Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are crucial building blocks for a greener and more sustainable, connected world.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency for ICTs, is at the forefront of this transformation, cultivating global cooperation in fields ranging from smart cities and Earth observation to tackling natural disaster risks, e-waste, and energy consumption.
In addition to raising awareness, ITU has made its own operations effectively climate neutral in recent years, aiming to maximize efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of its own buildings, for instance.
A new methodology should help to assess and improve the sustainability of office buildings in ten key areas: energy, water, air, comfort, health and wellness, purchasing, custodial, waste, site, and stakeholder relations.
Much of what the organization does, however, involves bringing people together, either at traditional conferences or, increasingly, via online events.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made virtual meetings almost the only channel for engagement with member countries, companies, and organizations over the past year. Some of the practices born out of lockdown adaptation have prompted rethinking how we work and travel, with a view to meeting ambitious emissions reduction targets for the UN system by 2030.
Still, international activities and operations produce emissions. ITU aims to keep its carbon footprint in check.
Climate science has made the situation clear: we all must do more.
ITU has recently introduced an Environmental Management System (EMS) to integrate sustainability in all operations and continually improve environmental performance.
The organization is also stepping up long-standing greening initiatives such as digitizing paper processes, server virtualization, holding meetings virtually and strengthening remote participation capabilities. Restrictions prompted by the pandemic have also accelerated the move to the cloud to ensure service reliability and accessibility from anywhere.
The EMS initiative forms part of the broader UN sustainability strategy.
ITU has been effectively climate neutral since 2015, offsetting residual operational emissions through Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) within the Clean Development Mechanism.
Annual Greening the Blue Reports detail the whole UN System’s environmental footprint and efforts to reduce it. The latest edition also provides UN system-wide data on the environmental impact areas identified in the UN Sustainability Strategy 2020-2030, Phase I: Environmental Sustainability in the Area of Management.
Sustainability centre stage
The last ITU Telecom World event, held in Budapest, Hungary, in 2019, put environmental sustainability at centre stage.
The host country and the venue, Hungexpo, committed to ITU’s greening aim, and sustainability criteria were included into the evaluation process for prospective event contractors. A “Greening our event” webpage kept delegates and exhibitors up to speed on environmental initiatives, while the online exhibitor and sponsor manual offered practical advice on how to reduce individual and company footprints.
Various greening measures were implemented onsite, from providing speakers with jugs of tap water rather than individual plastic bottles to replacing cut flowers with potted plants and edible decoration in networking and lounge areas.
After the event, leftover lanyards were given to Parafitt, a Hungarian NGO working with young people with disabilities, who upcycled them into handles for small purses.
Notably, the venue agreed to measure waste and energy consumption to provide a baseline for future ITU events. Participants also provided information on how they travelled to the conference.
Closer to climate neutrality
The next ITU Telecom event, ITU Digital World 2021, aims to get closer to climate neutrality. Virtual elements, including SME Awards and Forum sessions, will enable greater global participation, keep all involved safe – and dramatically reduce the carbon footprint inherent in a major international meeting.
Supporting the event is Sustainability Partner Immersion4, winner of the ITU Telecom World Global SME Excellence Award and the ITU Telecom World SME Award for the Most Innovative Use of ICT in 2019 with its innovative new cooling solution for data centres, which enables waste heat to be reused as an energy source.
“The eco conversation is the way to enhance our quality of life, to enhance progress, to connect people, but not at the cost of our own lives,” says Immersion4 Founder and CEO Serge Conesa. “
This is just the beginning of a long journey we have ahead, but it has started well. People here at ITU understand the problems and really want to make a difference.”
As a basic principle, all emissions must be cut as much as possible before an event or activity or while offsetting the unavoidable remainder. UN-backed CERs are available via the UN Carbon Offset Platform and the Climate Neutral Now initiative by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat, providing recognition to all those striving to measure, reduce and compensate their emissions.
Proposed activities for the next event can be found on the Greening ITU Digital World page.
ITU’s broad membership – encompassing 193 Member States and over 900 companies, universities, international and regional organizations – drives public private partnerships and collaboration, within and across sectors. This unique forum, spanning digital and sustainability issues, can help to shape critical mechanisms for future ecosystem conservation, as well as for tackling the complexities of climate change.