Why is it important?

There are two reasons why promoting environmental sustainability at the top of the management chain is important. First of all change requires leadership, without which any other guidelines or policies will be viewed as ‘do as I say not as I do’. Secondly offices consume substantial amounts of resources in the form of energy for lighting, cooling or heating and physical resources such as paper, computer equipment, etc, which all have environmental impacts due to their source and production.

Tips for success

  • Appoint a person to be responsible for driving change.
  • Understand where information can be collected from that highlights impact e.g. logistics, administration.
  • Link resource use to a common and easily identifiable metric e.g. cost/savings.
  • Create incentives to seek buy in of people and use creative communications to start campaigns e.g. waste reduction.
  • Create a ‘policy’ to secure support.
  • Develop a monitoring, evaluation and response plan to ensure information keeps flowing.

Environmental Impact

Climate Change & air quality

carbon dioxide is emitted from the burning of fossil fuels and is the main cause for climate change. Vehicle use, flights and the energy used to power office (notably air conditioning units) are almost all carbon intensive and so form the bulk of emissions. A move to understand environmental impact will ensure that all carbon dioxide emissions can be accounted for and responses made to reduce them. Inefficient use of generators to produce electricity will contribute to reduced air quality (as well as increasing running costs), impacting on health especially in urban areas.

Be Responsible.

A responsible organisation does not knowingly impact on the environment. The effects of climate change are being felt particularly in developing countries and exacerbating factors that increase the exposure of vulnerable populations. Carbon is a waste product that is negatively impacting on the environment.

Waste Management

Offices produce two main types of waste, hazardous and non-hazardous. Hazardous includes; IT equipment, cleaning chemicals (bleach), batteries, light fittings and wastes from car maintenance (particularly relevant in the context of country offices). Non-hazardous includes paper, carb, plastics and glass.


Non-hazardous wastes can usually be disposed of safely but efforts should be made to use local recycling companies – there is often a monetary value in the wastes.

Hazardous materials cannot be disposed of using normal waste services. Efforts need to be made to find a proper disposal route or STORE the wastes until one is found – this may include shipping the wastes back to your home country.

Waste Management
& resource depletion.

Offices can impact the environment through the consumption of natural resources (including the use of energy) and the disposal of wastes. A responsible organisation knows about its impacts, this includes where materials procured for the office have come from – the supply chain. Issues such as supporting organisations that can prove their products have some form of sustainability (such as sustainable forests), or procuring locally made materials exhibits credibility and forward thinking and shows a high level of responsibility.

General Organisational Measures

Things to Do:
  • Ensure management buy in
  • Have clear communications on strategies
  • Case study success
  • Monitor change (and respond to change)
  • Try to create a policy for people to work from
Demonstrate managements commitment to environmental change, including:
  • long-term commitment to show sustainability, good and inclusive planning, and measurable indicators;
  • a definite budget that show where money can be saved through environmental change;
  • a definite plan that shows where time and resources need to be commited and saved; and
  • a clear understanding of the risk and benefits of making environmental change.
On a more general office management basis:
  • If heating and air conditioning is at your control consider how it can be used more efficiently;
  • implement a recycling scheme; and
  • implement an awareness campaign to ensure staff are educated about how they can save energy.
his can have a number of benefits such as:
  • reduce energy and resource costs;
  • attract and retain high quality staff;
  • improve general programming and accountability; and
  • ensure that future environmental demands of donors will be met without further expenditure.
Things to Do:
  • Understand the baseline of travel – how often and where
  • Develop a plan for reducing travel – video conferencing (……ref a green travel plan)
  • Thing about setting targets
  • Monitor impact and report success (cost savings, carbon savings)
The environmental impact of staff is not just confined to operations. Where possible:
  • promote sustainable methods of travel to work, such as cycling. Some countries have ‘bike to work’ schemes or good pubic transport;
  • monitor field office transport and promote reduced travelling, e.g. car sharing;
  • if driving is unavoidable promote efficient driving techniques;
  • implement tele-conferencing where possible to avoid excess travel;
  • install a bike rack and showering facilities to enable people to cycle to work; and
  • try to reduce air travel for staff.

Where ever you are in the world, fuel costs money. Reducing fuel consumption reduces costs.

Promoting sustainable forms of transport is a straightforward way to demonstrate commitment to sustainability.

Promoting cycling will not only save money for staff but will also improve their fitness and overall health. It has been proven that improved health increases a person’s happiness and therefore their ability to work.

Things to Do:
  • Reduce, re-use, repair and recycle waste hierarchy should be implemented in all offices.
  • Investigate local supply chains so that wastes can be sold or recycle on.
  • Work with partner organisations to investigate collective solutions to waste problems (such as strengthening local markets to encourage recycling).
  • There is cost value in recycling/selling on non-hazardous wastes where it is clear that it is safe to do so.
  • Ensure that you know where any waste you are disposing of is going.
  • Hazardous wastes should be separated from normal wastes. If there is no reputable hazardous waste disposal route, the wastes should be stored until a safe route of disposal is confirmed (shipment of hazardous wastes over international borders needs to comply with the Basel Convention).
The following list gives some suggestions of possible interventions regarding the major resistance factors:
Lack of awareness:

Awareness raising and internal training. Expand humanitarian principle of ‘do no harm’ to the environmental dimension. Use existing guidance and training tools.

Not a humanitarian mandate:

Principle ‘do no harm’ has to include the environment. Humanitarian responses are rarely ‘short term’ operations and have to include the longer term environmental consequences. Considering the environment significantly contributes to DRR and recovery.

Risks and difficulties implementing environmental policies on an institutional level:

Implementation has to be promoted by senior management. Calculate enough time for changes to be made. Including environmental considerations can help to improve the visibility of organisation and attract donors. Including environmental considerations help saving money (lower electricity/fuel costs, reduced paper use, etc.)

Lack of expertise:

Internal training and capacity building can solve the problem and also increase technical expertise needed in field operations

Financial restrictions:

Environmental investments are long term investments which are highly likely to save money for the organisation (return on investment). Additionally most measures improve the overall performance of the organisation.

Lack of environmental requirements from donors:

Many donors such as USAID already have environmental compliance requirements in place. Future developments suggest that this will be adopted by donors in general. This could give the organisation a competitive advantage when applying for donor funds.

Time constraints:

The introduction of participatory approaches and other novelties have shown that these kind of measures are adapted quickly and integrated in operations. When adopted properly environmental considerations can be made as part of the response.

Additional Resources