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Saturday, April 22, 2023

WFP: Reducing the environmental footprint - NaijaAgroNet

Interview ...Linking agrobiz, sustainable environs, people & technology

Can you introduce yourself? Where are you from, where are you based now and what is your role with WFP?

I’m half Italian and half Swiss, but I grew up in Italy. Currently, I am based in the Regional Bureau in Nairobi, working as a Regional Environmental Officer. In my role, I help Country Offices reduce and manage the environmental footprint of their operations for a more sustainable tomorrow. I do this through applying our Environmental Management System, which helps us to systematically and consistently identify, monitor, manage, and reduce our environmental footprint.
Tell us about your professional journey. 
WFP Regional Environmental Advisor Emanuela Cattaneo
Why did you decide to pursue a career in sustainability?

My journey in sustainability started with my Bachelor’s thesis – a research on how different countries are progressively recognizing the right of access to clean water in their constitutions. I then did a Master’s degree in Sustainable Development in the Netherlands and Germany, where I studied the basics of environmental governance, environmental economics, and natural resources management. At that time, in 2013, sustainability was not yet a buzzword and my choice of studies was a bit of a gamble since there weren’t that many jobs in the sector.

During my studies and right after, I did a series of internships, including one in India for a wind energy company and one in Amsterdam with a clean-tech start-up. I was still in the Netherlands when I saw an ad from WFP looking for someone to work on the carbon footprint of their operations – exactly what I studied!

I got the job in Headquarters and worked there for 2 years before moving to Nairobi, where I’ve been for the past 5 years. It’s been an incredible journey and I witnessed the shift toward sustainability, which is now one of the pillars of humanitarian and development action.

What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities? Are you often in the field?

I support WFP Regional and country teams, and engageging with colleagues from HQ, to become more sustainable, ensuring we leave behind a positive legacy in the countries we work in. I’m part of a small team, so my tasks are very diverse and range from developing technical proposals to conducting trainings to represent WFP at environmental events. My current focus areas include reducing our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing and properly managing our waste, reducing our water consumption, promoting sustainable procurement decisions and increasing staff awareness around sustainability.

Going to the field is a central part of my work, and I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to many WFP operations in Eastern Africa in the last five years. Every context has different environmental challenges, and my responsibility is to visit WFP operations, understand their biggest issues and find appropriate improvement solutions.

What is one of the memorable moments working on a WFP project?

I have many good memories working on WFP projects around East Africa! Once I was looking for a solution to plastic packaging waste in Djibouti and the WFP port captain brought me on a chartered WFP vessel to meet the captain and the crew and discuss if they could help us move the waste for recycling. I realized that no matter the challenge, WFP always looks for ways to tackle it!
WFP Regional Environmental Advisor Emanuela Cattaneo
Can you share some success stories you’ve witnessed since you started working in this field?

Energy efficiency and renewables are one of the top priorities I’m working on and I have witnessed a success story of completely moving away from diesel generators in a WFP Final delivery point (FDP) within the Kakuma refugee settlement in Kenya, which is now fully powered by clean energy thanks to the efforts of the Kenya Country Office and WFP’s Energy Efficiency Programme. Since then, solar mini-grids and other solar systems have been expanded throughout the settlement, within humanitarian agencies compounds, and the host community, bringing clean, reliable, and cost-effective power to beneficiaries and the host community.

Another area where I’ve seen a major improvement is waste management. WFP Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Rwanda, for example, have now established a series of long-term agreements with local waste recyclers and have recycled hundreds of tonnes of waste that would have otherwise been sent to the landfill. WFP taking responsibility for its waste has huge benefits for local communities: it helps safeguard the environment for future generations and stimulates recycling ecosystems with positive effects on local economies.

WFP taking responsibility for its waste has huge benefits for local communities. It helps safeguard the environment for future generations and stimulates recycling ecosystems with positive effects on local economies.

What I love about working in this field is that it brings together professionals from all disciplines and backgrounds and it challenges us to re-think our way of living. The opportunities for improvement are huge and my work can bring a practical contribution to achieving more sustainable development.
WFP Regional Environmental Advisor Emanuela Cattaneo
Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing our world. In your experience, what can humanitarian organisations such as WFP do to tackle climate change?

Humanitarian agencies play a key role in supporting people dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis. WFP works with communities to anticipate climate hazards before they turn into disasters, restore degraded ecosystems, protect them with financial safety nets and energise their communities with access to sustainable energy. At the same time, they can have a large environmental footprint, which needs to be addressed if they don’t want to cause unintended harm to the same people they are trying to help, leaving behind an unwanted legacy.

Humanitarian agencies must decarbonise their operations, reduce waste generation, improve recycling and procure more sustainably, for a better future for people and the planet.

The tide has turned, and humanitarian agencies are increasingly taking responsibility for their environmental impacts, but a lot still has to be done to turn those approaches into action. Humanitarian agencies must invest in decarbonizing their operations, reduce waste generation and improve reuse and recycling, procure more sustainably (buy less, buy better, buy local), work with other humanitarian actors, donors, and the private sector to leverage financial and technical resources to implement environmental solutions.

What is one thing WFP is doing in your field that we should absolutely shine a light on?

WFP is setting ambitious decarbonization and waste management targets and is mobilizing resources to deliver on those goals in cooperation with other humanitarian organisations and donors. There are many ongoing cross-functional initiatives aiming at generating evidence on environmental impacts from WFP’s operations (e.g. carbon accounting, energy audits) and strategically acting upon them.
WFP Regional Environmental Advisor Emanuela Cattaneo
Can you share three tips for people looking to pursue a similar career?

Sustainability is a wide sector with many entry points and specialization opportunities. My advice is to choose university programs that provide general knowledge and basics on sustainability combined with a focus on more specific pillars such as renewable energy or environmental policy and governance or environmental economics and finance. I would recommend starting as early as possible to have practical and diverse experiences in the sector, through internships and volunteering.

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