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The Palais des Nations with a close-up of trees in flower
A logo with a drawing of the Palais des Nations in the middle, surrounded by the words "Eco Palais"

"Sustainability is at the heart of the United Nations in Geneva. We have implemented measures to be more sustainable, resilient, and cost-effective than ever before. Ensuring long-term sustainability of operations is also central to the Strategic Heritage Plan for the Palais des Nations.

Through innovation and cooperation, the United Nations in Geneva is committed to contributing to a greener United Nations, showing leadership in integrating the Sustainable Development Agenda in management planning and processes.”

Tatiana Valovaya
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Reducing UN Geneva's environmental footprint

Each year, UN Geneva collects data on greenhouse gases, waste and water, and reports the results as part of the UN-wide Greening the Blue initiative. The most recent statistics on UN Geneva’s environmental footprint are accessible on the Greening the Blue entity webpage of UN Geneva

UN Geneva’s ambition is to accurately measure its environmental impacts and develop action plans to reduce them. Therefore, in addition to annual Greening the Blue reporting, UN Geneva is implementing an environmental management system, endorsed by senior management. 

To continue this positive trend, UN Geneva has also entered into a landmark agreement with Services Industriels de Genève (SIG) by signing the “Ambition Negawatt Vision” charter. Through this charter, UN Geneva has committed to several specific actions, such as upgrading lighting systems and expanding solar photovoltaic power generation capacity. This collaboration also aligns with the ambitious objectives and targets set by the UN Secretariat’s Climate Action Plan and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Despite the efforts to avoid and reduce greenhouse gases to a maximum, the nature of UN Geneva’s operations makes a complete avoidance of emissions impossible. To achieve "carbon neutrality", UN Geneva compensates any remaining emissions through Certified Emission Reductions (CER) certificates from UNFCCC’s Adaptation Fund. These CERs help developing countries to adopt climate-friendly energy technologies. UN Geneva is thus "climate neutral" since 2017.

Concrete Actions

 The new heating pumps

In the past, the Palais des Nations was heated with fuel oil. The heating system was upgraded to run on natural gas in 2008, reducing the Palais’ greenhouse gas emissions by 1,280 tCO2/yr. In 2009, UN Geneva connected to the lake water to cool the premises. This permitted to reduce the electricity consumption by 490MWh/yr and the water consumption by 8,000 m3/yr. In the future, the new “Genilac” connection combined with the installation of four heat pumps will not only cool but also heat UN Geneva’s buildings. With this new technology, up to 80% of the heat requirement will come from a renewable source, leading to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information on UN Geneva’s work with SIG, click here.

Solar panels

In 2014, UN Geneva installed 3,223 m2 of photovoltaic solar panels to produce electricity and hot sanitary water in buildings A, B, C, D, K and S, thanks to the support of Switzerland. To help power the Palais, the new building H was also equipped with 460 m2 of solar panels that will be operational from 2024 onwards. In total, the Palais des Nations features 3,683 m2 of solar panels. 

Additionally, with the support of Green Cross International, 20 solar lamps have been installed in Ariana Park to ensure a minimum amount of lightning for security purposes at night.

A UN employee standing in front of a heat recovery system

Between 2010 and 2022, UN Geneva reduced electricity used in the Palais by 9%. This was achieved through a combination of institutional measures, innovative partnerships and a transformation of work processes. 

A donation from Switzerland allowed UN Geneva’s energy consumption to be reduced by: 

  • replacing most of the windows and blinds in office spaces
  • installing photovoltaic panels (see above)
  • replacing light fixtures in common spaces and office spaces
  • automating the lighting control in common spaces

Additionally, UN Geneva’s Facilities Management Section has implemented several major energy saving projects that contribute to environmental sustainability at the Palais:

  • a heat recovery system on the air conditioning of the data center
  • a heat recovery system on the cafeteria refrigeration system
  • the replacement of the refrigeration system of the cafeteria

In addition, the Facilities Management Section does finetuning and optimization of the technical installations after handover of the buildings from the SHP project, a major modernization effort of the Palais des Nations premises. 

A compilation of images from Ariana park, showing different species of plants and animals

With 1,305 individual trees, Ariana Park's tree heritage is one of the site's greatest natural assets. Herbaceous surfaces, other areas of great ecological interest, represent more than 54% of outdoor spaces. Grasslands, extensive areas important for biodiversity, are particularly well represented throughout the site, with more than 9.5 ha (41.3% of herbaceous areas). A flora and fauna inventory carried out in 2023 highlighted several sectors with vegetation typical of semi-dry mid-European grasslands, a rare and protected environment which is favourable to many rare or threatened faunal species.

Maintenance practices are constantly evolving to increase the quality of all areas in the park which are favourable to biodiversity (installation of structures in favour of wildlife, refuge areas left during mowing, etc.). To combat insect pests in an environmentally friendly manner, UN Geneva has put an end to the use of synthetic pesticides in favour of biological controls. The United Nations Office at Geneva has adopted a differentiated management approach. This method is based on the principle of varying and adapting management and maintenance according to the type of surface, uses and ecological and landscape interests.

One of the recycling points inside Palais des Nations, consisting of five different containers for different types of waste

UN Geneva has also changed its consumption patterns. Since 2000, the Palais des Nations has reduced its water consumption by 66%. This was achieved by adapting the toilets and taps and gradually implementing modern and efficient automatic systems for the irrigation of Ariana Park.

In addition, efforts have been made to reduce water consumption in the park by converting some intensive lawns to natural meadows, favouring the cultivation of hardy perennials instead of annual flowers (which require water), and the establishment of organic mulching in the beds and at the base of the trees.

Finally, efforts are also being made in waste management according to the principle of "reduce, reuse, recycle". Centralised recycling points have been set up throughout the Palais, and individual bins have been mostly removed.  Paper towels in toilets have been replaced by hand dryers with a comparatively better environmental footprint. In addition, reusable boxes are available to replace single-use containers for take-out food in the cafeteria. 

Almost 100% of the park's organic waste is recycled on-site, with products obtained at lower cost and with a lower carbon footprint: compost and ramial fragmented wood are reused for their many benefits for soil life and plants.

Current efforts are aimed at further reducing food and packaging waste, for example by encouraging staff to bring their own coffee cups.