Warsaw - An (almost) complete overhaul

As part of its contribution to the Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23 and the Strategy for Communication Abroad 2021–24, the Embassy of Switzerland in Poland has put a strong focus on sustainability. In addition to its public diplomacy projects, the Embassy decided to "practice what we preach": In January 2021, the team started to systematically gather ideas and analyse what it can change in the Embassy building, the Embassy's day-to-day operations and individual behaviours in order to become more sustainable. An almost complete overhaul!

The Embassy of Switzerland in Warsaw viewed from outside.
The Embassy of Switzerland in Warsaw systematically analysed how to become more sustainable, both by gathering ideas in the team and by bringing in outside experts. © FDFA

Energy: Savings and Renewables

In Poland, 70% of electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants and most buildings are heated with gas or coal. For the Embassy in Warsaw, the starting point on its sustainability journey was clear: energy! To find out how to save electricity, heat, and water, the Embassy performed an energy audit with an external service provider in 2021.

As a result, older lamps were systematically replaced with energy-saving LEDs and lights in the basement, which people often forgot to switch off, were equipped with motion sensors. The leadership then decided that 100% of the Embassy's electricity should come from renewable sources: Solar photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof in summer 2022, covering about 60% of the building's electricity needs. For the rest, i.e. for electricity obtained from the grid, the Embassy now purchases only certified green electricity.

And this part of the overhaul would not be complete without... an electric vehicle to replace the Embassy's 14-year-old service vehicle, a petrol-powered station wagon! But more is still to come: an important next step will be the replacement of the building's gas heating with an emissions-free heating system, such as a heat pump.

Installation of photovoltaic panels on the entire roof of the Embassy in the summer 2022.
Installation of photovoltaic panels on the entire roof of the Embassy in the summer 2022. © FDFA

Small Steps, Big Impact

Sometimes it’s the small, daily steps that can have the biggest impact! To facilitate recycling at the Embassy, a comprehensive waste management was introduced in which paper, plastic, metal and biodegradable waste is separated. Additional recycling containers in individual offices, break room and kitchen were installed. Moreover, previous cleaning products were replaced with eco-friendly alternatives to prevent harmful effects on health and the environment. To contribute to biodiversity, a hidden garden patch behind the Embassy was designated as an insect garden where "Beebombs" can be planted.

Involve the Whole Team

To identify possible measures for sustainability, the Embassy in Warsaw designated a project manager, but relied strongly on the whole team for ideas and suggestions. Getting people to save electricity or to properly recycle their waste takes more than just setting up additional containers or distributing power chords: regular awareness raising and gathering feedback proved to be key. One low-hanging fruit for energy savings, for instance, was to put signs on windows that had often been left half-open in winter, leaving precious heating energy to be wasted. Getting people to bike to work is a bit more challenging in a city that is known for its harsh winters, but in the warmer months a "Bike to Work" challenge helped motivate more of the staff to choose sustainable mobility.

Four men and one woman during a panel discussion.
Panel discussion on e-mobility with Swiss startup Designwerk and Polish experts during the Cleantech touring exhibition, 2021. © FDFA

Inspire Others

Sustainability requires cooperation, innovation, and grit. To showcase sustainable technologies from Switzerland, inspire others, and contribute to a constructive discussion on sustainability in Poland, the Embassy of Switzerland in Poland has implemented a range of public diplomacy projects. Most notable are the Polish-Swiss Innovation Day (PSID), co-organised with the bilateral chamber of commerce (2020: Sustainable Mobility, 2021: Cleantech, 2022: Sustainable Finance), and the touring exhibition "CLEANTECH - technologia dla zielonej przyszłości", shown at 18 technical and economic universities as well as start-up spaces across Poland.

Finally, to show its own commitment and inspire others, the Embassy of Switzerland in Poland created a dedicated website about its measures to become a Sustainable Embassy. A possible next step is to launch a network of likeminded embassies in Warsaw, to exchange experiences and best practices among peers (#SustainableEmbassy).

Last update 17.11.2023

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