ILO Strategic frameworks in the area of environmental sustainability and climate change

Vision and leadership

The Green Initiative of the Director-General launched in 2013, is the vehicle for the ILO to respond to the imperative of managing a just transition to an environmentally sustainable world of work. It has the strategic role of building environmental sustainability into all aspects of ILO work. The Green Initiative drives ILO action on climate change from a decent work and just transition perspective, through new research, enhanced policy advice, capacity-building of ILO constituents and strategic partnerships.

The ILO Director-General’s report to the International Labour Conference in 2017 Work in a changing climate: The Green Initiative outlines the overall thinking and strategic direction for ILO action.

Strategic and guiding frameworks

The Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all adopted in 2015 reflect the view of ILO tripartite constituents. The Guidelines are both a policy framework and a practical tool to help countries at all levels of development manage the transition to low-carbon economies and can also help them achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The ILO Strategic Plan for 2018-21 introduced environmental sustainability as a cross-cutting policy driver, alongside gender equality and non-discrimination, international labour standards, and tripartism and social dialogue. The Strategic Plan affirms that “the consensus that now prevails on the urgent need to set the world of work on a just transition to a sustainable development trajectory, reaffirmed through the Paris Climate Change Agreement, provides the need and the justification for the addition of environmental sustainability as a fourth cross-cutting issue”.

Accordingly, the ILO Programme and Budget for the biennium 2018-19 made a just transition to environmental sustainability a cross-cutting policy driver (CCPD) relevant to each of the ten policy outcomes defined as priorities for the world of work. Progress in relation to the delivery of the policy driver is monitored, assessed and reported on across all policy outcomes, at the national and global levels. A system of “markers” is employed to determine the degree of integration of environmental sustainability into country programme outcomes. 

In the context of decent work, ILO action contributes to advancing this CCPD by 1) maximising opportunities for social and economic goals as well as environmental goals and/or by 2) addressing risks for the world of work associated with environmental challenges and response measures. Each Country Programme Outcome (CPO) is rated against a four-category scale, comprising the following marker codes: 

Marker codeDefinition
no visible potential to contribute to the CCPD
 The CCPD analysis may be reflected in the description of the CPO but is not addressed in the outputs. There is no indication that ILO action contributes to the advancement of the CCPD.
limited contribution
 The CCPD analysis is reflected in the description of the CPO and is addressed in one of the outputs, although the strategy and the outputs are primarily focused on thematic areas other than those covered by the CCPD.
 2A – significant contribution ILO action has potential to contribute significantly to the advancement of the CCPD, although this is not its primary objective. The CCPD analysis is included in the description of the CPO and is reflected in at least two outputs (but not in all outputs) and in one or more results (but not in all results).
 2B – targeted action The CCPD is the primary focus of the CPO. The CCPD analysis in the description of the CPO justifies interventions in which all outputs and all results contribute to the advancement of the CCPD. 

A CCPD code is awarded based on three parts of the CPO. We code whether a CCPD analysis: 1) feeds meaningfully into the needs assessment (context/background); 2) logically leads to CCPD responsive activities and outputs that address the identified needs; and 3) yield results that reflect progress in the advancement of the CCPD.

The ILO programme implementation report for 2018–19 shows limited but encouraging progress in the integration of a just transition to environmental sustainability into the policy areas of ILO’s work.

The year 2019 marked the centenary of the ILO, which led to the adoption of the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work. As a critically significant document, the Centenary Declaration recognizes climate and environmental changes as key drivers of the transformation of the world of work. The ILO calls on its constituents to further develop a human-centred approach to the future of work and highlights a just transition towards a sustainable future of work in its economic, social and environmental dimensions, as a core focus for the ILO’s work in the years to come.

In line with the ILO Centenary Declaration, the Programme and Budget 2020-21 - programme of work and its results framework – introduced a new policy outcome - Outcome 3: Economic, social and environmental transitions for full, productive and freely chosen employment and decent work for all. Within Outcome 3, a dedicated output addresses environmental sustainability: 3.3. Increased capacity of member States to formulate and implement policies for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies.

Policies and institutional mechanisms

ILO environmental Sustainability Policy and Management System 

The Director-General of the ILO introduced the Environmental Sustainability Policy (IGDS 460) in January 2016, which established an ILO policy relating to the protection of the environment and the promotion of environmental sustainability throughout the ILO, applicable to all ILO programmes, projects and operations at headquarters and in all external offices.

The policy directs the Office to pursue its mandate in an environmentally sustainable manner, to reduce and mitigate any negative impacts on the environment, and to improve the ILO’s environmental performance towards the goal of achieving climate neutrality.

The Environmental Management System (EMS) (IGDS 461) was established to support a more coordinated, effective and efficient approach to enhancing environmental sustainability throughout the ILO and aligns with the biennial programme and budget cycle of the ILO. This allows the Office to progressively mainstream environmental considerations and the goals of the Environmental Sustainability Policy into existing and future results-based management frameworks.

The EMS is operationalised through bi-annual action plans to record objectives and priorities within ILO programmes, projects, and operations, and to establish targets, outcomes, and indicators for the biennium. The Green Jobs Unit is responsible for compiling an annual summary of progress made against agreed targets on the basis of inputs from all concerned organizational units. 

ILO Environmental Sustainability Action Plan 2020-21

An Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC) was set up to facilitate, support and oversee the implementation of the Environmental Sustainability Policy of the ILO, the EMS and the biennial action plan. After reviewing the EMS, it submits recommendations to the Director-General on matters relating to the environmental sustainability of ILO operations, programmes and projects. The ESC is chaired by the Deputy Director-General for Management and Reform, and is composed of representatives from the three portfolios.

Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework

UN Model Approach to Environmental and Social Standards in UN Programming. 
United Nations Environment Management Group (EMG). Moving towards a Common Approach to Environmental and Social Standards for UN Programming, (UN, 2019).

Environmental and social safeguards or performance standards are increasingly regarded as an important tool for development actors to ensure that their interventions do not result in inadvertent harm to people and the environment. They are valuable instruments to manage risks and systematically assure a do-no-harm approach. They can also provide a solid basis for maximizing co-benefits of interventions and to promote the internalisation of the sustainable development agenda in organizations’ ways of working.

These considerations led to the decision by the Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC) to formulate Environmental and Social Safeguards for the ILO, in December 2016. A dedicated Task Team under the lead of DDG/P was established, which, following a series of consultations, and on the basis of the analysis of other UN agencies’ safeguards, designed an approach to the development of safeguards. The work of the Task Team resulted an Office Directive introducing the Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework (ESSF) with its objectives and principles, referencing key existing ILO documents, processes and systems. A second aspect of the work consisted in defining requirements, specific standards, responsibilities, and a progressive revision of relevant documents, processes and systems as needed.

In the meantime, the Senior Officials of the UN Environment Management Group (EMG) mandated the drafting of a model approach to environmental and social standards for UN programming (hereafter referred to informally as the ‘Model Approach’) which would serve as a model framework of reference for UN agencies. The Model Approach is a consolidated effort to develop a common approach for addressing environmental and social standards in programming across UN entities. At the direction of the EMG, A Framework for Advancing Environmental and Social Sustainability in the United Nations System was prepared to explore options for environmental and social safeguards and tested by seven UN entities. Safeguards and accountability mechanisms included in the framework aim to ensure that project interventions do not result in inadvertent harm to people or the environment. In the development of the Model Approach, the ILO worked with the EMG to develop objectives and benchmark standards under Thematic Area 7: Labour and Working Conditions, based primarily on ILO conventions and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The inclusion of decent work in the Model Approach prominently positions the work of the ILO in environmental and social programming across the UN.

Following the adoption of the UN Model Approach, the ILO has re-established a Task Team responsible for the development of the ILO ESSF, under the lead of DDG/MR with representation taking into account needed roles and knowledge. The Task Team will leverage an internal Expert Reference Group from across the Office, which will contribute specific technical skills and expertise.

Greening ILO facilities and operations 

Every year, the ILO assesses its environmental performance and calculates its footprint. In an ILO-wide effort involving the headquarters and other 48 external offices, data concerning greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from facilities and travel, water consumption and waste production are gathered and processed, revealing the ILO’s annual environmental footprint. For information on emissions visit the the ILO Page on Greening the Blue

Some the Office’s efforts to enhance the environmental sustainability of its operations includes:
  • continuing to measure, reduce and report on greenhouse gas emissions; 

  • increasing energy efficiency by operating and maintaining energy-efficient 
buildings and equipment; 

  • reducing water consumption; 

  • increasing resource-use efficiency in internal services and operations; 
  • perpetuating sustainable publication production processes and promote 
responsible paper use; 

  • further promoting environmentally sustainable travel practices;
  • promoting environmentally sustainable meetings; 

  • improving waste management practices, including by reducing, reusing and recycling waste; 

  • scaling up sustainable procurement; and 

  • maintaining environmentally sustainable land management and biodiversity 
around ILO-owned premises. 

Get a deeper look on the achievements

More information available on our Greening the ILO webpage for internal staff. Link to the intranet

ILO Green Week

The ILO initiated a green week in 2019 as an annual event to promote ILO action on environmental sustainability, staff engagement, and partnerships in this area.

Check the last edition ILO GREEN WEEK: Towards a green future of work celebrating the centenary of the ILO, featuring exhibitions, dialogues with practitioners, innovators and strategic partners, and a presentation of programmes and initiatives of the ILO in the field of environmental sustainability. Photo library available here.