This story was written by the ILO Newsroom For official ILO statements and speeches, please visit our “Statements and Speeches” section.

Greening the ILO

What is the ILO doing to become greener?

The ILO has been mainstreaming environmental sustainability in its operations and programmatic work.

News | 01 November 2021
GENEVA (ILO News) – The approach of COP26 is focusing world attention on the risks of climate change and the imperative of environmental sustainability. The UN system is coordinating international efforts to limit emissions, and the ILO is spearheading the UN's Climate Action for Jobs Initiative, to boost climate action and green jobs.

Alongside the policy leadership, the ILO has also undertaken a series of concrete actions to improve its own organizational sustainability, and to achieve carbon neutrality.

The ILO’s efforts are part of a broader strategy within the UN system called "Greening the Blue".

In 2007, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all UN agencies, funds and programmes to "go green". The goal was to become climate neutral by 2020 through a combination of emission reductions and offsetting.

Launched soon afterwards, the "Greening the ILO" initiative works to improve the ILO’s environmental performance by measuring its carbon footprint and putting in place actions to reduce the environmental impacts of its buildings and operations, both in Geneva and in its network of country offices.

Guided by its ILO Environmental Sustainability Action Plans for 2018–21, the ILO has implemented a wealth of initiatives to improve the ILO’s environmental performance.

“The ILO is committed to protecting the environment and reducing its impacts wherever possible,” said Els Brackenier, Director of Internal Services and Administration Department.

“Every year, headquarters and 48 field offices complete an environmental inventory, under the umbrella of 'Greening the Blue'. This exercise not only quantifies the ILO’s environmental impact but also helps to focus our efforts to improve environmental performance. In several areas, the ILO has accelerated these efforts towards the goal of achieving climate neutrality.”

A comprehensive approach has been adopted to improve sustainability and optimize management of resources, ranging from building renovation to waste treatment, and including procurement policies and the use of computer equipment.

Achieving carbon neutrality

The ILO started working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, and it calculates and reports on the emissions of HQ and all 48 external offices on an annual basis. The goal is to improve the operations of the Organization, making them more environmentally-friendly. In 2020, for the first time, the ILO confirmed that it has achieved carbon neutrality, in line with the target set across the United Nations system to become climate neutral.

Several measures to reduce environmental impacts have been implemented at the ILO headquarters in Geneva, and the remaining carbon emissions are offset through the purchase of Certified Emission Reductions credits (CERs).

"The COVID-19 pandemic raised awareness of the fragility of our world and economy," confirmed Moustapha Kamal Gueye, head of the ILO’s Green Jobs Unit.

"It is therefore very timely that we have achieved carbon neutrality at the ILO, and we will continue our efforts to build a greener and more sustainable world and workplace.”

A greener and more sustainable building

Started in March 2015, the renovation of ILO headquarters in Geneva has had environmental concerns at its heart. The result of the renovation to date has been a more modern, safer and greener building, which optimizes the use of natural light and economizes energy.

"As part of its core objectives, the renovation project will significantly reduce the energy used to operate the building, and along with operational measures, will continue to lower the ILO’s environmental footprint," noted Mark Underhill, Director of the ILO Building Renovation Project.

Waste management and recycling

Waste management is a key element in ILO efforts to improve environmental sustainability.

At headquarters in Geneva, a centralized waste management system was implemented with the purpose of increasing the recycling of major waste streams. The Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, located in Bangkok, went even further: the UN-ESCAP building where the ILO is based has implemented a single-use plastic ban and no longer provides any disposable cutlery.

In the field, 10 offices have participated in a pilot initiative to develop and implement effective waste management practices. In addition, many ILO offices, including headquarters, have waste reduction initiatives in place, such as policies to reduce printing, removal of single-use plastic from staff canteens, and the provision of filtered drinking water so staff can bring their own bottles.

From print to digital

A “Papersmart Policy”, covering the production and distribution of paper documents, has also been introduced. This includes:
  • More high-performing printers with reduced environmental impacts were installed in the print shop at the ILO headquarters.
  • The implementation of performance work plans resulted in the reduction of paper waste in the print shop.
  • The use of official electronic correspondence increased by 37.5 per cent in 2016, and by 41.3 per cent in 2017.