Berlin – smart sustainability

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is high on Switzerland's list of priorities. This also holds true for the embassy in Berlin, which recruited Vera Zotter as a sustainability officer in order to place greater focus on the topic both within the embassy and in dialogue with the host country. We talked to her about climate footprints, green wooden cows and her work.

The embassy building in the middle of Berlin's government district.
The embassy building in the middle of Berlin's government district. © Rainer Sohlbank, Bundesamt für Bauten und Logistik

Vera Zotter has spent the last one and a half years as a sustainability officer at the Swiss embassy in Berlin, where she has implemented activities on the topic in cooperation with the entire network of Swiss representations in Germany.

Vera, what exactly does your job as sustainability officer entail?

I'm responsible for sustainability and organise projects aimed either at changing things in the representations here or stimulating dialogue with Germany on the topic. I plan thematic events such as on the circular economy or sustainable supply chains and organise discussions with external partners. For example, our consulates general conduct various city dialogues between Swiss and German cities on the topics of sustainability and the adaptation of cities to climate change. Finally, part of my work involves calculating the ecological footprint of our network of representations in Germany. I report on our activities on LinkedIn and other platforms.

Why is sustainability of such importance to the embassy in Berlin that it has hired its own sustainability officer?

Sustainability is an integral part of the Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23 and the Strategy for Communication Abroad 2021–24. Presence Switzerland and the embassy in Berlin therefore decided to give more weight to the issue. In the wake of the pop-up House of Switzerland in Stuttgart, a temporary pavilion by Presence Switzerland that also had a sustainability focus, it was decided that more in that vein should be done across Germany – and I was recruited for that purpose.

The embassy in Berlin is calculating its ecological footprint – why and how do you do it?

We're not only calculating the footprint of the embassy in Berlin, but of the entire network of Swiss representations in Germany. This means that the consulates general in Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart as well as the Swiss Business Hub are also included. We want to achieve a data-based reduction in emissions and target those areas where we can achieve the most. This means that we do an analysis of the current situation and then set ourselves targeted reduction goals. 

Berlin’s business team with the wooden cow Green Lilly, the mascot for sustainability in the Swiss representations in Germany.
Green Lilly supports Berlin’s team in its work. © Vera Zotter

Sounds interesting. How do you calculate that exactly?

For this purpose, we work together with 'myclimate', a Swiss foundation. The embassy provides the data, and myclimate calculates our emissions and draws up a list of measures for us to reduce emissions.

What kinds of challenges does that entail?

The whole process is laborious because it's difficult to collect all the data. We provide data on heating and cooling systems, commuting and business trips, transport, electronic equipment, consumption of office materials such as paper and toner, information on catering at events and business lunches, and waste and recycling management. It's a lot of work!

What is the Swiss embassy already doing well and where do you still see potential for improvement?

Many colleagues cycle to work and we take part in the city's 'bike to work' challenge. In addition to the positive effect on the environment, this also contributes to the health and well-being of staff. For events and business lunches, we focus on regional and seasonal cuisine and our chef uses organic produce whenever possible. One thing we'd like to do more of at events is include more vegetarian options.

In the next 18 months, we aim to have a solar panel system installed on the roof which will supply us with heating and electricity. At the same time, we could also all make more of an effort to turn off lights and close windows when the heating or air conditioning is on. In this way, we can avoid wasting energy. A lot of us are already doing our bit by cycling, but there's certainly still room for improvement in cutting back on air travel.

Miniature versions of Green Lilly on the grass in Berlin.
Miniature versions of Green Lilly enjoy the Berlin city air. © Vera Zotter

Do you exchange information with other representations?

Absolutely! We're currently setting up a working group with other Swiss embassies worldwide, and at the same time, we're also exchanging information with other embassies in Berlin. Through this kind of dialogue we aim to learn about best practices and share experiences and recommendations.

Within the network of Swiss representations in Germany, we also try to sensitise employees to the issue of sustainability. For example, at informal lunches we broached the topics of diversity and equality in the workplace as well as the Federal Council's 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy. At the end of the year, we also started to hold what we called lunch roulettes, where randomly selected groups of five or so staff members, who may not often cross paths in the course of their work, meet for lunch. This project aims to help break down hierarchical structures and ensure more inclusion. Because the social dimension of sustainability is also of great importance. 

How could the FDFA or the Federal Administration more broadly provide you with better support in your work? What tools would be useful for you?

It would be great if we could cultivate a better exchange of experiences and best practices on sustainability with other agencies within and outside the Federal Administration. More professional guidance and better communication would help us to give a higher profile to the importance of sustainability in our work and thus make an important contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

And just who exactly is Green Lilly?

The wooden cow #GreenLilly is our mascot for an innovative and sustainable Switzerland. She's an integral part of the sustainability activities of the Swiss representations in Germany. She grew up on Lake Brienz in Switzerland, and after a brief sojourn at the pop-up House of Switzerland in Stuttgart, she made the journey to Berlin – by train of course. This is where she got her green markings. She regularly posts information about our activities in her diary on social media and in our newsletter, and provides updates on our work to calculate the ecological footprint. Who knows, perhaps Lilly will soon travel to other Swiss representations around the world. 

Thank you Vera!

Last update 09.02.2023

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