A commitment to corporate sustainability

Mira Chouinard and Musa Lubango

MEDA enters program to measure and shrink its environmental footprint

People in the Global South bear the brunt of severe weather swings. That reality means that addressing climate change is a priority for MEDA.

The organization is now taking steps to understand its own environmental footprint. That means tracking water consumption, waste production and carbon emissions as a first step towards reducing that footprint.

Earlier this year, MEDA joined Sustainable Waterloo Region’s regional sustainability initiative. Sustainable Waterloo Region is a social enterprise that helps the local business community become more environmentally and economically sustainable.

“Preventing and mitigating climate change, and reaching net-zero emissions, are important priorities at MEDA,” says Dr. Dorothy Nyambi, MEDA’s president and CEO. “Joining this initiative is key to achieving them.”

MEDA’s membership in the organization gives it access to an extensive member network to learn best practices to create a culture of sustainability. This will engage employees as advocates as MEDA looks to set ambitious and realistic sustainability targets. MEDA already has an environment and climate change technical team which aims to adhere to principles of sustainability, mitigation, and climate action in all its projects. Several of MEDA’s offices, both in North America and in the Global South, already have staff green teams.

Tova Davidson, Sustainable Waterloo Region’s executive director, is pleased to see the partnership. “MEDA’s work is committed to helping create a just, resilient and low-carbon future,” she said. “Through their international development programs, they work to support others to manifest this vision, and we are excited to support them in making this a reality in their own operations.”
As part of the Sustainability Waterloo initiative, MEDA will complete a baseline assessment, set annual targets and report on its progress in meeting those targets.

MEDA will pilot this program in four offices in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Waterloo, Ontario; Ghana, and Tanzania. “It’s a big, important commitment,” said Mira Chouinard, MEDA’s acting director for environment and climate change. “I’m glad MEDA is doing this.”

Gauging MEDA’s current environmental footprint is the first step. Then the Sustainable Waterloo program will seek to involve employees on sustainability issues and action through office green teams. MEDA will also work to create a carbon budget for business-funded travel. That will reduce international business travel by increasing the capacity of in-country staff.

“It will be a long journey,” Chouinard said.

One of MEDA’s priorities in its current strategic plan will help to reduce the business travel portion of the organization’s carbon footprint. Addressing the current North-South power imbalance is a key principle guiding the strategic plan. Specifically, shifting to increased local decision making means having more key staff based closer to partnership efforts. Helal Ahsan Ul-Haque, MEDA’s senior director for the Eastern, Central and Southern Africa regions, is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

MEDA has recently based several senior finance manager positions in Africa — Enoch Appiah in Ghana and Mercy Gichema in Kenya. The organization also recently hired Zakaria Issahaku as a technical specialist, market systems, based in Accra, Ghana. That position involves analysis and technical support for projects.

MEDA faces several challenges in measuring its carbon footprint. Sustainable Waterloo Region lays out a long-term process that clashes with the project cycles of many MEDA projects. The sustainability initiative asks participants to set 10-year targets. That requirement made it impossible for MEDA to include projects that are ending, or others that are just starting and have five-year contracts.

“If we only have short-term projects, it’s not certain the efforts will always (have time to) bear fruit,” Chouinard said. “The hope is really that we’ll (eventually) have systems in place to report back to MEDA … that will be transferrable to other country offices.”
Pandemic slowdowns and closures over the past two years make recent data less helpful in establishing a baseline understanding. To get around that problem, 2019 information will be used where available.

The initiative will require considerable effort from staff in gathering and coordinating data. Some sites will not have previously collected data in the required format. It could also compete with other priorities in terms of workload, she said.

Musa Lubango, MEDA’s country director for Tanzania, is happy that MEDA is embarking on this initiative. It will actively contribute to three of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. UN SDG number 11 deals with sustainable cities and communities. Goal number 12 addresses responsible consumption and production. Goal 13 deals with climate change. All of these will be addressed through MEDA’s commitment, he said.

“This shows how MEDA is taking environment and climate change seriously. MEDA is taking action and leading the way through awareness creation as part of project implementation and ensuring offices are operating in an environmentally sustainable manner,” he said.

After developing sustainability goals, MEDA participated in a four-week carbon cleanse effort. Each week, the effort put a spotlight on a different area and ways to improve sustainability: water, transportation, waste, and energy.

A third step in the process is collecting baseline data and setting reduction targets. Chouinard hopes the data collection will be completed sometime this summer. Some organizations purchase carbon offsets as part of their sustainability work. But Sustainable Waterloo Region likes to see organizations minimize their footprint as much as possible before looking at other measures, she said.

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