Holistic sustainability and communicating it well as a key to success
Our country is known for a lot of things. While we get a lot of bad press—some we deserve, others not so much—the natural beauty of the Philippines is indisputable. We have stunning beaches, lush, tropical forests, and an impressive list of endemic wildlife. While most of us tend to take these things for granted, I often like to argue that Filipinos, as a people, are used to sustainable ways of living, at least, while I was growing up. We used to return glass soda bottles to sari-sari stores, dried fish was wrapped in old newspapers, and eating on banana leaves made for easy cleanup in the provinces and re-used as compost.
Who let the plastic in?
“Single-use” wasn’t in the vocabulary of our grandparents’ generation. External influence and big business brought the heavy use of plastic in, increasing our consumption. Nowadays, when we see our country on TV, the visuals are less appetizing once the footage moves away from the beaches. It’s always a toss up between trash and poverty, sprinkled with a couple of natural disasters. Most of these are typhoons, which increased in number and intensity as the world warmed up, thanks to big industries elsewhere. But I digress—what I wish to share in this particular piece is how there’s a huge need to translate our efforts to truly show at a macro level.
Like many developing countries, the Philippines continues to face significant, environmental challenges.
Deforestation has plagued us for decades. It has led to the loss of a significant portion of our forest cover, thanks to the conversion of land for agriculture or urban development as well as illegal logging.
Thankfully, much has been done—and is being done—against this issue.
Since 2011, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been implementing the country’s flagship reforestation program called the National Greening Program (NGP). So far, they have restored over 129,000 hectares of forestlands and watersheds in the Central Luzon area. More than 17 thousand hectares of bamboo plantations to help curb greenhouse gas emissions have also been established under the same program. It’s an uphill battle but driving up to Baguio just last year, one couldn’t help but notice how the sides of the mountains look much greener now compared to the ’90s. We hear of fewer landslides due to deforestation as the huge clampdown against illegal loggers is starting to bring results. People are becoming more and more educated about the need to coexist well with nature.
The light is always green
With hope, lush greenery is something we can also have in our big cities in the future. While vertical farming is gaining popularity, it would also be nice to see verdant trees cooling down the cities.
We have the Clean Air Act that’s been around since the ’90s and we are working hard to raise the percentage of renewable energy in the country. As of October last year, reports say we have 22 percent in our generation mix and the aim is to increase that to 30 by the end of the decade. With strong potential in increasing our generation of solar and geothermal energy, it’s easy to stay optimistic in this sector.
Waste management is something we need to get stronger in. Unlike most countries in the world, we do not incinerate our trash and while that’s helpful to the ozone layer, we end up with landfills instead. Less consumption and managing our population are just two of the things that can greatly help.
Even our tourism industry is now looking into ways to make travel more sustainable. After the rehabilitation of Boracay, we’ve seen people behave better in taking care of the island and holding tourists accountable for their actions while on vacation. If we take care of what we have well, visitors will respect us enough to follow suit.
Finding role models
I write this article as I conclude a work trip to Switzerland where sustainability is practically being ingrained as part of the country’s DNA, translating to a beautiful image abroad. In fact, they have successfully branded their version of it: Swisstainable. Planning (successfully) ahead and prioritizing their citizens’ quality of life while caring for the environment are just some of the things that attribute to the country’s continued success and attraction to visitors and expats. Their tourism industry is also focused on minimizing the impact of tourism on nature. Shampoo and body wash are refillable at hotels, tourists are encouraged to drink tap water and take public transport. In turn. The public transportation is make it as efficient and enjoyable as possible.
One can’t help but notice the way people take care of their surroundings, building around rather than through nature, only to damage it. The 450 people who live in the village of Mürren, high up the mountains in the Jungfrau region, didn’t need an expressway to become more accessible. It would have cut down trees and affected the stunning views and slopes. Instead, they have cable cars which ferry residents, tourists, and even cargo up and down the mountain. “If you buy a new sofa, it also goes up through the cable car,” our guide Daniela said. Public transportation is extensive, on time, and can accommodate the country’s population and its visitors. Not once did we have to take a car as we went from one ski village to another. Trains are comfortable, cable cars are panoramic and safe, and buses seamlessly shuttle people from one major connection to another.
Swiss farmers are also finding better ways to make agriculture easier on the planet. Resources are allocated effectively to promote sustainable consumption patterns, organic farming is prioritized, and the vitality and attractiveness of rural areas are strengthened. As we grapple with sky-high prices for onions in the Philippines, we can look to at how other countries are taking care of their farmers. One can’t blame the younger generation for wanting to move to corporate jobs as our farmers rarely earn enough to keep the production of food sustainable. We have the potential to produce more, through sustainable practices, if we can promote innovation and entrepreneurship in our own agriculture and food sector.