‘Sustainability’, CSR no longer enough rallying cry for businesses – Lopez

Published November 24, 2020, 12:15 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

While sustainability is just flourishing as a battle cry and pursuit for many corporations in the Philippines as underpinned by the implementation of the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) framework this year, First Gen Corporation Chairman and CEO Federico R. Lopez highlighted that “corporate sustainability that seeks to simply ‘tick the box’ or do less harm is no longer good enough.”

Lopez, who is this year’s Man of the Year awardee by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) stated that while “CSR or philanthropy may ease our consciences, the sad fact is, they may never scale up enough to heal our hurting world in time.”

First Gen Corporation Chairman and CEO Federico R. Lopez

He reckoned that in the Lopez group “we didn’t feel it was appropriate anymore to use the word ‘sustainable’ in a world that’s so badly in need of healing and renewal.” Hence, in the conglomerate, he noted that “we took on the challenge of using the word regenerative’, with all the responsibility it carries.”

Lopez acknowledged “we are not on a full-on regenerative company today, no one is yet. But we chose it deliberately to signal to our people that they have a license to adopt this new mindset as our inherent way of doing business and that it’s okay for them to ‘bring their values to work’ everyday.”

The First Gen executive pointed out “being regenerative doesn’t scale if it only comes from the top, it has to permeate the organization and how it does business day to day.”

Latching on to that goal, Lopez thus called on fellow-corporates “to align themselves, their resources and their capabilities towards a mission that seeks to elevate everything they touch – their customers, employees, suppliers, contractors, the environment, communities and of course, their investors.”

Given the intensifying threats of climate change, especially on a highly vulnerable country like the Philippines, Lopez opined that “sustaining our trajectory today will result in disasters that are not only greater in scale, but also more unjust towards those without the capacity to cope with the devastating changes that are already here, and continue to escalate.”

At this stage when natural disasters pummeling the country are coming at scaled up intensities, he qualified that “there is an urgency for all of us to go beyond incremental sustainability and transform into regenerative forces that align our profit engines with the need for a better, more just world and a safer planet.”

He further persuaded businesses that “collectively, we have the creativity and innovative energy needed to solve the world’s greatest problems.”

And while the Lopez group’s energy businesses had long been known as the sole voice in advancing clean energy transition in the Philippines, he expounded that solving the irrepressible conundrum of climate change already reached breaking point  — that it can no longer be solved by the initiatives of few individuals or corporations.

The right approach in the corporate world then, he said, is “to forge collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future” and this is a mission that the Lopez group, through parent firm First Philippine Holdings Corporation, has started crystallizing this year.

“It’s a deliberately high bar and we’re nothing short of humbled by it,” he noted, with him adding that the mission is rooted upon concretizing a transition to a decarbonized energy system.

Lopez emphasized that in staving off total derailment of the world’s ecosystems and in soothing a warming planet, collaboration among businesses is key.

“We – that includes our PR (public relations) and CSR professionals – all have to stop seeing this as a competitive beauty contest. I keep stressing to our people that if we find ourselves ahead and alone at the finish line, we will have failed in our mission. This is a massive undertaking and we know we cannot possibly succeed if we go the journey alone,” he stressed.