Tel Aviv: ‘Climate change is too urgent for us to wait until conditions are ideal’

Asset Publisher

Back Tel Aviv: ‘Climate change is too urgent for us to wait until conditions are ideal’

The Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv is working hard to reduce its CO2 emissions. It all started with the launch of a sustainability team in the framework of the Rank Your Embassy initiative. Sarah Hage (Resistance Participants and War Victims Department) and water and climate trainee Anouk van Eekeren talk about their experiences as members of this team. For action to be successful you need to engage with people at all levels – from the head of mission to the driver – and you have to experiment.

The climate crisis demands action now, especially in countries like Israel which are by nature extremely hot and dry. At the embassy in Tel Aviv, staff had to become more aware of the fact that everyone can contribute, by implementing an increasingly green policy agenda and by making environmentally-friendly choices within the organisation. The Rank Your Embassy team paved the way.

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Tel Aviv chose to focus on Climate Action, particularly CO2 reduction and climate adaptation. ‘It’s important to focus on a single theme initially,’ says Sarah. ‘You can’t tackle every goal at once. Choose a goal that’s relevant to your particular country, and start with that.’

Sustainability team

The embassy’s sustainability team was set up in 2019, when six colleagues from various sections got together to make their embassy a lot greener. ‘We represent the entire organisation,’ says Sarah. ‘So we can draw everyone’s attention to the need for sustainability.’ The team meets once a month to discuss ongoing projects and talk about new initiatives.

The team’s first step was to determine the embassy’s and staff’s CO2 emissions and identify where the biggest reduction in emissions could be achieved. They also knew that a culture change was needed within the embassy. ‘That starts by setting the right example,’ says Sarah. ‘But how do you get your colleagues to follow it, and then take the lead themselves?’

Awareness

The team gave a presentation on ways of reducing carbon emissions and asked staff members for their ideas too. The initial aim was to bring the whole embassy on board. ‘We organised a quiz night at the ambassador’s residence,’ says Anouk. ‘It wasn’t only fun, but it also gave us useful input in terms of our colleagues’ knowledge and motivation. And it gave us the opportunity to talk about our overarching goal, which is a liveable world, and the embassy leading by example. From the head of mission to the driver: everyone has their own reasons and opportunities for making a contribution.’

The best way of raising awareness is to turn words into deeds. ‘One morning we did voluntary work at a food distribution centre,’ Sarah recalls enthusiastically. ‘The entire embassy team made food packages for people in need – helping others while at the same time preventing food waste. Through activities like this, we’re trying to bring about a culture change at the embassy. It’s great to see how this has a knock-on effect, with people keeping sustainability in mind when organising other events too.’

Falling CO2 emissions: the first mission with an electrically-powered official car

The embassy has many concrete plans, that cover a wide range of areas. ‘Every office used to have a waste bin with a plastic bin lining,’ says Sarah. ‘We’ve removed some, and replaced the rest with recycling bins. Now people have to get up and walk to a bin every time they throw something away, making them more aware of the huge amount of single-use plastic we use, and its impact on the climate.’

Ultimately, the embassy wants to have a much smaller carbon footprint. The purchase of an electric car has made a big difference. ‘This is a good example of our trial and error approach,’ says Sarah. ‘Things don’t always work out exactly as you thought. It took a long time to get the car here. There aren’t as many charging points in Israel as there are in the Netherlands. So in that sense we’re real pioneers. But thanks to the efforts of the ambassador and the entire team, we are now the first mission outside Europe to have an electric car.’

Walk the talk

This is also an example of Walk our Talk. ‘The ambassador often has meetings outside the embassy, so the electric car is making inroads into our CO2 emissions,’ says Anouk. ‘And it’s a good conversation opener for the ambassador when he’s on a working visit.’

Another idea for reducing CO2 emissions was to promote cycling. The team worked hard to get a bicycle rack installed. And they’re planning to put up a sign with information on the Netherlands’ actions for sustainability. The bikes all carry the NL brand logo, and the team is planning to post the accompanying slogans on social media and in the waiting room.

Experiment

The chancery is in a non-sustainable, shared office building, so it isn’t easy to make building services more sustainable. Use of gas, water and electricity can’t be measured separately in this rented accommodation. The embassy has now got LED lights in its offices, despite the fact that savings can’t be measured, and the electricity bill stays the same. ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint,’ says Anouk, describing their sustainability plans for the embassy. ‘Climate change is too urgent for us to wait until conditions are ideal. You need to “fail forward” and try things out. If something doesn’t work, don’t give up – that’s my advice. Focus on the larger goal.’

Sarah’s main tip, apart from setting up a sustainability team, is to choose a theme and get started. ‘Initially we got bogged down in details,’ she says. ‘We then realised that it was more important to make decisions and do something. It’s good to see that an increasing number of colleagues are doing their share. That’s how you really bring about change.’