The State Department Greening Diplomacy Initiative (GDI) Awards recognize personnel and teams that work to advance sustainability and U.S. leadership in tackling the climate crisis, both at home and abroad. These awards help identify best practices and innovations that support U.S. government-wide sustainability goals. This year, the Greening Diplomacy Initiative within the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions (M/SS) commemorated Earth Day and the GDI Awards with an in-person celebration, which included keynote addresses by Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Under Secretary for Management John R. Bass, who serves as the Department’s Chief Sustainability Officer. This year’s winners developed greening programs that responsibly recycled waste, saved the Department millions of dollars, and led the way forward in greening technology. The GDI Awards honors these personnel for their creativity and commitment to sustainability, data-driven decision making, and innovation.
Embassy Baku’s Green Team made incredible strides in 2021. They leveraged the diversity of its members, implemented inclusive brainstorming processes, and used data to help green operations. U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Lee Litzenberger helped prioritize the Green Team’s efforts, and said, “I’m so proud of our Green Team. The team pulls together diverse perspectives and talents from across our mission. They take actions that reflect U.S. Climate Leadership in tangible ways that really resonate with the public; actions that our Public Affairs team leverages to reach millions of people here. The Green Team is directly furthering our diplomatic priorities in Azerbaijan.”
Among their many accomplishments, the Green Team expanded the embassy’s recycling program by conducting an audit to garner data on what kind of waste was collected, whether it had to be appropriately sorted, and how to dispose of it properly. Using this data, Embassy Baku developed partnerships with local companies to sell reusable waste. Proceeds from these sales were used to support environment-related community activities. Understanding the power of data in driving environmental change, U.S. Embassy Baku created a program to inform residents of utility consumption and communicate ways to reduce energy and water use. They also installed the embassy’s first air quality monitor that collects and analyzes air quality information that is used by personnel and the local community to make health decisions based on pollution exposure. Embassy Baku’s Green Team were trailblazers in innovation and became the first diplomatic mission in Azerbaijan to purchase an electric vehicle. The embassy advanced eco-diplomacy by publicizing their effort in a carpool karaoke video featuring Deputy Chief of Mission Michael Dickerson and renowned Azerbaijani singer Eldar Gasimov. The video has over 3,000 views to date! Finally, Embassy Baku honored their amazing team by planting 335 olive trees, one for each Locally Engaged Staff. This year, Embassy Baku stands tall as the epitome of leading by example and using data in diplomacy.
In an increasingly digital world, the Bureau of Consular Affairs leaned in and eliminated the decades-old institutional practice of providing paper inserts informing new passport recipients about their vital document. The simple conversion of these inserts to QR code stickers made an incredible environmental impact and ensured that U.S. citizens could access this important information anywhere, at any time. This solution will eliminate approximately 20,000 boxes and 600,000 pounds of printed material per year, saving around $1 million annually. Deputy Assistant Secretary Rachel Arndt is certain that sustainability will continue to be a priority moving forward, saying, “We’re laser-focused on the future of passport services, and this initiative clearly shows what we’re capable of. We’re thrilled to receive this award, and to share the stage with other sustainability-minded people, posts, and offices throughout the Department. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.” The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ innovative solution is a prime example of the impact of rethinking traditional practices through the lens of sustainability and cost savings.
Jenna Faupel is a trailblazer in the Department for greening initiatives. She pioneered the Department’s adoption of EnergyCAP, a system that automatically captures relevant data from utility bill PDFs using Optical Character Recognition. This new platform is modernizing an otherwise incomplete, manual data entry process. The transition from legacy systems to innovative software is not always easy. The road is often plagued with skepticism, confusion, and delays. Through Jenna’s steadfast leadership of the program, she enrolled 244 posts and captured data from over 630 service providers in 45 languages and 106 currencies. While the program is still in its enrollment phase and data analysis has not begun in earnest, she has used her engineering background to identify over $500,000 in potential annual savings, with more anticipated.
This year’s winner of the GDI Award for Excellence in Individual Sustainability for Overseas USDH, Olivia Fisher, continues the trend of data accessibility and greening innovation. Using meteorological data and Embassy Asuncion’s energy consumption data, Olivia created a demand profile to prepare her staff to run a new Embassy Campus efficiently with new greening practices such as green cleaning and preventative maintenance. Olivia conducted a year-long audit that provided concrete information about what type of waste the Embassy produced and how it could be effectively disposed. She further used this data to bolster Embassy Asuncion’s relationships with local partners by establishing the Zero Waste program that included composting and sale of recyclables within the community. Olivia’s greening successes in 2021 exemplify how data can be used to develop creative sustainable solutions.
Naresh Jindal is the foundational rock of the Resource Conservation Unit (RSU) at U.S. Embassy New Delhi. As the RSU’s lead engineer and supervisor, Naresh headed Embassy New Delhi’s most impactful greening initiatives. Through his efforts, post implemented a water recovery system for residential drinking water that saved almost 70,000 gallons in the first five months of the program. It is projected to save 2.1 million gallons of water annually. Naresh also spearheaded the expansion of post’s waste recycling center, which recycled 105 tons of waste and brought in $35,000 in revenue in 2021. Sales from the recycling program are reallocated to support additional greening efforts at Embassy New Delhi. Most prominently, Naresh is known for his vigilant management of post’s air quality monitoring program and the development of other data opportunities through his work with NASA and research universities to install additional air quality sensors around the country. His commitment to system maintenance and data availability for not only Embassy New Delhi, but the entire Mission, furthers the effort to analyze air quality in the most polluted capital in the world.
Learn more about GDI and M/SS at state.gov/eco-diplomacy and follow us on Twitter @StateGDI and Facebook here .
About the Author: Mary Tran is a Program Manager for the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions at the U.S. Department of State.