Walking the Walk

The UN General Secretariat is going green. And a Business Week peek into the renovation plans for the ageing UN headquarters in New York says the building will be a “model of UN efficiency.”

When completed in April, 2014, the U.N. will look as it does today from the outside. Or, as [project manager Michael] Adlerstein puts it, “Ten years from now, there will be no way to tell that the U.N. was renovated unless you look at the energy bill.” While refusing to disclose specific details of that bill, officials claim that the new plans aim for a 30% reduction of energy use. And green is a sustaining principle of the whole redesign.

On June 5, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced that he would like the new HQ to “become a globally acclaimed model of efficient use of energy and resources.” As such, he’s earmarked $28 million of the budget to ensure green principles are applied. Proposed initiatives include energy-efficient light fixtures, room sensors that turn off lights if a room isn’t occupied, and solar energy systems.

The interior of the Secretariat building will be redesigned with more open space to exploit the natural light that comes through the glass façade. Officials say they are aiming for, at the very least, a LEED Silver rating. LEED is a system run by the U.S. Green Building Council to judge buildings for energy efficiency.

Ban has made action on climate change an early priority of his administration. And forgive the pun, but it is heartening to see the UN, er, LEED by example. In all seriousness though, it is often said that the only power a UN Secretary General wields is the power of the pulpit. Kofi Annan used this power to advance a global human rights agenda. And though he has only been in office for eight months, it is clear that Ban ki Moon is endeavoring to make climate change his signature issue.