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What Future Do You Want?: Rio+20 Kicks-Off in Brazil

Today thousands of participants, including world leaders, CEOs, and global citizens alike are convening in Rio de Janeiro for Rio +20, also known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the conference in Brazil and is an opportunity for us to reflect on the strides we have made in supporting our environment as well as what lies ahead in the future of sustainable development. In 1992, Earth Summit in Rio concluded with an adoption of Agenda 21, a framework for rethinking economic development; this year the UN hopes to take it further by bringing together institutions to agree on measures that promote development and help to alleviate poverty in the most sustainable ways.

The emphasis of the conference, which takes place from June 20 through 22, is “the future we want”; not only are we urging corporations, NGOs, and the everyday citizen to be more conscious of our environment today but we also need to look forward to future generations. “The Future We Want” taps into two main focuses of the Conference on Sustainable Development: green economies and international coordination. Rio+20 is also focusing on 7 key global environmental issues: jobs, energy, cities, food, oceans, water, disasters.

Essentially, how can we act together to establish a greener path for development, today, tomorrow, and in the long-run? UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a statement on YouTube last week expressing the future he wants? The Secretary-General’s statement promotes us to ask ourselves, “What is the future we want?”, and more importantly “How does Rio+20 factor into that?”

In a recent Guardian article, a UN official stated, “We want there to be more ambition so that it actually leads to sustainable development. At the moment, there is a risk that instead of the future we want, we will go back to the past we had.” Rio+20 serves as a forum for leaders from diverse backgrounds and sectors to come together and discuss ways in which we can move forward rather than backward.

Texts and documents have already been drafted through which corporations and groups pledge to make efforts to protect the environment. Yesterday 190 delegates drafted an agreement for approval on Friday, Rio+20’s last day, which addressed fossil fuel use, ocean protection, and support for renewable energy. The draft text is fittingly titled “The Future We Want” and delegates hope for it to act as a road map for businesses and policy makers in all areas.

Today the conference opens up with statements from Ban Ki-moon as well as Secretary-General of the conference both establishing their hopes for Rio+20 over the next few days and beyond.  High level round table discussions will take place in addition to countless side events throughout Rio de Janeiro. For forum and event schedules check out the take a look at the conference page.

Although Rio is nearly 5,000 miles from Boston, you don’t have to feel far away from the action.  Rio+20’s website has constant updates, and the Guardian’s Jo Confino and Adam Vaughan are detailing their experiences through daily diaries and live blogs. Rio+20’s webpage has an entire section dedicated to how you can be engaged and Rio+Social continues to be an easy way to be vocal.  Rio+Social, a social media conference and live stream which took place on June 19 let global citizens voice their opinions and express what they hope Rio+20 will accomplish. Although the live stream has passed, social media fans can still be involved by tweeting about sustainability using hash tags such as #rioplussocial or #rioplusfood, or going to Rio+Social on Twitter and Facebook. Liking and following UNA-GB on both Twitter and Facebook is also a great way to stay looped in!

Stay tuned for our post-conference reflection and analysis.  Additionally, we are continuing to answer the question about what is the future we want and are working towards here at UNA-GB, beyond Rio+20, and we hope you continue to join us.  While there’s a lot of ways to get involved, one exciting area we are growing here in Boston is our engagement around sustainable and responsible efforts of Boston and Massachusetts corporations.  Earlier this month, we teamed up with John Hancock Financial as they received their LEED Platinum certification for environmentally conscious design and joined some of their staff on a beach clean-up for World Environment Day. Additionally, at our annual United Nations Day Luncheon in October, we acknowledge several companies and universities that are signed onto the United Nations Global CompactPrinciples for Responsible Investment, and and the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) with our corporate honor roll. Not only do we gladly shine a light on the valuable efforts these institutions are making but we also hope to inspire other local companies to follow suit.  Stay tuned on ways to engage more in these efforts!

-Jessica P

Green your community, change the world! Reflections on UN World Environment Day 2012

The UNA-GB team celebrated UN World Environment Day in full force on Tuesday! We spent the morning at John Hancock Financial’s 601 Congress St. offices recognizing them on their LEED platinum certification and spreading the word about the UN Environment Programme’s transformative work locally and globally.  We then headed to Carson Beach and Dorchester Shores Reservation for a spirited beach clean-up. Our event began at John Hancock’s atrium where Jim Boyle, President, kicked off the speaking program. He shared how the 40th anniversary of WED fittingly coincided with the 150th anniversary of John Hancock and acknowledged this year’s WED theme, “Green Economy: Does It Include You?”  He presented how John Hancock has long recognized the important role they must play in establishing a green economy by having not only respect for our planet but also concern for future generations. They have implemented many environmental initiatives, use resources wisely, and engage in sustainable investing. Jim Boyle saluted the work that the UN has undertaken globally in addressing this critical issue and further recognized UNA-GB for translating global causes into local action.  He then passed the microphone to Richard Golob, the President of the Board at UNA-GB and a committed member of the corporate environmental community. Richard remarked that although Tuesday marked four decades of the important work that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has done, there is much more progress to be made. The UN understands that establishing a green economy is the pathway to a healthier environment and Richard hoped that our event would encourage other corporations and all of us as global citizens to engage collectively in tackling environmental issues. Richard also echoed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for “governments, businesses and all members of society to make the holistic choices that will ensure a sustainable future”. As an example of UNA-GB’s holistic approach, Richard talked about our Model UN programs through which middle to high school students come together to discuss and learn about world issues including clean water, sustainable development, and environmental stewardship.  He noted that Model UN is a viable solution to fill an educational gap. MUN reaches 3,000 students in greater Boston.


Although Tuesday’s event had a corporate emphasis, Richard and the UNA-GB underscored the importance of a collective effort from corporations, government, and citizens to take concrete steps towards real change. Bobbi Kates-Garnick, State Undersecretary for Energy, spoke on behalf of the Patrick administration and Richard K. Sullivan about environmental leadership in Boston. We learned that Massachusetts is the #1 state in energy efficiency and that the state hopes to claim 100 green communities by the end of the summer. She stressed Massachusetts’ commitment to a green economy, through clean energy advancements, and environmental education, such as Model UN programming.

 Next, Brian Glascock, Director of the Environment Department, City of Boston added to Bobbi’s comments recognizing 100 LEED buildings in Boston and explaining green initiatives that Menino’s and his administration have taken on. Boston’s growing tree canopy is an example. He celebrated Boston as an international city and cited this as even more reason to take action and step up to our environmental responsibilities.

Finally, Jennifer Taranto of U.S. Green Building Council’s Massachusetts Chapter presented John Hancock Financial with a plaque officiating their platinum achievement and mentioned their 3 other gold-certified buildings in Back Bay. Afterwards guests were welcome to peruse the green expo that John Hancock Financial hosted which included vendors who focused on recycling, composting, energy, and organic food.

UNA-GB Executive Director Lena is getting in on the action!

After a quick wardrobe change into rain-gear, UNA-GB staff and John Hancock employees along with Vivian from the Boston Harbor Association ventured to Carson Beach in South Boston to clean garbage alongside the beach and walkway. In an hour we made quite an impact, reaching all the way to Dorchester Shores Reservation and returning with 10 bags filled with litter.

How did you celebrate World Environment Day yesterday? What steps will you take to support sustainability at global and local levels? WED may be just one day but supporting our environment is a daily commitment. Not only was it a fantastic way to strengthen our relationships with John Hancock and the BHA but also created opportunities of bonding among our staff and interns. And of course, we brightened up the beach area and helped our environment with a simple, concrete step.  Changing the world really is up to each of us!

-Jessica P

Celebrating World Environment Day with a Boston Corporate LEEDer

Tomorrow, June 5, UNA-GB is teaming up with John Hancock Financial to celebrate the 40th anniversary of United Nations World Environment Day and its theme, “Green Economy: Does it include you?”

The annual World Environment Day was created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 as a way to raise awareness about environmental issues. UNEP focuses on several areas ranging from environmental governance to disasters, conflicts, and climate change, and encourages global citizens to care for our environment in order to improve our quality of life. World Environment Day serves to personalize environmental issues and urge civil society to realize that it is our responsibility to take action. Not only is WED a celebration but it is also an opportunity to come together and initiate change in support of sustainable lifestyles and development.

More specifically, this year WED will hone in on issues of green economies– economies that are low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive. UNEP suggests that because  a green economy is socially inclusive that means that we as global citizens are integral in making a change, that it is not only up to businesses and policy-makers; this is where the bulk of this year’s theme comes into play.

These questions arise just as the UN is gearing up for the Rio+20 conference, taking place June 20-22. The conference marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledges World Environment Day as the perfect opportunity to prepare for Rio+20 and to reflect on how we fit into green economies (read his official statement here).  World leaders and thousands of participants from governments, NGOs, and the private sector will convene  to discuss “priority areas” including green economy and its role in poverty eradication. For more information on this topic, check out Rio+20’s green economy resource and this Guardian article on green jobs and how they can help lift workers out of poverty. And to get involved take a look at Rio’s page on engagement.

UNA-USA has sprung into action by responding to efforts to ban UN’s Agenda 21 and encouraging members to let their voices be heard and write letters to editors. Additionally, the UN Foundation has established Rio+Social and the 6 Minute Speech project as a way to connect to the event through social media- an easy way to get involved! Both organizations are hosting a live web conference on June 22 @ 1 PM EST to get an insider’s look at Rio+20’s sessions (RSVP here).

With all of those options there are still more opportunities to help! UNEP challenges us all to join in the WED  and Rio+20 action by not only asking ourselves how we can be included in promoting sustainable development but also by simply organizing a neighborhood clean-up, planting a tree, or even walking to work.  More than 8,400 WED activities, including Tuesday’s program at John Hancock, have been registered at UNEP’s global 2012 WED website.

This year John Hancock Financial’s headquarter offices at 601 Congress Street in downtown Boston became the first existing building in New England to become LEED certified at the platinum level by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) At UNA-GB’s event, John Hancock Financial will be recognized for its environmental commitment and leadership. Our hope is to encourage other corporations in the Boston area and beyond to take similar steps such as striving for the greener rankings as John Hancock did or by supporting environmental efforts elsewhere in their company or surrounding communities.

Although the event focuses on corporate action, we must not forget this year’s WED theme; does the green economy include you? We should ask ourselves what we can do to be more involved in environmental issues. UNA-GB will be volunteering with the Boston Harbor Association on Tuesday by cleaning a park near John Hancock at 12:30pm.

UNA-GB is also deeply committed to educating the next generation of global citizens about environmental sustainability beyond just World Environment Day – through our Model UN program this past year, more than 600 students have debated environmental topics, including clean water, green building and sustainable development.

What will you do to celebrate World Environment Day? What actions will you take to support the environment on June 5? And on June 6th and beyond? A great first step is to join us for World Environment Day on Tuesday. Hope to see you there! You can also check out how else you can support the planet with 50 Ways to Help.

Boston Event details recap:
Tuesday, June 5
Event at John Hancock Financial, 601 Congress Street
10:15-10:45 AM- Tour of John Hancock’s new LEED certified building
11:00-11:30 AM- Brief speaking engagement with UNA-GB Board President Richard Golob and State/city environmental officials.
12:00 pm- John Hancock vendor fair
12:30-1:30 PM- Park clean-up with Boston Harbor Association (To participate in the clean-up, email info@unagb.org your name!).

-Jessica P

Get Your Green On!

After a long cold winter here in Boston and with a much-needed boost of warm weather marking the promise of summer just around the corner, there’s no better time to consider how we can positively impact our surroundings!  This Sunday June 5th is World Environment Day, coordinated by the United Nations’ Environment Programme, and is a great opportunity to get involved in a variety of different activities to help our planet.

World Environment Day started in 1972 and has grown to be an important environmental action supported by the United Nations for people in the world to reunite on this day for the environment. This year the Global Host of World Environment Day 2011 in India, focusing on forest development called “Forests: Nature at Your Service” and its continued support as a nation of global sustainable living.

Whether you’re in India or around the world, there is plenty going on. From the Biofestival 2011 concert in Costa Rica to the biodiversity press conference in Canada to a music concert in Belgium, to beach-cleaning and tree-planting in Bahrain, there are so many ways to get involved all around the world.  All of these activities link back to the efforts of the UN’s Millennium Development Goal #7, which focuses on educating countries about the benefits of sustainable development and use of resources in protecting the environment.  As we work to educate as many people as possible about protecting our environment on the microlevel, the UN is working on the macrolevel with governments to be environmentally sustainable.  Just yesterday, UN officials discussed having political representatives get involved in working towards a globally “green economy” during a debate on the General Assembly floor.  They discussed both the importance and the challenges involved in making government officials aware of the importance of the environment and sustainability.  Included in discussions was the point that while developed countries have the technology to make a difference, they still need political and social support in order to have an impact.

Some high-profile celebrities are looking to increase the political and social support: UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors’ Gisele Bundchen and Don Cheadle are competing in the WED Challenge to get as many people to support  World Environment Day, and environmental sustainability as possible. For each person that votes for either of them, a tree will be planted to support this year’s focus on forest development and support.

Do you want to get involved locally? You can choose to walk instead of driving or go as far as organizing clean-up activities in your communities. Hold a forest or river clean-up with your local community. Educate your community about how endangered species rely on having a healthy environment to live in or create a habitat for an endangered species by planting trees, praire grasses or a butterfly gardenAny ideas you may have, you can register online register online and officially become a part of the activities supported for World Environment Day.  If nothing else, you should spend the day enjoying the nature around you – for fellow Bostonians, it’s a great excuse to see the swan boats in the Boston Common, walk along the Charles River, or sit among the shade in the Arnold Arboretum.

Make sure your involvement doesn’t just end after this weekend too!  Another way to stay involved on a more long-term level is to join local organizations that have environmental missions.  Some options in the Boston area include the  Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM), Green Corps (Program) and Boston Youth Environmental Network. Celebrate the great beauty of your environment this weekend, and take action, whether globally or locally in any way you can to make sure that environment is maintained for years -and generations! – to come.  It’s up to each of us to ensure a plentiful and rich future for our planet.

-Cara