Since 2009, we have been reporting on the environmental achievements of our office in Belgium; a few years later, we have also included our rented offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In doing so, we confine ourselves to a number of relevant key indicators that are easy to follow for all offices.
Ecological sustainability in our offices
Our ecological footprint
In 2011, we renovated our office building in Belgium and turned it into a sustainable workplace. Electricity use has decreased significantly since 2015 and has remained stable since then. Naturally, we use green electricity. In 2017, we invested in highly insulated glass for our windows, leading to a decrease in our gas use for heating.
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 up to June, when the team moved to a new office building. The solar panels will be reinstalled this year.
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.
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 DR 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, since last year also in Arusha, a special service provider collects organic, paper and plastic waste separately for recycling.
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.
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. Since 2015, the use of paper has dropped spectacularly because we have stopped placing fundraising inserts in newspapers and magazines.
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%).
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 goes for office coffee and snacks. In Indonesia, food and drinks that are served in the office are often bought from farmer organisations we work with.
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.
Usually programme staff use the office car or take a flight (see 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. However, for two years, we have noticed some changes in South America, where more colleagues in our offices in Peru and Quito have started commuting by bike, and in East Africa, where public transport is used more.
In Belgium, many colleagues work from home one or two days a week, which saves on commuting. All colleagues use public transport or bicycles to come to work. Our office is close to the railway station (a ten-minute walk) and there is a shower for cyclists to freshen up before starting work. Two service bicycles are available for employees. We have a Blue Bike subscription (renting system), with which employees can easily combine public transport and a Blue Bike for work trips.
Travelling by air is still necessary for our operations. We are aware that this considerably increases our ecological footprint and we try to combine as many assignments as possible into 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 staff. Non-staff are invited to do the same.
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 also compared all the websites with a calculation formula to find the most appropriate and user-friendly method. From now on, we will use the Atmosfair offset formula and calculation method. Also, we have discovered that in the past, some regions used to calculate return trips as one flight. Because of all these factors, comparison with previous years has become very difficult.
In Vietnam, the number of flights has increased since last year due to the start of a new programme in a new area. The two South and Central America teams have merged into one continental team, which has required two physical planning meetings at which both teams have been present. From next year onwards, the number of flights will go down again. Indonesia is the only region where the number of flights has decreased since last year. None of the project areas have changed, but colleagues are invited to maximise their time in the project areas.
The 2018 carbon offsetting money will be spent on a project in Benin. We will support farmers to further test the standards of the Sustainable Rice Platform and to promote more ecological cooking stoves to process rice.
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.