This year’s Earth Day tagline grabbed my attention: “Let’s get really big stuff done for our planet.” It got me thinking how much the movement has grown over the last decade and how every person and every institution, however small, can play its role in something so big as saving the world!
Over the past decade we have witnessed a strong tendency in developed countries, and more recently in some developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, for the private sector to engage in responsible environmental and social practices. Consumer demand for products and practices which take environmental and social sustainability issues into account has encouraged companies to assume responsibility for the ecological impact or “footprint” of their activities, including the impact of carbon and other emissions on climate change, and to report publicly on these efforts. This corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR) trend provides organizations with a wide range of opportunities to green their facilities, including the voluntary offset of carbon emissions.
Similarly, large institutional buyers have recognized the environmental impact of their procurement decisions and are focusing on buying less toxic cleaning products, energy- and water-efficient products, recycled goods, and electricity from less-polluting sources.
As part of our own efforts to mainstream sustainability into all areas of corporate operations, at the IDB we began a self-evaluation in 2005, starting with Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Examining our own consumption patterns and emissions, we identified areas for improvement and came up with an action plan. In particular, we recognized the importance of embedding our corporate sustainability program into the heart of our facilities management department, which is responsible for upgrading our headquarters as well as our offices throughout our region. We have focused on recycling and water and energy efficiency, and our multi-departmental green task force works to promote environmentally sustainable behavior among our staff. As a result our offices in Washington, Costa Rica, Peru and Panama are now LEED certified, indicating that we met a series of strict resource-efficiency criteria established by the U.S. Green Building Council. In the last few years we also implemented a series of renewable energy pilots, for example in our offices in Uruguay and in the Bahamas we are installing solar panels, reducing our reliance on the electrical grid through the generation of clean energy. And in Argentina, Haiti and Jamaica, we have undertaken tree planting activities.
In 2006, we became the first multilateral development bank to hold a carbon-neutral Annual Meeting, a move which has inspired other MDBs to follow suit. The following year, we made our headquarters carbon neutral, and shortly after that, we did the same with our country offices. In the grand scheme of emissions, ours are not significant. Annually we produce approximately 32,413 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, as a result of our electricity and gas consumption, and in large part from the air travel of our staff throughout the region. To offset all of these emissions, each year the Bank purchases carbon credits from projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Most recently we invested in a project in Nicaragua, very much in line with this year’s Earth Day theme: Trees for the Earth. The project pays participating farm families for carefully monitored trees. The idea is to provide an economic incentive for farmers to nurture trees, keep them alive and keep them in the ground for the long run. To learn more about our progress, check out the IDB’s most recent Sustainability Report which reports on our in-house efforts over the last year to minimize the Bank’s corporate footprint.
Although the IDB’s environmental footprint is not huge, we hope that our efforts will spur others to act, whether they simply plant trees or recycle, or whether they take on broader actions, such as introducing full-scale corporate responsibility programs in their own institutions.
Together we can get “really big stuff” done for our planet. Earth Day organizers are saying “Let’s plant 7.8 billion trees for the Earth. Let’s divest from fossil fuels and make cities 100% renewable. At the IDB, we are playing our part. Are you?