Ecological sustainability in our offices

Our aim is to reduce travel by air to the absolute minimum. All staff are encouraged to combine activities in order to minimise the frequency of travel and maximise the time used for programme activities, and to use public transport when available and safe. The line managers monitor the implementation of this policy in assessing and approving travel requests.

Dewi Catur Utami Programme Manager in Indonesia

Rikolto offices’ ecological footprint

Since 2009, we have been reporting on the environmental achievements of our office in Belgium; since 2012 we have also included our offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In doing so, we confine ourselves to a number of relevant key indicators that are easy for all offices to follow. You can find the detailed figures on our website. 

We have not noticed any significant shifts compared to last year, except in the field of mobility.

We have not noticed any significant shifts compared with last year, except for some regions in the field of mobility. Since 2017, we have a specific policy on air travels.

Energy

In 2011, we renovated our office building in Belgium and turned it into a sustainable workplace. Electricity and gas use have decreased significantly and has remained stable since then. Naturally, we use green electricity.  

As all of our office buildings outside Belgium are rented, renovation is impossible. However, the Rikolto office in Butembo, DRC, has a solar panel array next to the office building, which supplies 100% of its electricity. Moreover, in our office in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, eight solar panels and eight batteries supplied about 20% of the electricity. 

The use of energy-efficient lamps is commonplace everywhere. In most of the offices, awareness is regularly raised about switching off lights and computers after office hours.

The Rikolto office in Butembo, DRC, has a solar panel array next to the office building, which supplies 100% of its electricity.

Waste

In a number of offices, our colleagues have studied or started separate waste collection, but a sorting system is not in place yet in most regions. In most regions, except West Africa and Congo, paper is sorted and collected separately. In DR Congo, organic waste is used in the office garden and to feed the chicken.

In Indonesia, there is a waste management system in place in the main office and field offices in the different programme areas, but awareness needs to be raised much further to make it a success. In South America and East Africa, a special service provider collects organic, paper and plastic waste separately for recycling. Since last year, plastic is collected separately in our office in Vietnam, to be recycled. 

In Belgium, waste production remains steady and we try to recycle as much as possible. The amount of paper waste is a lot lower than it was a couple of years ago, since e-mails and documents are printed on paper much less often. Since 2018, we have started collecting plastic food packaging in a specific bag, but more awareness-raising is needed.

Office supplies

In terms of paper use, not a great deal has changed. Recycled paper is not available in most regions, or the paper is very expensive. However, staff are encouraged to share documents by e-mail as much as possible and print double sided. In Belgium, the mailshots sent to private donors and volunteers account for most of our paper use.  

In Belgium, all maintenance products purchased are from an ecological brand, except for some products for which it is hard to find an ecological alternative. We continuously monitor whether we can replace certain products with an ecological alternative. Also, in Indonesia and West Africa, most of the cleaning is done with environmentally friendly products (at least 50%). 

Catering

When it comes to serving food at events, our colleagues in Central and South America, Indonesia, Belgium and Vietnam try to avoid or reduce the amount of plastic plates and spoons used. In Belgium, 90% of the food served to external visitors or at events is organic, FairTrade or comes from local producers. The same applies for office coffee and snacks. Also, in Central America and East Africa, extra attention is paid to sustainability when catering for events. In Indonesia, food and drinks that are served in the office are often bought from the farmer organisations we work with.

In Indonesia, food and drinks that are served in the office are often bought from farmer organisations we work with.

Water use

In Belgium, water use has decreased significantly since we renovated our office building. Rain water is used for flushing the toilets. Outside Belgium, there are no systems to use rain water.  However, sometimes it is used for cleaning. In all offices, extra attention is paid to fixing leaking taps as quickly as possible. 

Mobility

Usually, programme staff use the office car or take a flight (see point 3 below) to travel to Rikolto’s programme areas. The use of public transport continues to be unfeasible in most regions, due to the poor state of the roads, limited services and safety issues. Moreover, cars are often used to commute to and from work, while cycling or walking are not really considered. This may be for safety reasons or because it takes more time, but sometimes it is also a cultural issue, linked to social status. In Belgium,  Peru and Ecuador, over 90% of commuting is by bike or public transport. Also, in East Africa, public transport is used quite often. 

More colleagues in our offices in Peru and Quito have started commuting by bike

Air travel

Travelling by air is still necessary for our operations. It is essential for an international organisation to have regular contact with colleagues on various continents. We use Skype or Zoom as much as possible to exchange information, but on the other hand we see that face-to-face exchanges are so much more valuable. Travelling from Belgium to the Rikolto countries and between Rikolto offices is therefore necessary. We are aware that this considerably increases our ecological footprint and we try to combine as many assignments as possible in one trip. 

In 2017, we identified the following key travel principles, which were approved by the International Management Team:  

  • Flying is the last resort. Rikolto staff should always look first for alternatives to travelling by plane. 

  • When considering the options, look at distance, but also time. Sometimes travelling by car or public transport takes too long and can be exhausting. Travel time for staff should also be taken into account, as it might significantly reduce the time available for programme activities. 

  • If you fly, you compensate. We always carbon offset the trips made by our staff1. Non-staff are invited to do the same. Compensation will be paid into one common fund and will be used in a specific Rikolto project aimed at climate change mitigation. The sustainability working group (one staff member from each office) will decide on how the money is allocated. 

In 2018, we expanded carbon offsetting on flights from Belgium (which we have monitored since 2009) to all flights taken by our staff worldwide. We therefore take the global figures from 2018 as the baseline for the coming years. 

As expected, in South and Central America, the number of flights has considerably decreased since the meetings required for the merger into one Latin American team in 2018. However, a huge increase in flights has been recorded in West Africa and DR Congo due to programmes starting in new areas, and safety issues. Also, in Indonesia, the number of flights has strongly increased.

The 2018 carbon offsetting money was spent on a project in Benin, that was implemented in 2019. We supported farmers in further testing the standards of the Sustainable Rice Platform and promoting more ecological cooking stoves to process rice.  

This year, we will allocate the carbon offsetting money to Rikolto’s Innovation Fund. Because of this new structure in our bookkeeping, the project that will be funded with the 2019 carbon offsetting money will be selected after the International Board meeting in November.

Besides offsetting, our main priority for the next few years is unchanged: to fully focus on high-quality, efficient ICT infrastructure to reduce physical meetings. The slow internet connections in some regions (especially in Africa) remain the biggest obstacle to effective communications, e.g. through videoconferences, but we gradually see connections improving.