In September 2012, UNEP in its capacity as Chair of the UN Environment Management Group drew the Committee’s attention to the Strategic Plan for Environmental Sustainability Management in the UN system, a key element of the wider Framework for Environmental and Social Sustainability in the UN system.


The HLCM Chair stressed that the case for the Environmental Sustainability Management in the UN system is very strong, stemming directly from a request from member States in the Rio+20 outcome document, endorsed by the General Assembly in A/Res/66/288 and in A/Res/67/226.

The Strategic Plan for Environmental Sustainability Management represents an evolution of the existing UN system wide climate neutral efforts and provides a model for the systematic integration of environmental sustainability indicators into the internal management of UN entities.

Document CEB/2013/HLCM/5 presented HLCM with:

a.    A description of the concept of Environmental Management System (EMS) for UN organisations;
b.    An articulated cost benefit analysis of the measures proposed; and
c.    UN best practices in the field of environmental sustainability.

UNEP’s presentation built a strong case for Environmental and Social Sustainability in the UN system. Using available data, the document concluded that systematically managing environmental impacts through an EMS could help the UN system reduce operating costs by US$ 250-335 million per year through improved efficiency of utilities, fuel, travel and some office-related procurement, which collectively cost the UN system an estimated US$ 2.7 billion in 2010. Significant further savings could be available, as no data is available for other high-risk and potentially high-cost activities, including waste and wastewater management, construction and vehicle procurement/maintenance.

The one-off costs of implementing EMS, which would identify and prioritize improvement actions, could be spread over several years, with each agency working at its own pace. The estimated UN-wide investment required is US$ 23 to 40 Million. Such costs can be contained through UN-wide collaboration on EMS, as advocated by the ‘Strategic Plan for Environmental Sustainability Management in the UN System’, by avoiding duplicate research, seeking efficiencies of scale when outside expertise is required and promoting collaboration in addressing common issues at a single location. Small agencies would particularly benefit from a shared-resource approach.

Since 1996, more than 250,000 public and private sector organizations in 150 countries have achieved EMS certification, most commonly to the international standard ISO 14001. International organizations that have already implemented EMS include the European Commission (42 certified buildings), the EU Parliament and the Asian Development Bank. Within the UN system, UNU and the publishing services of the UN Secretariat have already obtained ISO14001 certification, while WFP and the World Bank Group have committed to developing an EMS consistent with accepted standards.

Members of the HLCM expressed broad support for the EMS, recognizing its value and importance. Many examples of EMS practices already implemented by organizations were shared. Members nevertheless highlighted the financial implications that the implementation of Environmental and Social Sustainability practices have in their organizations, particularly in times of budget constraints and especially in the absence of a capital budget.

HLCM members therefore suggested that focus should be placed on activities that can show returns in a short time horizon, e.g. 24 months, and require low initial investments. Areas like facilities management, conference services, fuel purchase and transportation should be explored and a close link with the Procurement Network should be established, although it was recognized that the ISO14001 certification is broader than procurement.

The Committee noted that there should be close collaboration with HLCP on this matter as the most significant environmental footprint derives from the delivery of programmes. The need for close collaboration among networks, particularly the ICT and the Procurement Network, was also stressed.

It was suggested that the existing network of focal points for environmental sustainability management be responsible for representing the EMS work of each organization, continue to interact with UNEP through the EMG, and report directly to HLCM by the same means, thereby keeping the knowledge and experience sharing open, as well as mitigating the risk of partitioning the activities across networks.

It was further highlighted that support from member States hinges on the presentation of concrete proposals and standards for a UN System wide approach, which would facilitate buy-in.


Committed to the development and implementation of environmental sustainability management systems in each organization, through a gradual, voluntary and flexible process as described in the ‘Strategic plan for environmental sustainability management in the UN system’, focusing on low-investment and high-return initiatives, and through mainstreaming of EMS in the programming and planning processes and increased coordination on this subject among the relevant HLCM networks.  As part of the EMS approach, HLCM should focus on making the concept of total cost of ownership fully integrated into procurement rules and practices.

Requested UNEP to continue their work of coordination, technical support and reporting, noting the system-wide benefits of efficiencies, knowledge and experience sharing, and mutual support, and invited UNEP to report to the HLCM on collective achievements and forward planning on behalf of the EMG.