Greening the OECD

When it comes to the environment, the OECD does not just tell a good green story to its members; as an institution, we are investing time and resources into practising what we preach. Achieving green growth and moving towards a low-carbon economy requires everyone in society to play their part. The OECD secretariat is no exception.

Think of the OECD as a veritable village or a microcosm of our world. It has some 2,500 staff, it consumes goods and services, uses transport, needs catering and sanitation, and routine energy and waste disposal. In short, our organisation leaves a footprint. And in today’s day and age, we must do all we can to ensure that it operates in more environmentally responsible and effective ways.

That is why the organisation has been undertaking a range of initiatives to apply good practices and help it reach a lowercarbon, greener path. These initiatives include, for example, reducing energy and water consumption, improving waste collection and recycling, managing our buildings in a more energy-efficient way and optimising the use of IT technologies to reduce travel and transport. Energy and green considerations guide us in the choice of IT technologies, as well as other goods and services we purchase, in terms of recycling, toxicity and energy efficiency. And we constantly inform staff of the various efforts we are making to transform the OECD into a cleaner, greener and better place to work.

It is an intense job. To get us there, we have set up a wide-ranging reflection group composed of staff members from across the organisation. An action plan has been agreed upon to ensure that environmental matters are reflected, if not “mainstreamed”, in the daily operational work of the OECD.

Close involvement of staff and better communication are essential to ensuring that the green action plan has an impact on performance and awareness. One of the major goals we have set for ourselves is to obtain the French environmental standard certificate called the Haute Qualité Environnementale (HQE), a high environmental quality certificate. Having the OECD staff working together to obtain such a standard is as important as top level sponsorship and technical support.

But how do we measure our performance? Gathering solid baseline data is essential. For example, under our action plan, we are carrying out a detailed inventory of the OECD’s greenhouse gas emissions, which were estimated at some 8,830 tonnes for buildings and travel in 2010–travel accounts for most of that, with just 1,400 tonnes emitted last year from OECD buildings. This data will be regularly updated and processed in an Environmental Management System (EMS) and used for reporting, both internally and externally.

Another important focus of this initiative is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from business travel. The OECD staff travel about 50 million kilometres (30 million miles) per year, including international business journeys and trips to and from work. We are now exploring how best to manage this in a more environmentally-friendly way, for example, by setting targets and providing tools for managers and staff to better understand and evaluate the carbon footprint of their business trips on a costbenefit basis. We already encourage travel by train where possible, and fewer staff to go on the same trip. Replacing travel with videoconferencing when possible is also being encouraged. Our efforts to green up the operations of the organisation mirror the important policy work done by the OECD in, say, the new Green Growth Strategy and in areas like energy and technology. We are determined to show that a greener workplace is a more effective and productive one too.

None of this effort comes without cost: even the HQE certification has a price tag of some €30,000, in terms of set-up and procedures, for instance, and setting up the Environmental Management System also costs several thousand euros. Then there are hard-to-measure adjustment costs, as people adopt greener workplace and travel habits. In the end, we expect most costs to be offset by savings in terms of a more effective, environmentally-friendly OECD.

This ambitious yet indispensable green action plan will require the support and involvement of the entire staff of the OECD. There is no doubting the level of support we have received. In today’s times, it shows we must take a lead in setting the clean standards we advise our members to adopt. It is a policy of our times and a fitting way to celebrate the OECD’s 50th anniversary.

For more information, contact

For more on France’s HQE certification, see

©OECD Observer No 284, Q1 2011

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