Sustainability at WRI

WRI’s work leads to many positive outcomes that address environmental and societal challenges. However, the global scale of our efforts means that our operations have an unavoidable impact on the environment. WRI’s Sustainability Initiative seeks to minimize this impact by aligning the Institute’s operations with its mission. We do this by leveraging research and expertise from staff and integrating sustainability principles into how we operate.

Our Approach

Setting science-based targets. Reducing emissions requires having clear goals to work toward. Since 2010, WRI has conducted a full value-chain GHG inventory and committed to science-based targets. By 2030, WRI commits the following reductions from a 2019 baseline:

  • 46% reduction in emissions from purchased electricity (Scope 2)
  • 46% reduction in business travel emissions (Scope 3, Category 6)
  • 46% reduction in emissions from goods, partners, and services (Scope 3, Category 1)

These targets focus on our largest sources of emissions and were set using the most ambitious criteria from Science Based Targets. These targets will keep us aligned with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Transparent reporting. WRI continues to conduct a full-value chain GHG inventory every year. To keep ourselves accountable, we publish our annual inventories on an online dashboard where users can interact with and download the data, in line with WRI’s Open Data Commitment. The data shows that our absolute emissions have actually grown over the past decade, putting us off track from meeting our targets. However, the Institute has also expanded rapidly, meaning that our emissions per person and per dollar revenue have fallen. Encouragingly, in recent years we have experienced a leveling of absolute emissions in some categories, such as waste and employees’ commutes.

Experimenting with new solutions. The Sustainability Initiative works with WRI programs to pilot emerging research and tools internally. This “Living Lab” approach started with road-testing the Greenhouse Gas Protocol during its development in the 1990s and has helped us to implement sustainability solutions such as internal carbon fees, behavioral science interventions, and staff-engagement campaigns with data-tracking. To share what we have learned from this approach, we publish Sustainability Stories that dive into the implementation and evaluation details of our various projects.

Scaling through partnership and engagement. Our successes and setbacks can provide useful lessons for countries, companies and partners. To achieve greater impact, we engage other organizations to share knowledge and learn collectively. WRI’s Sustainability Initiative regularly presents and participates at external engagements. Together with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), WRI established the Sustainability Managers Roundtable — a diverse group of sustainability professionals from more than 60 NGOs, universities, government agencies and multilateral development banks — to exchange ideas, benchmark our work and strengthen our shared commitment to sustainability. Join the network by contacting Shengyin Xu.

Our History

WRI’s long-standing commitment to learn and lead by doing means that our efforts to improve organizational sustainability go way back.

  • 1999: WRI becomes the first NGO to complete a greenhouse gas inventory.
  • 2000–2009: WRI set and achieves its net zero target through the purchase of offsets. WRI’s partnership with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol furthered guidance for other office-based organizations to measure and manage their own inventories.
  • 2010: WRI’s Sustainability Initiative launches! Purchasing offsets was not stopping our GHG emission growth, nor did we focus on sustainability-related issues beyond carbon emissions. Our solution was creating the Sustainability Initiative, funded by our internal fee on carbon in lieu of purchasing offsets.
  • 2011: Using 2010 as a baseline year, WRI sets science-based emissions reductions targets for 2020.
  • 2015: WRI begins publishing Sustainability Stories with its annual sustainability reports to share how we are learning from our research and implementation of sustainability projects.
  • 2019: WRI and NRDC establish the Sustainability Managers Roundtable, a diverse group of sustainability professionals from more than 50 NGOs, universities, government agencies and multilateral development banks. WRI achieves a 50% reduction from 2010 scope 2 emissions.
  • 2020: In an effort to make our emissions inventory and methodology more transparent and accessible, WRI shifts its annual GHG reporting to an online dashboard.
  • 2021: WRI sets updated science-based targets for 2030, aligned with an amibition to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C.