Environmental Management Action Plan to Reduce UNESCO’s Ecological Footprint

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It is very important to demonstrate that UNESCO, the specialised UN-agency in science and education as well as a cultural beacon, upholds its commitment to leadership in sustainability and is ‘Walking the Talk’.” – Sustainability Team

UNESCO has been active in nature and heritage conservation, establishing a network of protected UNESCO sites as well as raising awareness by means of publications, events and engagement activities with governments and the public. UNESCO has always been the leading UN-agency in promoting behaviour change for sustainability via social and environmental science and education.

In a time when the United Nations is asking the world to upgrade its infrastructure and change its behaviour away from greed and complacency towards a sustainable human existence, UNESCO itself must step up to meet the very same demands.

But UNESCO’s own facilities lack the desired sustainability. There have been initiatives at several UNESCO offices, as in Ha Noi or in Hamburg to reduce energy and material use in UNESCO’s day-to-day activities, and the headquarter-developed Environmental Management System is going to be a much-needed step for us in the right direction.

In the meantime, passionate personnel at UNESCO Bangkok are seeking for ways to adapt the facilities and encourage behaviour change to become more environmentally aware. Though not final, the office’s cross-sectoral Sustainability Team has developed its first Environmental Management Action Plan (EMAP) to reduce its carbon footprint and resources consumption. It is comprised of six areas for action: Leadership, Service Providers, Transportation, Resources, Waste as well as Awareness. Each area is composed of several activities.

For the time being, initial actions have been on:

  • Testing water saving ‘smart’ faucets that release water when an object (e.g. hands) are placed on the sensor for cost and energy effectiveness and everyday practicability;
  • Optimising the interior illumination and air conditioning when not in use, e.g. during lunch times and in the washrooms;
  • Requesting hotels and caterers to replace single-use plastics, such as take-away containers, bottles and cutlery;
  • Limiting paper use for printing by not preparing paper handouts, e.g. for meetings, and for which recycled paper will find future use;
  • Providing separate recycling bins in certain areas throughout the building for testing and finding solutions concerning the end-deposit of the separated waste;
  • Composting food waste to be used inside the premise’s garden, which requires further observation for usability.

General measures like these could be implemented across UNESCO. Subsequent efforts require more investment from UNESCO, and in Bangkok it will include engaging a paper recycling company to collect UNESCO’s paper waste, exploring the feasibility of solar panels, and the training of staff.

The EMAP was born out of individual programmes and projects, such as the creation of UNESCO Bangkok’s mascot Pax The Dolphin from the Plastic Initiative. Currently, the action plan is driven by the Heads of the Social and Human Sciences and Environmental Sciences sectors, with engagement of the Administration and Education units, and with voluntary support from colleagues. UNESCO Bangkok realises that its passionate young people want to make a difference through and in their work place.

But to overcome lagging behind in sustainability adaptation, it is indispensable that the EMAP becomes an integral part of the UNESCO Bangkok’s administrative protocols to ensure coherent and continuous implementation. That means, internal policies must be formulated and implemented step by step. And regular internal monitoring and reporting should be undertaken to inform, adapt and improve on the set targets where needed. Ambitious in scope, the EMAP must be steered by Administration and implemented by the units in order to demonstrate the organisation’s willingness to uphold the values it promotes.

Christian Dohrmann

UNESCO Bangkok

Technical Consultant in Programme Delivery of Monitoring and Statistics with a Passion for Environmental Sustainability

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