British Ambassador Tom Kennedy is hoping to climb Mount Everest this year – 42 meters at a time.
Her Majesty the Queen’s representative in Costa Rica has decided to forego the elevator on his way to the British Embassy’s 11th-story office and take the stairs.
“Every time you climb to the 11th floor, that’s 42 meters. His idea is to get as far as Mt.Everest by the end of the year,” said Kate Cruse, the embassy’s sustainable operations officer.
Kennedy is not making the daily hike alone, however, as he and the rest of the diplomatic staff have adopted a series of new practices over the last year that reduce their environmental impact.
“Because Costa Rica wants to become the first carbon neutral country, we wanted to become the first carbon neutral embassy in the country.” Kennedy said. “We have made a huge effort over the past 18 months to really measure what our impact on the planet was, and is, and how we can reduce that. And what we can’t reduce, we can offset that with programs here in Costa Rica.”
Cruse has led the effort, contracting José Ross, a Costa Rica-based energy efficiency specialist, to give the office a once-over and recommend ways to improve their practices.
“We’ve manage to cut our electricity use by 10 percent in the office, and we haven’t made many big changes in order to actually do that,” Cruse said.
The staff began to turn off lights and computer monitors when they weren’t in use, and switch out light bulbs for ones that are more energy efficient. The office started reusing products such as printer ink cartridges and paper, and donated items from around the office and the British Embassy residences that were no longer needed to schools or police stations.
The embassy also recycles everything from paper and glass to batteries and Tetra Pak (the waxy cardboard used for milk containers that actually contains aluminum) through a recycling program, the proceeds from which go to charity. Cruse said the staff has also drawn other businesses in the Officentro Colón office building into the program.
In addition, the staff has begun saving their food scraps, which Kennedy occasionally takes home in a plastic bag to dump in a compost heap in his backyard.
The embassy staff is also going from three vehicles to two, and encouraging officials to have more lunch meetings within walking distance of the office.
“Last year it was on an ad-hoc basis, very much sensible things you could do without spending money, and this year we are pushing money into programs to make some changes that are worthwhile,” Cruse said.
To begin, Cruse plans on changing light fixtures and fluorescent light tubes, and installing water-efficient dual flush toilets.
“If you’ve gone for a wee, you push one button and it lets out three liters of water, and then if you’ve done something more significant you let down the other button, which lets down 6 liters of water,” Cruse explained. “Currently we are using 13 liters of water every time we flush.”
According to Cruse, the new toilets will use 72 percent less water than the old ones. “This year is a really crucial year because this year ends in a meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark where the successor deal to the Kyoto protocol basically has to be agreed to,” Ambassador Kennedy said. “The embassy’s focus on climate change is probably our main single objective in terms of British government policy,” Kennedy said. “And we really need to walk the walk.
The British Embassy, in addition to cleaning up its own house, has been assisting the Costa Rican government through President Oscar Arias’ Peace with Nature program. Arias announced the program after saying he hoped to set Costa Rica on the path of becoming the first carbon-neutral country by 2021.
So far, the administration has focused on promoting the planting of trees and preparing plans and information to make the different government ministries, agencies and offices more environmentally friendly.
“I think Costa Rica continues to move forward and I don’t doubt their commitment to becoming carbon neutral,” Kennedy said. “These processes take time to get going.”
The ambassador added that he believed Costa Rica is “a long way ahead of a lot of other countries.”
“Countries look at Costa Rica as a model,” he said.
The British Ambassador also took the swearing in of a new president in the United States as a good sign for work this year on global environmental challenges.
“Climate change is at the top of the international agenda, along with financial crisis. I’m sure were going to see acceleration of work, and more consciousness and more awareness and more people taking action,” he said.
“We also have to listen to the discourse of Barack Obama. He is now coming to power at this totally crucial moment and he has produced a totally different discourse than the previous administration,” Kennedy continued. “That has produced huge optimism in terms of the environment and climate change.”