-2026 period aims at creating a new project to complement the lake water heat pumps, since these allow to cover only 80 to 90 percent of our heating. Lake water can only be used within the limits of sustainable water extraction. Other renewable energy sources that are been considered are geothermal, photovoltaic or solar panels. These will allow the Palais to be fully powered by renewable energy sources. Again, future plans regard the annexes of the Palais, which are for the most part old Villas. As part of the capital investment preservation plan, annexes will be renovated and brought up to speed on technical installations, insulation and adapted to spatial needs. It is within our aims to expand the network heating and cooling, which is connected to the lake water to supply to the annexes. This will greatly reduce both our energy consumption in terms of renovations and our gas emissions thanks to the renewable energy at the source of the heating and cooling 

Phillipe PERLIN | Programme Management Officer, UNOG 

UNOG is also trying to strengthen its efforts to improve sustainability by increasing its human resources. An environmental officer will be joining UNOG in a few months and a young professional officer that will be joining in the second part of the year. UNOG is building up its resources in order to be able to meet our upcoming targets.  

Robin ZUERCHER | Programme Officer, Planning and Strategic Relationships Service, ITU 

For a better understanding of Robin Zuercher’s presentation on Greening the Blue Report 2022, please consult her slides (available for download under the “Documents” section of the page). 

Environmental sustainability is not a new topic in ITU. Activities have been ongoing before the establishment of an Environmental Management System, like the renovation of the headquarters building, which since 2010 has led to a steady decrease in electricity consumption (25%). When in 2019 the Chief Executive Board endorsed the UN Sustainability Strategy, ITU used it as a kickoff point to raise its ambition even further. This was formalized with the approval of the environmental sustainability statement, where ITU pledges to align with the UN Sustainability Strategy through the establishment of an EMS. From this point, all previously undertaken environmental activities and management have been streamlined through the EMS.  

In 2020, ITU established an EMS governance structure under the chairmanship of the Deputy Secretary General, followed by an initial environmental review. In 2021, ITU laid down its first set of EMS targets approved by management, and in 2022 following ITU’s first internal audit of the Environmental Management System, the first ITU Environmental Sustainability Policy was developed. Throughout this process, ITU is attentive to keeping a two-way and continuous communication with member states to include them in its plans and strategies to achieve them. For instance, to overcome the initial internal hesitations for approving the greenhouse gas emissions target, considering that air travel is ITU’s largest source of emission, ITU held consultations with member states.  

At the end of 2022, ITU hosted its Plenipotentiary Conference. In the resulting ITU Strategic Plan 2024-2027, environmental sustainability is often mentioned. For example, in Resolution 182, member states clearly instruct ITU’s Secretary General to continue reducing the footprint and to continue implementing the UN Sustainability Strategies.  

The internal audit conducted in 2022 helped ITU to see where more work is needed. For instance, it revealed that some aspects of the targets are not that easily measurable and require additional consultations to be achieved :  

  • By 2022, all recruitment and selection processes give adequate weightage to environmental sustainability understanding and behaviours. 
  • By 2022, all staff incorporate environmental sustainability understanding and behaviours in their e-pmds

These goals will be more easily achieved once ITU finalizes the update of its competency framework with environmental sustainability competencies, which will then allow assessing candidates on environmental sustainability during the hiring process. 

  • By 2022, allow for remote participation in all meetings and events

Theoretically, this target is already in place, but it may be not so meaningful since it is hard to estimate whether people attending events virtually, not given this choice, would have travelled to venues and eventually contributed to increasing GHG emissions. ITU has various IT-related targets to improve its energy efficiency. Being the UN specialized agency for information communication technology, ITU is committed ‘to walk the talk’. To that end, on 14 February 2023, ITU hosted a workshop on circular and sustainable public  procurement of ICTs 

An additional example of how ITU still needs to make progress is its greenhouse gas target. ITU, in line with the UN Sustainability Strategy, pledges to 45% GHG emission reduction by 2030. But this is a reduction from 2010 levels to the extent possible without hindering ITU’s outreach and assistance efforts to its members. This shows that the willingness to meet in person will continue to be a hinder to emission reductions since air travel is the main source of it.  

ITU recognizes it is still far from being perfect in terms of environmental sustainability, but it is making progress. For instance, sustainability training has been made mandatory for all staff. This proved useful in translating HR-related aspects into a sustainability strategy that the HR department can include in its processes. ITU has also embraced a paperless meetings culture and guidelines for Greening ITU events. This includes steps taken to phase out single-use plastics, inviting participants to bring their own bottles; eliminating single-use bins and including recycling stations.  On top of these, the ITU headquarter building underwent renovations to improve its sustainability.  


Q – Is there any support and guidance on sustainable events?

Asa Elisabeth Tynell | Project Manager Environmental Governance, UNEP taking the floor online SUN facility at UNEP and UNFCCC have developed a Green Events Tool together with a consultancy firm named GORD. It is freely accessible online. Online guidance material on virtual and hybrid meetings to reduce air travel and additional material related to travel (currently being updated) can also be found. 

Q – There is news claiming that the temperature of the water from Lake Geneva (used for cooling systems) when it is sent is slightly increased. Is that true?

Jean Pierre Reymond: – The water that is released back is around 20°C and the one that is pumped is around 7°C so there is quite a difference. This does not pose a problem since the volume of the lake is absolutely huge compared to what is sent back. The so-called “GLN” experiment used by UNOG and other entities is currently limited and will be exploring the future use of lake water for heating. Also with this use, the used volume of the lake overall is less than 0,0001%. However, the University of Geneva is still looking into the matter to see if the volume of used water can be increased and upscaled to other cities without compromising the safety of the Lake.

Q- It would be highly relevant to learn how member states support the implementation of sustainability strategy member states are supporting the implementation. There should be coordination of efforts so that member states and entities in the UN systems match and mutually reinforce steps to green their work. 

Asa Elisabeth Tynell – The examples brought in by UNESCO and ITU show how initial hesitance in setting targets from their management perspective is common. These also set up good examples of how inclusion and communication with member states are key to proceeding on complex items connected to sustainability strategies.  

Closing Remarks

Jean-Pierre REYMOND | Executive Director, 2050Today 

This event has given a very positive outlook on mitigation strategies in the face of climate change, but it is also important to restate the challenges humanity is facing by reminding some figures. Every single second, ten swimming pools of ice are melting. This reminds us that strategies to meet goals by 2030 or 2050 not only are to be met in a very short window of time, but they must also be calibrated on a limited carbon budget. From now until 2030, each human being must produce a maximum of 5.2 tonnes per capita per year to stay within the earth’s limits.  

On the other hand, some developments keep high the hopes of respecting these limits. For instance, 2022 was a good year for two reasons. For the first time in history, in Europe renewable energies were the top sources of energy. The trend has been inverted in the last 20 years alone, showing that efforts can lead to positive results even in short time frames. This also means that action to achieve and maintain similar records needs to be much faster in the years ahead. The second good news is that for the first time in history, the level of investment in renewable energy was equal to the level of investments in fossil fuels. Keeping in mind that more than a billion dollars were still invested in fossil fuels, this good trend must be accelerated. 

In terms of what Geneva is doing, the role of 2050Today is supporting the local community to make a difference in the sustainable path of the city. Currently, in Geneva emissions per capita amount to 14 tons of CO2, meaning that consumption must be divided by three to stay within the 5.2 quota that allows for achieving the 1.5 target. The world’s quote is still higher than this limit, with an average of 6 tonnes of CO2 per capita. Efforts need to be urgently strengthened but we are on a promising path. According to the data collected from the Greening the Blue reports for 2019, 2020 and 2021, and by 2050Today, we have been able to decrease emissions almost by 50 emissions globally.  For instance, emissions related to aviation have been drastically reduced. 

It is not the lack of options, solutions, or technologies. What we lack most of the time is the willingness to do it. We have all the systems, all the parameters and all the tools to succeed. Now we have to speed up so by 2030 we can really make a difference and be able to use the remaining carbon budget until 2050 rather than 2030.



Live on Webex

Live in the room


Photo Gallery