Saving every drop: How the OECD reduces its environmental footprint

WED2015Ariana Mozafari, OECD Environment Directorate for World Environment Day 2015

We could spend World Environment Day warning of the doom and gloom of future Earth, but considering how much we’ve done that already, that’s not going to get us very far as we approach this year’s COP21 in Paris. Instead, we’re going to give you a taste on what we do here at the OECD headquarters to help save the environment, taking our own medicine on what we prescribe to governments.

But what can just one organisation do? Well, considering the fact that the building sector contributes to 30% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions and consumes 40% of all world energy, we feel we can make an impact. With 11 buildings and almost 3000 employees at our Paris headquarters, we decided in 2010 to start monitoring our own progress. From conserving precious water to installing beehives in our gardens, we hope you’ll feel inspired from the following initiatives by our [email protected] programme.

Water: that scarce life source that’s running out fast. With only 1% of the world’s fresh water available for human use, we need to conserve every drop. We’ve installed drinking water fountains throughout our headquarters’ meeting rooms to save up to 200,000 bottles of water annually. We’ve put aerators on our bathroom and kitchen faucets, which reduce water consumption by 20%. We’ve changed the way we take care of our OECD gardens to conserve water. In 2015, we’re looking forward to installing a rainwater harvesting system. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re proud to say that we now use water 27% more efficiently than in 2010.

An environmentally-certified building is a happy building. Not to mention that our offices are starting to resemble what you imagined “the future” to be (green technology is not only efficient—it’s really cool to play with). We’ve achieved High Environmental Quality certification for four of our buildings—we’re working on getting the rest up to par.

This is our biggest category for improvement—75% of the OECD’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 came from official air travel. We’ve come up with an internal carbon price for each OECD directorate based on the kilometres their staff travelled by plane. This carbon pricing system gives us the funds to look into other green initiatives: in 2014, we bought monitoring systems to display real-time water and energy consumptions to our employees, and (one of our favourites) we introduced two beehives into our gardens. In 2013, we used these carbon pricing funds to develop our remote conferencing technologies, which in turn minimise the need to travel by plane to meetings in distant lands.

Our “Bring Your Own Mug” campaign saved 47,000 disposable cups in 2014. Staff have gone giddy competing over who’s got the best mug.

We might have mentioned our beehives once or twice already. Can’t you tell we’re enthusiastic? With the bee population rapidly declining over the past few decades, we’re doing our part to save the species that pollinates 90% of the world’s nutrition.

Our caterers use sustainable and local materials for our lunches when possible, and we’ll never see endangered sea foods in the soup du jour. Cleaning products used by our contractors are also natural, biodegradable, and environmentally-certified.

We installed a printing management software that tracks how much each employee prints. That, combined with increased use of electronic and IT equipment, has resulted in 33% less paper use than in 2011.

We’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 6% since 2010. It’s a small step towards saving our environment, but just imagine if every organisation adopted small and simple initiatives to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and better manage water and energy. You can view more of our collective progress since 2010 in the infographic below:


This World Environment Day, we want to inspire. Whether you come from a citizen household or government bureau, we encourage you to think about your role for the livelihood of future generations. Don’t know where to start? Check out our #WhatCanIDo tips on Twitter for easy ways to lower your carbon footprint.

As for us, we’re aiming to save our planet not only through [email protected], but through sound policies to governments who can make real change.

Useful links

For more on the OECD’s environmental policy recommendations, visit our webpage here.