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When climate change hits, no vaccine can protect us

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published May 17, 2021 9:29 am

Year 2020 is regarded by the United Nations (UN) as the decade of action—to end poverty, to rescue the planet and eventually build a peaceful world.

The clock is ticking and if we don’t do anything about it in the next 10 years, we’re going to create a problem for which there will be no vaccines available.

“Today, we are confronted with something very tragic and dramatic—COVID-19. Thank goodness, there’s now a vaccine. And hopefully, everybody gets that jab one day!” says Bas Fransen, CEO of EcoMatcher. “But when the effects of climate change hit us in the next 10 years, we’ll be knocked out for real.”

And yes, no amount of jabs can protect us from such an environmental catastrophe.

Fransen was one of the panelists in the recent P&G Philippines’ Sustainability Summit built on the theme #ItsOurHome.

 P&G Sustainability panelists: (From left) host Robi Domingo, Walter Belhomme of The Plastic Flamingo, Bas Franser of EcoMatcher, Anne Marie Bakker of FEED, Anna Legarda Locsin of P&G Phils., and PARMS’ Crispian Lao

EcoMatcher is a social enterprise that helps companies and consumers tackle climate change by planting new trees on their behalf with the help of technology and a mobile app.

“One of the things that can be done is by massively planting trees,” Fransen notes. “But that tree planting needs to be done in a proper way. You need to plant the right trees, at the right time, and at the right place.”

The plantitos, plantitas and halamanongs are off to a good start. By planting herbs and veggies right in their backyards for personal consumption, they reduce their carbon footprints.

However, that’s simply not enough. We need something bigger in scope. Scalability and planting as many trees as possible is the name of the game.

“We need to address climate change in a significant and scalable way,” says Fransen.

Joining Fransen in the summit are the avengers of sustainability in the world, such as National Solid Waste Management commissioner Crispian Lao, Plastic Flamingo chief revenue officer Gauthier Belhomme, Fostering Education and Environment for Development (FEED) director for partnership Anne-Marie Bakker and P&G Philippines director Anna Legarda-Locsin.

May the forest be with you

Procter & Gamble (P&G) Philippines heeded the UN’s call with the launch of its Forests For Good program.

Forests For Good aims to actively protect nature—beginning with 12 pilot programs in 12 months across its Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa (AMA) region—by planting trees that help improve local ecosystems. The Philippines is one of the pilot countries supporting this natural climate solution and will help reforestation efforts in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range.

“At P&G, environmental sustainability is a key business strategy and priority. It’s not nice to have. It’s actually a must-have,” stresses Raffy Fajardo, P&G president and general manager. “We know that we have a big role to play and that is why we are accelerating our sustainability Ambition 2030 commitments.”

 Raffy Fajardo, P&G president

P&G’s “Ambition 2030” aims to make responsible consumption possible for consumers globally through holistic, comprehensive interventions across four aspects, which the company controls: its brand innovations, supply chain operations, and trusted partnerships that impact society and their employees.

As a result, P&G has a long-term commitment to make significant and meaningful impacts on the environmental areas of Climate, Water and Waste.

“In the area of Waste, our commitment is to make 100 percent of our packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030,” says Fajardo. “We will also cut the use of virgin plastic in packaging by 50 percent, and create smart packaging solutions that you can recycle and reuse so we will have little to no impact on the environment, including the oceans and landfills.”

For the Climate, P&G’s goal is to be carbon-neutral by the end of this decade. Today, 70 percent of P&G sites are on 100-percent-renewable electricity, including its Cabuyao manufacturing plant in Laguna.

“Our Cabuyao plant has reduced emissions by 80 percent already. Of the 20 percent that are non-reduceable, we are trying to offset them through the newly launched Forests for Good program,” enthuses Raffy. 

For this project, P&G has partnered with EcoMatcher to pilot their block-chain technology that increases forestry transparency and accountability, together with local conservation organizations in each country where they are starting this journey.

“Even before Forests For Good was launched, we’d been planting trees in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. We now have 22,000 trees planted. With Forests For Good, we’re actually planting another 5,000 trees. That’s two trees per employee,” adds Fajardo.

In the Philippines, FEED Inc. is the local conservation partner of EcoMatcher and P&G. The program better enables employees, partners and consumers to have strong visibility and tracking of the impact they have from planting trees.

“FEED’s purpose is to preserve and protect Philippine biodiversity,” explains Anne Marie Bakker, FEED director for parnertship. “I’m here in behalf of our frontliners — the farmers, fishermen and foresters. They’re considered frontliners by IATF because they’re part of Agro-forestry. They are the ones who are protecting our forests, our watersheds, our oceans, our coral reefs.”

FEED has been working with EcoMatcher since 2017. “We started with 1,000 trees and we now have about 7,000,” Bakker adds. “We’ve been planting in the last 30 years, even before the term CSR was coined.”

According to Bakker, it’s easy to plant but the hardest part is definitely the maintenance and monitoring.

“It’s like having a baby. What’s the point of planting if it’s not going to survive?” Bakker says. “We can’t do it alone. We need the help of locals,” laments Bakker, who adds that FEED’s dream is to achieve what Bhutan has accomplished: carbon offsetting even their neighbors!

“As I always say, there are over a 100 million people in the Philippines. If only every one of us would plant a tree every year, 100 million trees would be added to our forest. Don’t wait for the DENR, don’t wait for the DA. Just go out there. Throw your seeds on the ground and plant, plant, plant!” enthuses Bakker.

Now is the right time to accelerate our joint commitment to sustainability and put planning into action together through this unique platform.

“Get involved with the forest today for our planet, for our communities, for our children. It’s our planet, our home,” adds Fajardo.

‘Ayoko sa plastic’: Consumer waste management

As most of us know, the Philippines is the world’s third biggest polluter with 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste generated each year. To think that we have one of the most comprehensive and most well-written laws on solid waste management.

“Again, we have beautiful laws. It’s only a question of implementation. We lack the infrastructure to manage our waste efficiently,” explains Crispian Lao, National Solid Waste Management commission and founding president of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability (PARMS).

 P&G has eliminated the virgin plastic overwrap packaging for its Safeguard multipacks and are now using 100-percent recycled paper carton material.

The law has clearly defined the roles of LGUs who have direct supervision and mandate over the management of waste.

“However, it didn’t tell the local governments where to get the money and how to treat the waste. So there’s a disconnect and that is where opportunities come in. That’s where private sectors and social enterprises come in,” notes Lao.

According to Lao, when it comes to consumer waste management, avoidance is key.

“Let’s avoid generating waste — at home or in the office — in the first place. And this is where each and every one of us can participate,” Lao explains. “Then let’s follow the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.”

In principle, Lao adds, that’s where our Zero Waste to Nature Ambition 2030 streams from.

A lot of people blame single-use plastic (and plastic sachets) as the number-one polluter. But can we really do away with plastics?

“My answer is yes and no,” replied Lao. “Most of us who belong to the middle class can do away with small packets. Let’s be responsible enough to buy in bigger volumes, bigger sizes simply because we can afford it.”

But what about the poor sector of our community? Should we deny them their right to buy essential and quality branded goods that they can afford?

“A poor individual can go to a sari-sari store and get a seven-ml. sachet of shampoo so he/she can smell good the whole day,” says Lao. “Having said that, there’s still that remaining part of responsibility for those items that are generated.”

And this is where PARMS comes in.

“We have already made a road map that would lead us to zero waste to nature addressing the post-problematic packaging materials — flexible — and dealing with it,” notes Lao.

Besides, plastic is only considered waste if you throw it away.

“What if we can convert your single-use plastic into something circular? What if we can recycle it? Will you still say, ‘Ayoko sa plastic?’” adds Lao.

As for plastic sachets, one easy way to find a solution is to find another use for it.

“Instead of calling it a sachet, why don’t we call it a shelter, a bench or a boardwalk? Because that’s what we’re actually doing at the Plastic Flamingo,” enthuses Walter Belhomme of The Plastic Flamingo (The PLAF). “We are transforming these so-called wastes into something beneficial to the people and the environment. For us, these plastic sachets aren’t waste, they’re raw materials for our products.”

To help reduce post-consumer waste, P&G is committed to comprehensively work on and invest in packaging design and innovation across brands, as well as collaborating with external stakeholders on piloting waste infrastructure interventions across several of its markets.

In the Philippines, P&G has already eliminated the virgin plastic overwrap packaging for its Safeguard multipacks and is now using 100-percent-recycled paper carton material.

“The change saves 8,500 kilometers worth of plastic waste every year, and that’s equivalent to 1,000 times the length of the Boracay shoreline,” enthuses Anna Legarda-Locsin, director of P&G Phils.

P&G’s new Herbal Essences Bio:renew collection now uses post-consumer resin, which is recycled plastic material for its bottle packaging.

P&G is putting together a lot of tools that will help all of us do our share in saving our planet.

“So do it at work, do it at home. Train the elders and the kids to reduce, reuse and recycle,” Fajardo adds. “P&G, our people and our brands will continue to use our expertise, operations and scale to build a better world for all.”

To know more about P&G’s global commitments and progress, visit P&G’s ESG website or read P&G’s 2020 Citizenship Report.

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