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Reducing MSF’s environmental footprint & creating a path to carbon neutrality

Assess and mitigate MSF’s environmental impact by upgrading and scaling the toolkit developed in
Phase 1.  Conduct a deep dive assessment of MSF’s supply chain, share and adopting best environmental practices appropriate to MSF and develop a roadmap to carbon neutrality.

Tell us about the problem you are trying to solve.

Human-induced climate change is well-documented and acute. A warming world and degraded environment exacerbate health and humanitarian concerns. MSF has worked to reduce our environmental footprint to be responsible to the patients we aim to serve, to our global workforce, and the community beyond. We also wish to ‘do no harm’ and recognize the social, health and economic benefits of more sustainable humanitarian operations. 

But MSF’s environmental mitigation work remains ad hoc and we have not yet comprehensively measured its negative environmental impact. However, we have started to understand and connect the pieces together – the lifecycle of products we use, the carbon we emit through our travel and the waste produced in our projects so we can begin to minimize our environmental impact. Solutions exist but identifying gaps and opportunities is required.


What is your solution and what motivates you to work on addressing this problem?

Phase 1 – the Environmental Impact Toolkit TIC project – rapidly customized a basic tool to measure MSF’s largest carbon producing activities and identify immediate mitigation practices. Phase 2 – Climate-Smart MSF TIC project – is a joint project of MSF’s Operational Centre Geneva and MSF Canada to expand the Toolkit across MSF, share and scale clean energy and build sustainable practices in our humanitarian response.

In July 2019 we launched a simple and agile tool that measured carbon impacts and basic waste production. It was piloted in five countries – Mexico, Honduras, Kenya, Switzerland, and Canada – to (1) assist any MSF project or entity in estimating its carbon footprint based on their main sources of green-house gas emissions; and (2) identifying actionable, practical mitigation measures to reduce its carbon footprint and waste production.

This is no longer a ‘nice-to-do’ but a ‘must-do’ to reduce MSF’s environmental footprint. Science recognizes health benefits of climate action and actively integrating Planetary Health, climate and environmental-related actions can benefit MSF[1].

Phase 2 Climate Smart MSF builds on findings from the Environmental Impact Toolkit project and the many existing sustainability and clean energy initiatives within MSF, e.g. OCB’s Energy Vision project, OCP/Sweden Innovation Unit’s Solar Air-Conditioning pilot, the joint OCG/MSF Sweden/ International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s Energy Sensitization behavior change study, etc.

[1] Planetary Health is the global health discipline that links human health to earth health, i.e. “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”.

The main activities include:

  • Expanding the use of the original toolkit
  • Mapping MSF’s supply chain sustainability challenges
  • Sharing and scaling best practical environmental options in MSF
  • Developing a ‘Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality’

What have you done so far and what results have you achieved?

Beyond the 5 pilot locations, the toolkit has been used by the MSF Germany and MSF USA office as well as projects in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Further use is initiated or planned in some 8 other countries and projects. We strongly believe that ‘what you measure, you mitigate’.


Corentine Berthet, our supply chain manager, introduced the project to MSF’s Supply Chain Working Group and has begun to map existing supply chain sustainability initiatives and ways to further improve it. She is supported by Jakob Stary from Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg, an intern helping develop sustainability indicators and organize a brainstorming workshop.


Other projects we are also connecting with include, for example, MSF’s Travel Efficiency TIC and various MSF ‘Green’ Teams. Through our consultant experts who worked previously with Healthcare Without Harm in Latin America, Veronica Odriozola and Maria Sol, we are consulting and collaborating with the MSF Water and Sanitation (Watsan) Working Group and other technical referents to work on improving and upgrading the Tool’s waste component.


Finally, with expert consultants from Natural Capital Advisors, Art Blundell and Tyler Christie, we’re taking steps towards building a ‘roadmap to carbon neutrality’ for MSF as well as having a first look at Alternative Finance, including Green Bonds and related case studies on clean energy and sustainability initiatives to scale. While we’re still in the exploratory phase, there’s positive interest.


How has your project pivoted to support MSF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

While COVID-19 has been destructive at a global level, it has revealed how we can and must adapt quickly to be responsive, responsible, and resilient. COVID-19 has significantly reduced our non-essential travel costs and related environmental footprint far beyond expectations.  It has also proven that new ways of working are possible. Corentine’s effort in supporting MSF’s COVID-19 Supply Taskforce has helped us better understand how MSF can adapt and increase sustainability.  Dr. Maria Guevara shifted to support MSF operations in the US.  Our team also sent out a survey to capture the changes in MSF’s ways of working and staff travel. Our team’s response to COVID-19 has provided evidence that adaptability and flexibility are possible without significant loss in effectiveness and efficiency, and in fact our direct involvement in the response will help us reach our objectives.


What challenges have you faced? What lessons have you learned? What is next?

Some are not aware of the Environmental Footprint tool’s existence and some are reluctant to use  “another tool.” Yet more offices and projects are committed to putting the tool into action and the more groups that use it, the better our knowledge and impact. The manual data calculations of carbon emissions due to air travel are especially time-consuming, highlighting the need to automate MSF’s carbon use tracking. We are convinced that the more users get on board, the more experience of those who have tested the tool the greater the value and support to accompany subsequent users. 


What have staff said about the project?

“Beginning of this year we decided to analyze the carbon emissions footprint of our countries utilizing the Environmental Impact Toolkit. Our scope was to create a baseline we can use to compare years, find where we have more impact and see how to mitigate our environmental impact. Thanks to our logistic coordinators and Regional Technical Referents who worked on this and thanks to [The climate-smart team] for their great support with the tool!”

-Francesca Lozza, Operational Centre Paris Log supervisor in charge of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Philippines.


Are there any interesting partners that you are collaborating with?

External organizations are increasingly hearing about MSF’s environmental mitigation efforts and have asked us to share our insights on adapting sustainability into operations, including the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, War Child, the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration in Emergency Medicine (TAAAC-EM) at the University of Toronto, and King’s Centre for Integrated Research on Risk and Resilience (a UK based research group working on sustainable operations for the Director-General (DG) ECHO).


Our collaboration with ICRC is ongoing even during COVID-19 where MSF Supply is carrying out joint procurement bids for Personal Protection Equipment.  Internal collaborations and brainstorming efforts are being carried out with MSF Sweden, referents in all OCs and other regional and section offices, MSF Canada, etc. on exploring alternative financing mechanisms such as Green Bonds, Islamic financing, and with Energypedia (wiki platform for collaborative knowledge exchange on renewable energy and energy access).


What is the expected long-term impact of the project? How will this project improve MSF’s lifesaving work?

We have seen through COVID-19 how quickly MSF can adapt despite big challenge. The first steps have been made with the wide commitment and serious action already being taken to reduce MSF’s negative impact, scale clean energy solutions, reduce air freight and travel, and adapt our operations to be in line with responsibility to our patients, our staff and to society. MSF’s main humanitarian objectives remain unchanged, but we hope through this project, MSF will become a greener and more socially, ethically and environmentally responsible organization fit for purpose in this new time of COVID-19 that is a cascading crisis alongside the climate crisis. There is an opportunity for positive change despite difficult times, especially for those people most excluded and impacted by both, whom we aim to assist.