This initiative was launched in 2018 in Bern, bringing together eight embassies in order to create a working group with the purpose of exchanging ideas, best practices and solutions as well as aiming to implement more eco-friendly embassy operations. Since then, the Network has evolved considerably and established partnerships with the City of Bern, the International Bern Welcome Desk, and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The network is also engaging with the local community through participation at various events.
The International Bern Welcome Desk asked two members of the Greening Embassies Network to tell more about their activities and concrete actions. The interviews were conducted with Sofia Karlberg, Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Sweden, and the Costa Rican Ambassador Carlos Alonso Villalobos. Both embassies are part of the Greening Embassies Network. Sweden was a founding member, and Costa Rica joined last year.
Interview with the Embassy of Sweden
How is the network contributing to a “greener” Bern?
We try to contribute to the local community on the one hand, and on the other, we do our best to reduce the embassies’ climate footprint. We engage in shared activities such as an active collaboration with the NGO Trash Hero, which saw 60 diplomats picking up litter on UN World Environment Day, participation in the “Hallo Velo” public cycling event, and the organisation of activities on World Bicycle Day. We know that more people would like to cycle, and one reason for not doing so is that their bike requires fixing. This is why on World Bicycle Day we want to encourage people to bike and celebrate biking, so we organise a mechanic who does small repairs for free. This is a concrete and easy way of increasing the number of cyclists in the city of Bern.
What are some of the concrete examples that the participating embassies have implemented?
The Embassy of Germany, for example, replaced its light bulbs with LED lights and was able to lower electricity consumption by 25%, which is a lot! Some embassies have improved their recycling, some replaced the use of plastic bottles with Bern’s delicious tap water and a soda streamer, and others have installed light sensors. Many embassies have bought bikes and e-bikes – which is really the easiest and fastest way to get around Bern.
The network meets several times a year. We inspire each other by sharing good examples. There are many things that can be done and that save both money and the climate in many instances, and even better – they are simple to implement.
And the Embassy of Sweden?
For Sweden, the green transition and combatting climate change is an important issue. We have changed our old fossil-fuel embassy car to an all-electric car – the first of all the Swedish embassies to do so. We have an embassy bike and do basically all of our travelling around Bern either by bike or using public transport. We are committed to being climate-friendly.
Can any embassy join the Greening Embassies Network?
The group is open to any embassy, no matter whether the embassy has already implemented many measures or is about to start. However, the really important thing (and what makes a difference!) is to make a commitment to reducing our climate footprint. We really want the embassies in this network to walk the talk.
What would you advise new members to start with?
Introduce eco-friendly habits in your embassy. Another nice aspect that we like to highlight is the fact that climate-friendly measures also save money! Using less paper while printing or reducing your electricity or water consumption will have a positive impact on your overall expenses.
Is there any special event the community should keep in mind?
A highlight this year is going to be World Bicycle Day, which takes place on the 3rd of June. Stay tuned! And as for every event, we will be using our internal “How to host a sustainable event” leaflet that was created together with the City of Bern.
Interview with the Embassy of Costa Rica
What surprised you when you joined the network?
First of all, we were surprised by the recycling culture in Switzerland and the way the authorities ensure the flow of information. And of course, we were delighted to hear about the existence of the Greening Embassies Network, with members who share these same values associated with sustainability.
What was the first thing that you changed?
The first action we took was to make a commitment for our four embassy officials to use Bern's public transport, which is excellent and very low in terms of carbon emissions. In this way, all events and diplomatic activities in Bern are carried out using the bus, tram or even walking.
We also got inspired by the approach of the Greening Embassies Network and adapted our approach as a consequence because the two concepts are very complementary.
What are the concrete actions that the Costa Rican Embassy has undertaken to reduce its ecological footprint since last autumn?
We have already implemented the following measures:
- We changed to two-level flush toilets to reduce the amount of water consumed
- We use reusable towels instead of paper towels
- We use eco-friendly toilet paper
Last autumn, when we hosted an event with 150 people, we only used eco-friendly dishes and reusable Tupperware.
How would you like to contribute to the network?
We base plenty of our actions on the Ecological Blue Flag Program (Spanish), which is one of the most important environmental programs in the Republic of Costa Rica. Within this context, we recently shared tips and recommendations with the Costa Rican community in Switzerland to reduce its environmental impact. People sometimes think there is nothing to improve anymore, but there is always plenty that can be done, and raising awareness is important. We received a lot of positive feedback from our community, and we will ensure that follow-up is done to further expand this information. We would like to share this experience with other embassies so that they can conduct similar activities with their fellow citizens living in Switzerland.
Are there also benefits on a higher level as a result of membership in the Greening Embassies Network?
We want to obtain the Ecological Blue Flag that 12 Costa Rican embassies around the globe already have. Our efforts, however, will not stop when we get this flag. On the contrary, once you have the flag, you must demonstrate your ongoing efforts in order to keep it. And like Sweden, all Costa Rican embassies also share their best practices among themselves.