The League of Green Embassies: American Leadership in Sustainability

A coalition of more than 100 U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide shares ideas and practical experience in the field.


Courtesy of Embassy Helsinki

In collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, an embassy green team in San Salvador helped build a school using recycled plastic bottles from the mission. In Harare, the U.S. embassy worked with the local government to sponsor a refuse receptacle in a popular park overrun with litter. And here at Embassy Helsinki, wide-ranging renovations and retrofits focused on efficiency have considerably reduced energy consumption.

From solar photovoltaic systems and rainwater harvesting in Sri Lanka to geothermal heating in Stockholm, being a member of the League of Green Embassies means something different for each mission, yet all share a common goal.

The mission of the League of Green Embassies is quite simple: for U.S. missions to have a positive impact on the natural environment through the promotion of energy efficiency and other sustainable practices.

Environmental stewardship can become an important aspect of nearly every other mission goal. League members understand that global climate change is having a devastating impact on many regions in the world; natural resources are being stressed by overconsumption and mismanagement; and our waste stream harms far too many ecosystems.

Any action we take to mitigate these problems is a positive step, and the State Department can lead by example in these areas. Overseas, U.S. embassies can showcase what can be achieved in any local environment.

What Is the League?

The League of Green Embassies started as an online best practices sharing portal at Embassy Stockholm in 2007. It has grown into a coalition of more than 100 U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. Now based at Embassy Helsinki, the League seeks to transform conversations, ideas and good intentions into concrete environmental action and results that make our embassies, host countries and the world a better place to live.

Climate change is a real problem that demands real solutions—whether through materials, new technologies or design excellence. The challenges we face in mitigating global climate change present an opportunity for U.S. leadership. The League exercises this leadership on a local scale by encouraging projects that are post-selected and post-implemented.

Embassy green teams are ad hoc groups of individuals from various sections of the embassy who are interested in sustainability.

Led by the ambassador, each embassy’s green team works to implement real-world sustainable practices. The teams are ad hoc groups of individuals from various sections of the embassy who are interested in sustainability. They volunteer their time to meet, discuss and work to implement sustainability projects at their post.

The most successful initiatives are results of targeted research and methodical planning. Solar power is a popular and proven technology, but it may not be the best use of financial resources for all missions. Recycling programs are easy to implement, but a campaign to reduce consumption may have more impact if local recycling facilities are undeveloped. This type of critical thinking is important when selecting goals and targets for sustainability efforts. Green teams select projects offering the greatest return on investment through location analysis, baselining and setting clear goals.

Planning for Sustainability

Many of the League’s most successful projects capitalize on a mission’s unique environment. Here’s what green teams should consider.

What resources are available to the mission? What resources does the embassy consume that have a high environmental impact? In areas where electricity generation relies heavily on fossil fuels, embassies may choose to prioritize clean electric generation technologies or energy efficiency. Is local drinking water high quality? Implement a campaign to encourage embassy staff to utilize refillable water canteens. Are alternative fuels or electric vehicle charging facilities available in your host country? Consider this when making fleet upgrades.

Beyond location awareness, baselining is a critical preparation step that will help you understand your mission’s relationship with energy and resources and its impact on the surrounding environment. What are the resources going into and out of the mission? How much power is used? How much water is used? How much waste is produced? Answering these questions will help quantify what resources the embassy consumes and identify the project that will have the most impact. While large, visible projects can be exciting, sometimes something as simple as an insulation upgrade can provide a better return.

Finally, set clear goals for your mission. Goals should be achievable, have a timeline including key milestones, and be quantifiable. Start small and build incrementally on each success.

Keep in mind that joining the League of Green Embassies does not mean that your post has to become expert in every aspect of sustainability. Member missions simply see the value in striving to make better use of resources and having a smaller impact on the environment.

Raise Awareness and Educate. Lighting unoccupied spaces wastes energy and costs money. Promotion of efficient use of energy is a low-cost measure with real impact. Setting zero-waste goals challenges employees to understand their relationship with resources and impact on their surroundings. Simple measures, such as residential energy scorecards and other educational materials, can help people understand their personal energy use. Behavior modification, whether encouraging public transit use or recycling, is a cost-free activity with huge potential results.

Upgrade Lighting. A sizable component of our energy consumption is attributed to lighting. Incandescent and fluorescent lighting is easily replaced with high-performance, efficient light-emitting diode bulbs. An exhaustive catalog of replacement lighting is available from the Department of Energy’s Next Generation Luminaire competition winners. The NGL program’s rigorous testing regimen for all submitted fixtures ensures you’re getting a high-quality fixture—in terms of light quality, light color, long life and other factors. Lighting retrofits are a quick, simple, low-cost project with immediate returns.

Build Efficiency. Because more than 40 percent of all energy used globally is consumed by the operation of commercial and residential buildings, energy efficiency is one of the simplest paths to a more sustainable future. Understand the manner in which mission workspaces are utilized. Understand where heat loss and/or heat gain occur, and insulate accordingly. Commercial workspaces are generally occupied for less than half of the total hours in a week, yet many buildings are heated, cooled and illuminated as if they were occupied 24/7. Motion sensors on lighting, scheduled HVAC operation and office equipment shutdown can be tuned to occupant behavior. A smart building responds to the needs of its occupants.

High-Performance Technology. Changing the perception of sustainable products and efficient practices is one of the best tools to achieve success. New products, building standards and other services are not just about sustainability, but also about improved performance.

Green teams select projects with the highest return through location analysis, baselining and setting clear goals.

A typical incandescent light wastes more than 90 percent of its energy by radiating heat rather than light, and typically lasts only about 1,000 hours. The service lifetime for a modern energy-efficient LED lamp is up to 25 times longer than that; and the light emitted is indistinguishable from incandescent light. It is clear which is the better product.

When procuring a workstation, the procurement team does not accept a typewriter; instead they specify high-performance requirements. We should be similarly specific when procuring other equipment and products. Efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand.

A key economic incentive, cost reduction through sustainable solutions, helps prioritize always-limited financial resources. Most sustainability projects simultaneously reduce short-term and long-term operating costs, while ensuring high performance long into the future. Sustainable products have tangible benefits in terms of improvements to workplace air quality, light quality and overall health. This can then influence productivity, as well as the quality of life and overall well-being of mission staff.

The League Can Help

The League of Green Embassies office is available to provide support, coordinate regional projects, facilitate information sharing, and help promote and publicize member activities. The League can help your mission identify potential projects, provide assistance with energy auditing, perform product research and analysis and assist with product selection. It also has extensive experience with lighting retrofits.

• Don’t start with “it can’t be done.” Remember that by becoming a member of the League of Green Embassies, your ambassador has made a commitment to lead in sustainable practices. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

• Frame your discussion around solutions to achieve your sustainability goals rather than the inhibitors. It is not always easy to be the first, but if no one takes calculated risks on new products, processes or technologies, we’ll make no progress on our sustainability goals.

• Pilot smaller projects and measure their success before implementing large-scale solutions. Utilize the research and testing of others, from fellow member posts to the Department of Energy’s Next Generation Luminaries Design Competition program.

In addition to the League’s resources, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Green Team publishes a comprehensive Green Guide to help posts identify sustainability projects, baseline, plan and implement.

U.S. embassies can showcase what can be achieved in any local environment.

Become a Resource to Others

A key secondary goal of the League of Green Embassies is to share what we have learned and encourage others to apply the same principles. Embassies are a powerful force for introducing innovative solutions and influencing individuals and institutions in host countries. League members can play an important role in mobilizing public opinion and action.

While individual embassies determine what projects are possible within their own mission, our collective actions demonstrate U.S. resolve and leadership. Participation in the League of Green Embassies reflects an embassy’s commitment to improving government energy and resource use and to stimulating American investment in high performance technologies.

Our embassies all over the world then become showcases for sustainable and energy-efficient products, technologies and other concepts. We want U.S. embassies to lead by example, and show what is possible when American ingenuity takes on the challenges of climate change.

John David Molesky is the League of Green Embassies coordinator, a family member position at Embassy Helsinki. In this capacity, he identifies opportunities to implement energy-efficient, sustainable, high-performance solutions at U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. Molesky is in Finland with his husband, Rodney Hunter, the political/economic section chief. In Washington, he has worked in information security at several U.S. government agencies and in the private sector. This is his first overseas position.

The headquarters of the League of Green Embassies is located at the U.S. embassy in Helsinki. For membership inquiries or additional information, please contact the author at