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Environmental Management Systems in the United Nations: Results of a stocktaking exercise undertaken year 2015, describing the development and implementation of environmental management systems (EMS) across the UN system
Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.
Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.
Responsible organisation
2016 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Background

Sustainable United Nations (SUN) is an initiative of UNEP that coordinates operational activities and supports different UN organizations in their efforts to implement the UN climate neutral strategy and environmental management systems (EMSs). The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Swedish EPA), with its long experience of working with international standards for EMS and coordinating and guiding 190 government agencies in their environmental management systems work, is supporting the work of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) by advising the SUN team and building the capacity of UN entities to establish and maintain EMSs.

The Swedish EPA - UNEP partnership (2014-2018), funded by Sida, is laying the foundations for the future mainstreaming of environmental management in UN. These efforts are focusing on the environmental impacts of internal management offacilities and operations1. A broader process hosted by the UN Environment ManagementGroup (EMG) encompasses both environmental and social impacts and expands the scope beyond facilities and operations to include programmes and projects. Collaboration with the EMG Secretariat is therefore an integral part of the partnership. An important issue for the donor is the gender perceptive, which should also be taken into consideration whenever relevant, when implementing and maintaining an EMS.

One of the main purposes of the United Nations (UN) is to help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy,and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms2. For the UN tosucceed in its purposes and to be a credible organization, it needs to account for its environmental impact, reducing risks and unintended negative impacts and maximizing benefits to people and their environment.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were endorsed by the General Assembly in September 2015. These will function as a common basis for the work of all UN organizations. Implementing an EMS will provide UN agencies with a documented, systematic and transparent tool to motivate, track and report on progress over time, whilst working towards the internalisation of the environmental dimension of the SDGs in their management processes in a systematic manner.

Purpose

The purpose of the stocktaking exercise was to provide an overview of the current status of environmental management systems of different UN organizations, to make sure future activities in the Swedish EPA - UNEP partnership build on existing work, and to reach a better understanding of how to introduce EMSs to the UN system. Based on the findings made, the stocktaking exercise provides recommendations for improvements.

Methodology

The experts at the Swedish EPA, in collaboration with the SUN team and the sustainability focal points in the UN EMS Working Group, have conducted a stocktaking exercise on the stage of development and implementation of EMSs across the UN system. The stocktaking exercise report references EMS requirements under accepted international standards such as ISO 14001:2015, and is based on the Swedish EPA experts’ experiences and findings in the field. Knowledge of the UN status quo on EMSs was obtained through reviews of documentation from a selection of UN organizations and UN bodies, and information from IMG focal points.

Conclusions

The stocktaking exercise shows that many UN organizations work actively on environmental issues both at corporate management level and in their programming. The results from a minor EMS survey conducted in April 2015 reflect that the majority of the responding organizations are in the initial stage of the EMS implementation.

Given that the UN is governed by many Member States and driven by a political process, decision-making takes long time. There are a number of constraints under which the UN operates, particularly the many stakeholders with varied interests, which could make it difficult to secure a consensus around environmental measures.

Implementing an EMS gives an opportunity for UN organizations to contribute to the One UN initiative for a more coherent and efficient delivery. The One UN reform is focused on more coherent programmes, strengthened accountability, monitoring and evaluation, and improved outcomes. An EMS directly supports this effort by providing a systematic and uniform approach to improved control, efficiency and reporting.

EMS in UN organizations can bring many benefits. Implementing an EMS gives an opportunity for the UN organizations to demonstrate that they have relevant policiesand systems in place to satisfy the environmental requirements from stakeholders. The General Assembly has signalled expectations of the UN to walk the talk on sustainability measures, while environmental requirements are becoming a precondition for funding from donors such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF). EMS in UN organizations represents an opportunity to mainstream environmental considerations in policies, strategies, projects and programmes.

Literature studies, experience from Swedish EPA’s guidance to public agencies, and discussions with members if the EMS working group as part of the stocktaking exercise, confirms that it is very important for the implementation of any EMS to ensure that senior management and staff are all involved in its development and implementation.

Experience from the work in guiding 190 public authorities in Sweden has shown that when organizations include both operations and facilitates, and programmes and projects in their EMS, it will engage the senior management and the staff to a greater extent, and the understanding of an EMS in the daily work will increase.

A properly functioning environmental management system results in improved management of natural resources and identified cost efficiencies such as improved management of electricity, fuel and travel3, and could free up funding for applying the mandated objectives of the various missions of the United Nation organizations.

Recommendations

The main recommendations for creating proper institutional conditions to implement an EMS are described below. They are described according to best practice, with the purpose to limit the environmental impact, speed up the implementation of EMS and to reduce the costs for the implementing organizations. Each recommendation must be undertaken within a context of respect for the institutional obligations arising from other policies, such as policies on gender and indigenous peoples. These together may form the approach to internalising sustainable development principles in UN corporate management.

The recommendations are not given in a specific order of priority since they are connected to each other. Literature, discussions with members of the EMS working group, and the earlier experience of the Swedish EPA experts, confirms that the leadership, the involvement of staff and the integration of the EMS in the existing management structure, is crucial for a successful EMS implementation within the UN.

Certain core functions should be managed on a common UN-wide basis, to streamline and coordinate efforts, and to avoid duplication of efforts and costs. This brings advantages such as economies of scale and a coherent way of working with sustainability issues in the spirit of the One UN reform. According to best practice, the UN system is recommended to adopt the following activities, through a permanent central coordination:

 Develop the existing central EMS support, by increasing the number of training activities, and the exchange of experience between the organizations, for achieving more powerful synergies

 Identify how the Sustainable Development Goals, and also standards for best practice on social responsibility, can be tools and the next steps for the UN organizations for working in a systematic manner with both environmental and social issues.

 Make sure that competence in environmental law is available to support UN organizations.

 Provide and encourage the use of coherent and common EMS guidelines and voluntary templates customized for the UN, e.g. for initial environmental review and for developing internal environmental objectives.

 Develop EMS indicators that the UN organizations should report on centrally and to their governing body, and accelerate the work with the four endorsed sustainability indicators (GHG gases, water use, waste management and environmental training).

 Coordinate internal environmental audits between the UN organizations, by supporting the auditors with regards to training and sharing experience. The internal auditors could audit each other's organizations.

 Consider how the EMS support may be extended from environmental aspects in operation and facilities to environmental aspects in policymaking, programming and projects.

Develop how the gender perspective could be integrated in a logical structurefor an EMS based on the PDCA-cycle (Plan, Do, Check and Act).

Through the work of SUN and the IMG on Environmental Sustainability, many of the above mentioned steps are already well underway. At the end of the stocktaking exercise report, a mapping of existing networks and teams working with environmental sustainability within the UN can be found. Also actions taken concerning internal environmental sustainability, such as strategic plans and major projects, are described, together with a timeline over internal commitments on environmental sustainability within the UN system.

According to best practice, each UN organization is recommended to adopt the following activities:

 Conduct a SWOT4 - or PESTLE5 - analysis, to reach a better understanding of the factors that impact the EMS and the environmental context in which the organization operates.

 Show how the demands from relevant stakeholders have been internalized into the organization’s own policy, strategic documents and at the operational level.

 Include environmental objectives and environmental performance measures in the “Senior Manager’s Compact”.

 Make the support from senior management visible, by sponsoring an initialenvironmental review, adopting an environmental policy, ensuring organization- wide communication of the environmental work and endorsing internal environmental objectives.

 Integrate both environmental objectives and action plans in existing strategic documents and activity plans.

 Make sure that the allocation of resources, not least human resources, for the EMS is an integrated part of the ordinary budget process already in place.

 Improve the monitoring and management of significant environmental aspects.

 Complement possible emergency management systems already in place, with procedures for environmental consideration.

 Integrate environmental risks and opportunities considerations in existing risk management, and evaluate possible changes in the EMS, such as a revised list of significant environmental aspects.

 Ensure appropriate competencies to be able to conduct regular evaluations of adherence to environmental compliance obligations.

 Conduct regular environmental audits and environmental management reviews.

 Include sustainability considerations in purchasing and procurement, which can have an impact on the enabling of a green economy.

 Develop the work to continuously identify nonconformities and taking corrective action in the environmental work, and integrate it in the existing handling of nonconformities for other areas, such as quality, conformity with project procedures etc.

 Describe the results of the monitoring and evaluation of the environmental performance in an annual sustainability report, used for communication with donors, UN staff, and other stakeholders, to ensure the mechanism for accountability and transparency within the UN.

 Have a tolerant and encouraging culture, where identified nonconformities are found to represent opportunities for improvement, and have well- functioning communication channels for the exchange of experiences, all to accomplish continual improvement.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Naturvårdsverket, 2016. , p. 121
Series
Rapport / Naturvårdsverket, ISSN 0282-7298 ; 6712
Keywords [en]
EMS, environmental sustainability
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:naturvardsverket:diva-8290ISBN: 978-91-620-6712-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:naturvardsverket-8290DiVA, id: diva2:1385102
Available from: 2020-01-13 Created: 2020-01-13 Last updated: 2020-01-13

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