The acceleration of climate change presents an existential threat to programming in the democracy and governance field, and it is fundamentally changing how NDI works. Although individual actions on their own may not be enough to halt climate change, organizations, businesses and governments must recognize the need to integrate environmental sustainability into programming, operations and policy. NDI has already begun to make sustainable changes that significantly reduce our environmental impact and demonstrate to partners and employees that addressing the effects of climate change is a real priority.
Many organizations, including NDI, were forced to make quick and dramatic changes to their operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these changes also had a positive environmental impact - for example, the ability to work and conduct meetings remotely greatly reduced the need for long-distance travel and daily commuting, both of which contribute significantly to an organization’s carbon footprint. Now that many staff are planning to return to work in-person, it is important to consider how organizations can maintain or improve these environmentally-friendly practices. It is also important to acknowledge that many of these changes make workplaces more accessible by providing staff more flexibility, including employees with disabilities and employees with families. In many cases, environmentally friendly practices can be aligned with the accessibility needs of staff and partners and can promote greater inclusion overall.
As an organization with offices in more than 50 countries, NDI recognizes the impact that climate change will have on our staff and programming around the world. NDI also recognizes that climate impacts and options for sustainable behavior are highly localized, and as such, not all solutions will be possible or effective in all countries. In order to accommodate these different country and regional contexts, NDI has begun making sustainable changes in two main areas - office operations and programming.
Recently, a group of NDI staff developed a Sustainability Checklist for offices and staff to use to identify potential changes that fit the needs of their office and programs, and begin to take steps towards reducing NDI's environmental impact. This Checklist was inspired by similar guidelines in the EU and the US and aims to provide a starting point for staff around the world to have discussions about sustainability and the long-term impact of climate change on NDI’s work. This resource also empowers staff to take individual actions that benefit the environment and demonstrates the value of both collective and individual behavior change to support an inclusive sustainability strategy.
Environmental sustainability is a personal issue for many NDI staff and many offices have already made significant changes to their daily operations, as well as to the ways they plan events and engage with partners. For example, in the NDI Mexico office, one staff member was chosen to ensure that the office is using electricity responsibly and that all appliances and electronics are turned off when not in use. This staff member also keeps track of local guidelines around sustainability and suggests regular improvements for the office. The NDI Mexico office has prioritized education among staff and started with simple changes like recycling all paper products and reusing banners and flyers at public events. To further reduce the need for paper printing, the NDI Mexico office also started making event agendas available digitally by using QR codes.
The NDI Ukraine office has built an environmental perspective into new and existing programs and introduced sustainability into office operations and event planning. In Ukraine, staff have started to consider the transition towards more sustainable and environmentally-friendly event management practices, which illustratively includes using reusable dishes and silverware at events and avoiding plastic bottles by encouraging participants to bring their own bottles and by using water coolers and reusable glasses.This focus on sustainable programming is particularly important because of the Ukraine team’s work on the political inclusion of women, young people and other marginalized communities. Since these populations are already being disproportionately impacted by climate change, it is critical to work towards greater political inclusion for these communities while also integrating more environmentally sustainable behavior into programs.
In some cases, environmentally sustainable practices can symbolize progress towards other democracy and governance efforts. The NDI Ukraine office has built an environmental perspective into new and existing programs which is particularly important because of the team’s work on the political inclusion of women, young people and other marginalized communities. Since these populations are already being disproportionately impacted by climate change, it is critical to work towards greater political inclusion for these communities while also demonstrating a commitment to environmentally sustainable behavior in programs. To reinforce this idea, the office has introduced sustainability into office operations and event planning and staff have started to consider the transition towards more sustainable and environmentally-friendly event management practices. This has included using reusable dishes and silverware at events and avoiding plastic bottles by encouraging participants to bring their own bottles and by using water coolers and reusable glasses.
Focusing on country-specific sustainability solutions can also have economic benefits. When establishing the NDI Malawi office, staff prioritized the purchase of local and sustainably-made furniture and office supplies. This supported local producers and ensured that furniture did not have to be transported far distances, meaning that it was both less expensive and had a smaller carbon footprint. It also helped NDI staff better support the local economy and develop relationships with local artisans. NDI Malawi’s Finance and Office Manager Caroline Ngwira said, “Since opening the office, we have been committed to using sustainable products in our operations. It isn’t always possible, but the office tries to support environmentally-friendly local businesses. For example, all coffee and tea served at the office is Malawian, the office furniture is made by local artisans and our waste baskets, storage boxes and flower pots are locally-made using grass and straw.”
By pursuing environmentally sustainable practices in both our operations and programming, NDI is preparing staff and partners to respond effectively to the significant threats posed by climate change to our own programming as well as to the legitimacy of the democratic governments we support. NDI is invested in long-term and sustainable democracy solutions and is aware of the many ways climate change will strain even the strongest democratic governments. Climate change will also create crises that exacerbate existing social inequality and make it harder for marginalized communities to participate in politics. Therefore, a commitment to environmental sustainability is critical to help mitigate the impacts of climate change and to fulfill NDI’s mission of creating strong, resilient and inclusive democracies around the world.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.