In 2014, the Philippines became the new Guinness World Record holder for most trees simultaneously planted in multiple locations within one hour. Over two million trees were planted by 122,168 volunteers in 29 different locations in Mindanao. The program, which was spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Mindanao Development Authority, has since evolved into a movement towards the environmental preservation of Mindanao.
While the Philippines has experienced some success in the enactment of environment-friendly programs, several key issues have yet to be addressed – primarily those concerning waste production and management. A study conducted by Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment in 2015 found that the Philippines ranked third among five developing economies responsible for majority of the plastic waste found in the ocean. Two years later, a Greenpeace-led brand audit of waste collected at Freedom Island would show that companies like Nestlé and Unilever, who utilize single-use plastic as packaging for items, have contributed significantly to the deteriorating state of Philippine waters.
As Filipinos continue to grapple with finding the balance between convenience and eco-friendly living, members of the Lasallian community shared their thoughts on what it would take for the Philippines to become a more sustainable country, weighed in on University initiatives for environmental awareness, and talked about their experiences of transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle.
Improved implementation is key to sustainable PH
For Engr. Maricis Elemos of the DLSU Campus Sustainability Office (CSO), the path to becoming a more sustainable nation already has a strong foundation in Philippine law. The Environment Education Act, Clean Air Act, Solid Waste Management Act, and several Presidential Decrees give a legal basis for the management, protection, and preservation of the country’s natural resources. However, Elemos also recognizes that there may be a gap between what has been written in the law and what is being enacted in communities. “[Personally], I think the problem would be the implementation [because even] if we have a number of laws [but these are] not fully implemented nationwide, it’s useless,” she expounds.
Several students also share Elemos’ sentiments for improved implementation by the government. “The underlying problem isn’t the use of plastics but the way we deal with our trash. Simple segregation that begins with an individual, to a community, to cities, to regions, can actually go a long way,” shares Val Pagdagdagan (III, DSM-BSA), who emphasizes that proper solid waste management ensures that resources are maximized through recycling.
For laws that aim to prevent or reduce further harm to the environment, implementation plays a significant role to ensuring tangible impact. In the case of the Clean Air Act of 1999, Regina Ong (III, PSM-BSA) feels that the initiative could have had more impact had regulations been enforced properly and citizens been more compliant. “Every time I see a vehicle belch smoke, I can feel the earth die inside. I will never understand how something as simple as changing your car oil can’t even be followed,” Ong laments.
Solutions in-progress at DLSU
Since its founding in 2011, the CSO has worked to achieve DLSU’s vision of becoming attuned to a sustainable Earth. “Despite the office being relatively new, CSO manages to come up with campaigns and initiatives that could make the University sustainable,” says Elemos, who is the University Environmental Engineer.
One of the office’s most notable projects is the installation of LED lights around campus. The reduction in electricity costs and carbon emissions achieved through this project have since been publicly released through Help Desk Announcements. Signs promoting energy-saving tips have even been posted in every classroom as part of their “I Live Green” Sustainability Campaign. As of writing, CSO is also working together with the Mechanical and Electrical Works Office (MEWO) on the installation of water bottle fillers in every water fountain on-campus to encourage everyone to bring reusable water bottles instead of buying plastic water bottles.
The University’s partnerships with other La Salle schools also includes collaborations on eco-friendly projects and awareness campaigns. DLSU is an active participant in the “1 Million Trees and Beyond” project of the Lasallian Institute for the Environment (LIFE) and De La Salle Philippines (DLSP). The Facilities and Environmental Management Commission of LIFE also facilitates discussions and consultations between the different La Salle schools to exchange best practices for adoption in other areas and set standards to work towards.
What it takes to live green
Beyond initiatives of the University administration, students are also taking action by adapting more eco-friendly habits and becoming advocates of zero-waste living. Bettina Huang (II, OCM-MKT) was inspired to make the change after a family trip in high school led her to research marine preservation practices in Hawaii. “Seeing the difference [in person] really took a toll on [me, which is] why I consciously try to limit my usage of plastic. In order to lessen my waste, I always bring around a metal straw, jug, reusable container, and metal utensils,” she explained.
Like Huang, Pagdagdagan also decided to eliminate single-use plastics like straws from her everyday life. She took it a step further by deciding to resell reusable metal straws to her fellow students. “I was scrolling through Facebook and I bumped into this ad from a shop that sells reusable straws. After a while, I realized how helpful the products were and how much plastic straws I actually save, so I decided to start selling so more people can help lessen plastic waste as well,” she narrated. Though she was challenged at the onset by the overwhelming number of orders, Pagdagdagan has already successfully sold multiple batches of reusable straws.
Committing to reducing one’s carbon footprint is no easy feat. As Yssa Nacpil (III, AB-DSM) found, it may even draw the ire and doubt of others. “I think not everyone was on-board with what I was doing. The staff would question why I don’t want my drink sealed or why I don’t ask for a plastic bag whenever I shop for one to three items in the grocery,” Nacpil recalls. She also experimented with using reusable containers when purchasing food for take-out from establishments near the University.
At the Laguna campus, students of the DLSU Environment Conservation Organization (Eco) work to promote environmental awareness through experience-based learning. Since 2013, Eco has organized multiple seminars, outdoor activities, and online awareness campaigns like #GreenFacts. Toffer Ofren (III, BS-IES) admits that even with Eco’s successes, there is still room for them to grow. “We need to remind them that enjoyment can also be integrated along with the mission of the organization and it would be more convincing if they could participate with us in the activities that we do,” he says.
On thinking big and beyond
Even with students now undertaking their own initiatives to live more sustainably, Elemos knows that the challenge of motivating other members of the Lasallian community still remains. “When we first came here, we were thinking of how we can motivate more people or how can we encourage [the] students [because] there’s this ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality nowadays,” she expressed.
O’Mae Tenefrancia (Grade 12, HUMSS) recognizes the problem Elemos speaks of but knows it is not without a solution. As she says, “it’s disheartening to think that people need an incentive in order to care about the destruction of the environment and to do something about it. However, a lifestyle friendly to the environment is actually a lifestyle of less clutter.” Tenefrancia hopes that people may eventually see the value of living minimally by focusing only on meeting our needs.
Ultimately, Elemos hopes that students would see the bigger picture of what’s at stake if people fail to be more conscious about the impact of their lifestyles on the environment. While she does acknowledge that the problems of this generation were brought about by the economic boom of the late 20th century, she knows that it is more important to take action than breed resentment or anger. “Hindi na natin sisisihin yung generation before us pero what we can do is to mitigate kung ano man yung effect nung nangyari before then to stop the bleeding, hindi yung dadagdagan mo pa,” she concludes.