The UN System’s green journey began in 2007, when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all UN agencies, funds and programmes to ‘go green’ and become climate neutral. Here are just a few of the best practices that UN System organizations are implementing to become more environmentally sustainable. More efforts across the whole UN are reported on:


UN Headquarters is committed to reducing waste across all aspects of operations. Conferences and meetings have cut official document printing by 80% since 2009. Photocopy paper consumption also continues to drop, 30% in the past three years. Dining has gotten more sustainable, too. Food waste is minimal, kitchen oil is reclaimed as bio-fuel and plastic has been reduced with the elimination of Styrofoam, plastic bags, stirrers and containers at buffets. Even the trash is reducing its trash! Headquarters is using fewer plastic bin liners since transitioning to centralized waste stations in parts of the complex. In other sustainability efforts, a partnership with the Government of India and New York City will bring renewable energy and green infrastructure to the complex with the installation of a bio-solar roof in 2019.


The United Nations Population Fund’s Sierra Leone office used to be powered by diesel generators… a costly, noisy, pollution-spewing option that only provided power from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. But a new solar power system can provide power 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no noise and no pollution. It’s cost-effective, too: Money saved on diesel fuel will pay for the system in five to seven years.


For something in such a small package, condoms have a huge environmental footprint. They require enormous amounts of water, chemicals and raw materials to make, and even more for packing and shipping. The United Nations Population Fund is making sure public health is compatible with environmental health by distributing sustainably-made condoms, and as a result saving 7.8 metric tons of CO2, 11.8m kg of solid waste, 587,598 m3 of water and 1,301,554 kWh of electricity every month.


The organizers and 25,000 participants of the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn were walking the talk with catering that was both tasty and sustainable. Meat has the highest carbon footprint, so at least 60% of the food was vegetarian; all meat was organic and fish was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. To reduce emissions from food transport, caterers were required to use at least 20% of food grown in Bonn and the surroundings.


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has been reporting for the ‘Moving Towards a Climate Neutral UN’ initiative since 2008, and has been a leader in demonstrating sustainability. The agency has reduced water consumption by 44% since they began reporting, reduced electricity consumption by 20%, reduced waste production by 13% from 2015 to 2016 alone and become one of the first UN organizations to develop an Environmental Management System.


The largest solar plant ever built in a refugee camp went live in 2017, providing clean and much-needed additional power to 80,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s Za’atari camp, as well as the surrounding community. The plant will reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions from the camp by 13,000 metric tonnes per year, equivalent to 30,000 barrels of oil, and deliver annual savings of around US$5.5 million.