Reducing the UN's Impact

The Sustainable United Nations team uses a range of approaches to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the UN's work, including:

  • working with inter-agency groups to embed sustainability into United Nations policies and practices
  • providing tools and guidance for specialists across the United Nations
  • working with individual agencies to develop emissions plans
  • providing information to UN staff on how they can reduce their impacts

A general guide for reducing emissions in UN organisations can be found here. The headings below show the main areas of focus:


Buildings account for about 30% of the United Nations greenhouse gas emissions. With offices in over 530 locations around the world, there are plenty of opportunities to improve efficiency. Work is already being done to integrate sustainability into the procurement processes for new buildings and leases, to retro-fit existing buildings and to work with staff to improve the way our offices are used. Click here for more info...


The United Nations is a big spender. In 2008 alone the United Nations purchased goods and services worth US$ 13.6 billion - similar to the GDPs of Botswana and Senegal. The UN is therefore able to directly influence the market place, by increasing demand for more sustainable goods and services. Click here for more info...


The United Nations, like many large international organizations, convenes a huge number of meetings each year, including small workshops and high profile international gatherings. Making our meetings more sustainable is not just critical for reducing our impacts - it's also an effective way of communicating our values. Click here for more info...


Unsurprisingly, travel is the United Nation's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. We're working closely with the inter-agency travel teams to identify ways of reducing the impacts of our travel, without jeopardizing the work that we do. Click here for more info...

Staff Engagement

The United Nations employs over 130,000 staff, including 60,000 peacekeepers. The Sustainable United Nations team recognizes that engaging with staff is critical if we're to succeed in creating a more sustainable United Nations. Click here for more info...


Information and Communication Technology (ICT) includes common office equipment such as computers, printers, servers, phone systems and video conferencing systems. While this equipment in itself has a significant climate footprint, which can be much reduced, it also offers great opportunities to improve the efficiency of the organization by, for example, replacing travel with on-line communications. Coming soon


Investments that result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions often also deliver long-term savings for the organization, e.g. through reduced energy use. Unfortunately most budgeting system encourage short-term thinking and don't recognize savings in the longer term. SUN is therefore working with all UN agencies to identify and share effective models for life-cycle budgeting within the organization. Coming soon

Distance working

Distance work is rapidly becoming a widely accepted as a feature of working life. Providing staff with the flexibility to work from outside the office for periods of time reduces the need to travel and can reduce associated emissions. For the organization it also provides improved efficiency, reduced need for office space and improved work-life balance for its staff. The UN adopted a policy of distance working in 2004 but it's potential in reducing the environmental footprint of the organization is only beginning to be recognized.  Coming soon