UNEP launches ambitious master plan to reduce emissions in global operations by 3 per cent per year, and now many companies are catching up
The 2006 release of the controversial documentary film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ by former American Vice-President Albert Gore could not have been more timely. The film has served to awaken the world, in rather vivid fashion, to the harsh reality of global warming.
Many corporations, hitherto incredibly resistant to change, have been forced to implement policies to be in tandem with the eco-friendly world. This has become a global movement as evidenced by Newsweek’s exclusive environmental rankings for the top 500 corporations in America for the year 2009. Hewlett Packard emerges tops, followed by Dell while Peabody Energy came in last.
The ranking, according to Newsweek, are based on the companies’ environmental performance, policies and reputation. This is just an example of how the social and economic case for going green is becoming more compelling. Some of the major companies which have implemented green strategies include Bank of America, General Electric, DuPont and Home Depot.
For the most part companies have started developing environment - friendly products and services, especially, solar panels which have successfully generated billions in revenue. The companies formerly regarded as some of the worst polluters, have today cleaned up their act, both literally and figuratively.
It is in line with this that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on September 6 published an ambitious new strategy to reduce its carbon footprint and pave the way towards a zero emissions future.
The strategy is expected to entail less air travel, more ‘green meetings’ and e-conferences in order to catalyse a neutral climate. This goes along with introducing a wide range of efficiency measures across its global operations from cutting electricity and paper use in its offices, which is, without doubt, a first for the global leader in matters environment.
Between 2010 and 2012, UNEP is committing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 3 per cent each year. Launching the new strategy, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “These are bold ambitions for any organisation with a workforce of over 1,000, offices across the world and a busy international calendar involving implementing projects and policies and working with governments and other partners across continents. But we have a responsibility to lead by example, and all UNEP staff are aware that becoming more sustainable today is the only way we can protect tomorrow—and if we can get this right it should generate economic savings too.”
He further stressed on the need to “lead by example” and provide a basis for raising awareness of similar organisations, governments, and the public as a whole. UNEP is determined to share methods that can be used by other organisations to reduce their own environmental and climate footprint, a first-rate endeavour in all respects.
Achim also said that staff involvement would be key to the strategy’s success. “I am personally committed to seeing this strategy implemented, and will work closely with the senior management team to see that this happens.”
A key target area emphasised in the expected roll-out is work-related travel by UNEP employees. At present, it was revealed that air travel is responsible for over 85 per cent of UNEP’s carbon emissions. It is projected that more journeys will be undertaken by train and, in addition, there will be greater investment in e-conference technology.
UNEP will also establish an e-communication plan where all UNEP employees are provided with access to online communication tools and online meeting rooms. Implementing the mammoth efficiency measures could save the organisation an estimated US$ 800,000 per year.
Greenhouse gas emissions from UNEP’s offices due primarily to electricity use make up around 15 per cent of the organisation’s carbon footprint. It is recommended that in order to reduce workplace emissions, all UNEP offices with 10 or more staff members will undertake in-house greenhouse gas emission reduction audits based on the Sustainable United Nations (SUN) guide to climate friendly buildings and offices.
Consequently, each office is expected to develop preliminary emission reduction plans by December 2010. An Environmental Management System (EMS) will be the tool used to monitor the organisation’s environmental impact and subsequently come up with progress reports on emission targets.
This move by UNEP is further aimed at supporting the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-85 per cent by 2050. It is committed to monitor, manage and report on its climate and sustainability performance on an annual basis.
Indeed, the main call is for more organisations to follow suit. Some of the few ways in which companies can go green include seeing to it that their products are eco-friendly, on-toxic and biodegradable. Instead of using general batteries, rechargeable batteries can be used. The amount of paper should be reduced by trying to go for online bill payment, online banking and emails. In addition, wherever possible double-sided printing should be used.
The measures are expected to push the greenhouse agenda quite remarkably both in the short and long term, thus contributing significantly to lower emissions. And the journey towards zero emissions has just begun...
By JANE MWANGI
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