What you can learn from Zagreb: small steps make a big difference

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The embassy in Zagreb won the Rank Your Embassy Award in 2018. And after that, they continued their mission for sustainability with even greater enthusiasm. Last year, the embassy won the award for a second time. Its sustainability team has an excellent communications plan to motivate staff, and scores points with many smart savings.

Many small steps make a big difference: that’s the motto behind the Zagreb embassy’s Mission Sustainable. For example, staff only send invitations digitally, collect plastic bottle tops for charity and promote vegetarian diets with their ‘Meatless Mondays’.

Image 1. The team in Zagreb

The embassy has a small team that safeguards the sustainability process – a team made up of staff from all parts of the organisation. Dubravka Milais is a consular officer, Lea Šiljak a political affairs officer and Andreja Kocijan focuses on the economy, trade and investment. Until recently, Roderick Richter was also on the team as deputy head of mission, but he has since been posted to Berlin. In short, the team has roots throughout the embassy, enabling them to try out new ideas quickly, and introduce change. The team’s most important job is to motivate the entire embassy, because they can’t make change happen alone. Awareness-raising plays a major role. Zagreb’s Meatless Mondays are a good example. The team encourages staff to eat vegetarian at least once a week. The results can be seen in what people eat for lunch.

Planting trees

Sustainability is an element of the embassy’s multiannual plan, and thus of its day-to-day work. Every year, they draft an action plan which can be adapted whenever necessary. This year, embassy staff are measuring their CO2 footprint in even more detail and working with an NGO to reduce that footprint. For instance, by planting trees all over Croatia – also a good way of celebrating thirty years of diplomatic relations. The embassy is also making its supply chain more sustainable.

Image 2. Campaign for planting trees

Transport

The team also gets a high score for the way it promotes sustainable transport. ‘The embassy is in the centre of Zagreb, so it’s easy to reach on foot, by bike or by public transport. And we often use those same modes of transport to go to meetings. We’re also working from home more often now.’

When visiting other countries, they try to avoid flying. ‘As a rule, no more than two staff members attend conferences or training courses in person. And if we travel in a bigger group, the train or car is the preferred option.’

Where possible, the embassy holds sessions with speakers from the Netherlands online. ‘We’re sticking to virtual meetings and conferences. It’s environmentally friendly, and also allows us to talk to colleagues in other countries more often. If someone is coming to visit us in person, we advise them to travel sustainably. And we send them a list of green-certified partner hotels.’

Communicate internally and externally

Communications are also a vital part of a good sustainability programme, according to the staff in Croatia. ‘From internal to external and back again. By communicating effectively about what we’re doing, what we’re achieving and what our best practices are, we keep everyone within the embassy motivated. Not only are we part of existing networks and green initiatives in Croatia, we also launch them ourselves. We’ve been able to inspire external partners by drawing their attention to good practices by Dutch companies. We’ve had Heineken, and the next will be Philips, Signify, KLM and Unilever.’ The Netherlands has built an image in Croatia for sustainability and circular economy. ‘We use that image in diplomacy, to initiate discussion on important themes. Croatia is known for its natural beauty, but sustainability could have a more prominent place in people’s lives.’

Mission Sustainable

The embassy is enthusiastic about the ministry’s Mission Sustainable. ‘The accompanying tools have taught us how we can streamline our approach to sustainability and communicate what we are doing.’ This enthusiasm is reflected in the two awards the embassy has won in the past three years. ‘The Rank Your Embassy Award in 2018 felt like a reward for hard work. It encouraged us to carry on, and to continue bettering ourselves. The 2021 award confirmed that we’re on the right track.’ So we can all learn from Zagreb. We’ve already mentioned the most important tip, and that is to start small. ‘Draw up an action plan, and monitor implementation of your ideas. Results are important in motivating people, so you should share information about what’s been achieved. In our experience, a lot of small steps lead to major opportunities for change. We enjoy sharing our experiences and invite colleagues at other embassies to get in touch. Digitally, of course.’

Image 3. Actions per theme