Remarks by Ambassador Betty E. King
at the International Environment House Earth Day Event with Changing Oceans
Theme: Mobilize the Earth: A Billion Acts of Green
April 19, 2012
I would like to thank the organizers, the Antinea Foundation and the Geneva Environment Network for reaching out to the U.S. Mission to serve as a partner for this Earth Day 2012 celebration. I’m especially glad to be here with representatives of the many organizations housed under one roof in the International Environment House and to see representatives from the broad community of environmental organizations based in Geneva.
We at the U.S. Mission are proud to celebrate Earth Day, which traces its history to former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson’s call for a day of environmental “teach-ins” on April 22, 1970 in order to ensure that environmental issues were on the national agenda. Since then, Earth Day has become a day for people around the United States and the world to celebrate the power of citizen involvement and for grass roots organizations to work to improve the environment. While there is still much to be done to ensure we are faithful stewards of the natural environment, we should today celebrate the many successes of the environmental movement over the last 42 years. Whether talking about the Clean Air Act in my country or the array of multilateral environmental agreements, many of which are housed here in Geneva, there is much to be proud of. Gone are the days when industrial pollution caused the Cuyahoga River in Ohio to catch fire (13 times in the century before the first Earth Day) or when airborne particulate matter led to lethal smogs in London.
Progress has been made but there’s always more to be done, both in the developed and developing world. In this regard, I would like to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to a green economy as a means to achieve sustainable development. The U.S. believes that green growth is an essential element to ensuring sustainable global growth and food security, promoting resource efficiency and sound water management, combating climate change and conserving biodiversity and natural resources, and enhancing environmental and occupational health. As such, the green economy is not a one-size-fits-all model, but can provide a range of tools that can be used to achieve sustainable development. And, part of this formulation is the involvement of civil society at the grass roots level to build a prosperous, sustainable future.
With this year’s theme “Mobilize the Earth” we are encouraged to preserve our environment by focusing on a path to sustainability and to making environmentally friendly decisions in our daily lives and – more broadly –
in our communities. The Earth Day Network’s call to action, “A Billion Acts of Green,” was introduced for Earth Day 2011 and continues this year. It highlights the importance of the small acts that, taken together, support sustainability and reduce carbon emissions. From switching off a light to planting a tree (and I’ve done my share on that front over the last two years), each “act of green” by groups or individuals brings us closer to a more sustainable future. The Earth Day Network plans to have one billion actions registered in advance of the Rio +20 conference this June. The U.S. Department of State is collaborating with EDN by recording and highlighting U.S. embassies efforts in this regard.
At our Mission here in Geneva, we have made going green a priority and have embraced the billion acts of green philosophy. When you visit us (which I hope you will), one of the first things you notice – perhaps more than our heavy security at our front gate – are the solar panels covering the façade of our building. These panels create a 950 Square-meter solar energy system which can deliver a daily peak power of up to 119 kilowatts and on a yearly basis power 37 average households. The solar panels are the most visible of our efforts but by no means the only green accomplishment. Don’t worry – I won’t bore you with the whole list. But let me highlight a few:
- We have a fleet of five electric bikes used by employees to travel to/from UN and other meetings and will be receiving two all-electric vehicles in a few months.
- We recycle over 15,000 liters of materials annually.
- We compost our yard waste and use it as organic fertilizer and soil amendment.
- We are one of the only sites in the world to operate a Maglev Chiller, which is projected to reduce energy consumption by 30%.
We are pleased to share that our efforts were recently recognized by the U.S. Department of State. Last year, our Mission was selected as the runner up in the first annual Green Greening Diplomacy Initiative (GDI) award, which celebrates leadership and innovation in sustainability projects at State Department buildings around the world. We are especially proud of this recognition given that the award attracted over 130 submissions from U.S. diplomatic posts and offices around the world.
Certainly, our example is just one small individual step towards taking on the challenge of reducing our collective environmental footprint. However, we in Geneva remain committed to amplifying our efforts over the years to come and to ensuring that we are part of the solution. Today, we appreciate the opportunity to celebrate Earth Day with you all, our Geneva colleagues and partners, and look forward to working with you toward building a sustainable future.