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Sustainability in the Workplace in the Philippines

Greg de la Cruz works in the tech industry and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.

In high school, we collected green algae to produce miniature solar cells for our science project.

In high school, we collected green algae to produce miniature solar cells for our science project.

My Introduction to the Green Movement

I was in my junior year of high school when a group of my fellow students and I tried to invent a working solar cell from green algae. This is the first memory I have of myself trying to do something in service of the "green movement." There were four of us in that group, and we spent weeks each gathering green algae from nearby rivers.

We were moderately successful in our project, as we were indeed able to generate voltage in our solar cells, as confirmed through our high school lab’s multi-tester. We were pretty ecstatic to have done something like that, and we thought that. eventually, solar panels in the not-so-distant future (this was back in 2007) would incorporate green algae in some way.

Long story short, three of us (75 percent of the green algae group) contracted dengue at some point during our project’s duration. It turns out the areas we visited to collect algae were infested with mosquitoes carrying the virus. We were unproudly dubbed the "Dengue 3."

My entire time in college, we were thoroughly exposed and biased (in a good way) into thinking that non-renewables were things of the past and that the world was moving toward sustainability and conservation. Of course, being enrolled in mechanical engineering meant that our senior-level classes dealt with diesel engines and coal power plants, but our curriculum tried to balance this out by staging green forums and encouraging green projects for all participants in Engineering Week.

Should employers be responsible for keeping their workplaces environmentally sustainable?

Should employers be responsible for keeping their workplaces environmentally sustainable?

How Are Businesses Regulated Environmentally?

Being now removed from such an idealistic time, year after year, I realize that the workplaces of today have so much catching up to do in terms of supporting sustainability and the environment.

The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), a subgroup of the bigger Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has been doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to making big companies comply with regulations on sustainability and conservation. One such example is by requiring companies to appoint a Pollution Control Officer (PCO), an employee designated to account for a company’s wastes—solid, liquid, gas, chemicals, energy, etc. Before someone takes on the PCO title, they go through a 40-hour seminar hosted by any one of the EMB’s accredited training organizations.

I recall the seminar I went through a couple of years back. It was such a different time. The content of the EMB-mandated seminar was thought-provoking. Some of the speakers were EMB employees themselves and sustainability advocates whose salaries were paid by taxpayers. Aside from the technical subjects they needed to discuss, they played a video showing ecological disasters. Even the daily standup prayers before the day’s session began with a video showing nature, praising God for His creation, and man repenting for the ills he brought—deformation, degradation, and destruction.

One of the videos shown by the speakers was a black-and-white documentary about a coastal town in Japan where mercury poisoning became rampant. Fisherfolk and citizens living near the coast who primarily sourced their food from the sea were shown twitching violently, one of the common symptoms of mercury poisoning. Even more disturbing was that there were children afflicted with the condition, showing just how bad mercury levels had gotten in that region.

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Building a sustainable workplace is about more than just complying with what the EMB orders companies to do. It’s more than just tracking solid waste, monitoring energy consumption, or implementing garbage segregation. It has more to do with how employees, even those in the lowest of ranks or the most entry of levels, think about sustainability and conservation.

Are labels mounted on garbage cans saying "biodegradable" or "non-biodegradable" enough for employees to gain some indication that the company they’re working for cares about the environment? Waste segregation is good in principle, and it looks good when implemented the right way, but it eventually loses its shine once you come across a landfill or a dump site.

Waste segregation as a regulation seems to lose its flavor when you realize that there’s just too much trash out there. Regardless of the type of waste you’re producing individually, or as a group, the sheer amount of waste at the end of the line trumps whatever hands-on measure you take at the starting point.

Heaps of marine plastic waste accumulate in oceans, disrupting ecological life.

Heaps of marine plastic waste accumulate in oceans, disrupting ecological life.

My College Project in Sustainable Engineering

In one memorable minor class in college, we were asked to apply elementary principles of materials engineering and create from scratch a producta usable ingredient or component for a real-world application. As fate would have it, the same classmate of mine who co-created the green algae solar cell back in high school, a member of the Dengue 3, was my teammate on this assignment.

It didn’t take long for us to decide on a product to develop—it had to be something that promoted green technology or sustainability. We decided to make biodegradable plastic bottle caps after he showed me a YouTube documentary about seagulls and albatrosses dying on the Pacific Ocean because of unfathomable piles of plastic floating around in the biggest body of water in the world. One bird’s autopsy revealed chunks of plastic bottle caps inside its digestive tract.

My good friend and I were pretty happy with the results, and we earned good grades in that class. Our biodegradable plastic bottle cap seemed to work, as we were able to mold it into the proper shape and test it by turning a water-filled plastic bottle upside-down. We were supposed to perform stress tests and conduct some sort of failure analysis, but I don’t think we ever did. Regardless, our instructor was happy with our result, and we were glad that the future of the notorious plastic bottle held some hope.

Today, roughly nine years after that minor project, I still drink from a non-biodegradable plastic bottle sealed by a non-biodegradable plastic cap. And I do it more often than I’d like. Sometimes when I pay for a bottle of water at a 7-Eleven, I get flashbacks of the albatross documentary that my friend showed me nine years ago. How sad it is that things haven’t really changed much since then.

Turning the Tides in Favor of Sustainability and Conservation

The tides may slowly be turning in favor of sustainability and conservation. The Philippines may be behind other countries in creating its own rules and programs to promote the effort, but it is little by little doing some work. The EMB may be a tax-sponsored watchdog to make companies more accountable, but there’s another force coming into the fold.

With the enactment of Republic Act No. 11285, another type of company-appointed officer is now mandated by law—either an energy manager or an energy conservation officer. Republic Act No. 11285 looks like the country’s first attempt to create a system through which companies are made more accountable for their energy consumption.

The country may not be as power-hungry as other Asian countries with more manufacturing power—like China, India, and even Taiwan—but the Philippines does make a dent. We’re still far from making sustainability and conservation part of every Filipino citizen’s way of life, judging by the number of local governments who still allow using single-use plastics, but hopefully, the green movement here will continue to gain traction despite our systems being at a stage of infancy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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