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At the UN’s Food and Agriculture Agency, Saving Energy and Reducing Waste

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The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has been saving money and energy through its “greening” programs at headquarters in Rome and in regional offices. Unsold cooked food from the cafeteria, above, is sent to a city food pantry. ©FAO/GIULIO NAPOLITANO 

ROME — The Food and Agriculture Organization is actively mitigating and adapting to climate change in the agriculture sector — crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. Our own headquarters here in Rome and regional offices are also making environmental and social changes.

This work attests to our active participation in the corporate environmental responsibility movement toward climate neutrality being promoted by the United Nations. Since 2008, the Food and Agriculture Organization has engaged in several greening measures across such areas as buildings, waste management, meetings, procurement and transport, all resulting in better efficiency and financial savings. With an overall reduction of annual emissions of 15 percent and $600,000 in cumulative annual savings, we are leading by example.

How have we accomplished so much in the last seven years? Some of the projects that have been implemented at our headquarters and regional offices include:

Elevators were upgraded and gearless motors and regenerative drivers were introduced at headquarters, substantially improving efficiency and even generating electricity at times by using the load weight and counterweights of the system. This project is saving us more than $140,000 a year and the equivalent of about 280,000 kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions by reducing our electricity use.

Chillers were replaced at our headquarters to phase out the use of ozone-depleting refrigerant gases, and the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) devices have been retrofitted to enable the use of more environment-friendly refrigerants.

The 200-plus restrooms at headquarters went from using paper towels to high-efficiency hand dryers, and sensor lighting technology was also installed. These projects cumulatively help save the equivalent of 100,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide annually, thanks to the yearly reduction in consumption of more than nine million paper towels and a 40 percent decrease in energy consumption (as compared to lighting without sensors), and $110,000. LED technology and lighting sensors are being installed in corridors at headquarters as well. This will help us save $80,000 and 230,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year.

Sustainable energy efficiency projects in the field include a new partnership between our organization and a Swedish lighting company, which has provided a tool for regional offices to self-assess their lighting systems to determine whether they need upgrading. Another project is studying the potential installation of a small solar photovoltaic system in a country office in Africa.

A waste separation system has been arranged to sustainably manage organic waste, paper, plastic, e-waste, toners and undifferentiated trash through waste recycling stations and guidelines at headquarters. In addition, the use of plastic bottled water for meetings and events has been discontinued, and refillable water thermoses have been introduced.

The UN Waste Management Practices project has placed a similar emphasis on sustainable waste management for regional offices. In particular, an analysis of the best practices and common challenges in waste management across UN offices in urban settings has been carried out with the UN Environment Program.

©FAO/GIULIO NAPOLITANO
The Ethiopian conference room of the Food and Agriculture Organization, with specially processed curved oak panels and LED technology. ©FAO/GIULIO NAPOLITANO

In addition, our sustainable procurement choices are just as important as our other initiatives. Opportunities to incorporate environmental considerations and issues in each stage of the procurement cycle are constantly explored and exploited by our procurement branch to not only secure the best value for our money in purchasing goods, but special attention is also being given to contracts for services.

For example, the catering service contract for headquarters’ cafeteria requires that meals be nutritious but also organic, local and seasonal. While enjoying tasty ecofriendly food, our colleagues here appreciate that our organization and the caterers are keen to ensure that food waste is prevented by donating unsold cooked food to a local nonprofit food bank, Siticibo.

The recent introduction of an Environmental Management System for headquarters has paved the way for new strategic thinking and environmental mainstreaming in how we deliver our services. Among other results, we can now better identify efficiency improvements and cost savings, and we have reduced our organization environmental footprint and fostered a culture of sustainability.

Our agency’s journey toward climate neutrality continues to rationalize the consumption of energy, water, travel and waste reduction — ultimately minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. This journey has never been as vivid and as vibrant as it is now.

It is important to remember that sustainability and efficient resource use are generally interwoven. Whether the motivation is financial savings or reducing environmental impacts, achieving one aspect normally entails realizing the other. Equally important, active staff involvement, motivated by facts and through awareness-raising, is the key to success.

It is important to stress the value of management endorsement in corporate environmental responsibility activity. Corporate policies help promote relevant behaviors and initiatives just as much as grass-roots engagement does, and strong, visible leadership from the top sparks the development of successful programs.

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