Environmental and Social Sustainability

Environmental and Social Sustainability (ESS) is the adaption and integration of precautionary environmental and social principles and considerations into decision making processes. As part of the United Nations’ commitment to support nationally-owned sustainable development results, UN entities across the system are committed to internalizing the principles they stand for -  leading by example and maintaining credibility as a partner in sustainable development. A key element of this is enhancing the environmental and social sustainability of the UN’s activities.

In 2012, members of the UN Environment Management Group prepared a  A Framework for Advancing Environmental and Social Sustainability in the UN system. The Framework provides a basic architecture for integrating environmental and social sustainability measures into policies, programmes, and operations of the UN, and provides recommendations about measures to be taken at the individual agency level as well as across the UN-system.

In order to help and encourage UN entities to start implementing the Framework, the EMG Consultative Process prepared an Interim Guide for Advancing the Environmental and Social Sustainability Framework in the UN System that was published in 2014.  The Guide is based on the agencies’ current practices for incorporating, implementing and reporting on sustainability measures, and aims to provide an understanding of the minimum requirements and essential actions needed to move towards sustainability in each institution.

In 2015, the EMG carried out a pilot project to test the utility of the ESS Framework and the Interim Guide in seven volunteer United Nations (UN) entities. The pilot was initiated with a view to share lessons learned, improve the understanding of the practical implications of implementing the Sustainability Framework, and to improve the Framework and the Guide based on the pilot agencies’ experiences in applying them in practice. A Synthesis Report with the results of the pilot project can be found here.

At their 22nd meeting in September 2016, the EMG Senior Officials decided to extend the Consultative Process on ESS to focus on updating the Interim Guide based on lessons learned in the pilot phase; explore options for strengthening a common approach at the projects/programmes entry point of the Framework; and to focus on communication aspects of the ESS Framework, in particular to develop a communications piece to clarify the link between the ESS Framework and the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs and to develop a plan for how to strengthen communication about the Framework to external stakeholders such as Member States.


Environmental and Social Sustainability In Focus