How the Gokongweis are paving the way towards a sustainable future

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John L. Gokongwei, Jr. — BW File Photo

When his father died, the 13-year-old John L. Gokongwei, Jr. was left with the massive responsibility of supporting his family. Starting from selling candles, soap, and thread in Cebu’s bustling market, he slowly and steadily began his business adhering to a philosophy of responding to customers’ needs, making products accessible, maximizing resources, and seizing opportunities that came along. Success came, if not swiftly, then eventually.

Now, Mr. Gokongwei is the founder and chairman emeritus of JG Summit, one of the largest and most diversified companies in the Philippines, and he has interests in industries such as real estate, airline, retail, petrochemical, and banking.

He had made a lasting mark on Philippine business. Now he and his family are putting their fortune towards creating a lasting legacy.

Bringing sustainability to the next level

Taking JG Summit to a new frontier of sustainability is President and CEO Lance Y. Gokongwei — BW File Photo

His son, Lance Y. Gokongwei, in particular, is committed towards this cause, with the formal integration of sustainability at JG Summit being a key priority since he took over as president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the company in May 2018.

One milestone in JG Summit’s sustainability journey is the CEO Sustainability Summit, a conglomerate-wide alignment, where all the CEOs of the conglomerate’s strategic business units shared how their frameworks, best practices, and future initiatives toward enhanced sustainability are rooted in their business strategy.

During the summit, Edgar O. Chua, chairman of the Philippine Business for Environment and former country chairman of Shell Group of Companies in the Philippines, highlighted how sustainability has evolved to socially conscious, “green” or ethical investment. From its early forms as philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, Mr. Chua said that “Sustainability has now evolved to social investment, an investment strategy which seeks to consider both financial return and social, environmental good to bring about positive social change.”

The CEO Sustainability Summit was also an opportunity for the JG Summit Strategic Business Unit (SBU) CEOs to explore potential synergies within the conglomerate that address issues like waste management and reduction, as well as water and energy efficiency. With its scale, diversity, and strong ecosystem, JG Summit hopes to utilize and build on its expertise in different areas of business to deliver long-term, positive impact on a wider and more inclusive scale.

Meanwhile, in the transportation scene, Cebu Pacific’s (CEB) investment in game-changing “ecoplanes” that can fly passengers farther and faster at less fuel burn manifests the airline’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. Its multi-awarded tourism campaign “Juan Effect” is a multi-sectoral advocacy whose goal is to influence tourists, local business owners, and LGUs to make a difference by changing at least one daily habit to mitigate the negative impact of tourism on popular tourist spots.  Supporting this is CEB’s implementation of environment-friendly processes and investments in their operations.

At URC’s Sugar & Renewables and Agro-Industrial Divisions, over dependence on fossil fuel-based energy has been considerably reduced with the help of biomass and biogas technologies that use waste and by-products generated by the plants. Generating energy from plant and animal waste has resulted in lower electric consumption while protecting the environment.

For Robinsons Land Corporation, integrating business and sustainability strategies entail fostering responsible growth, reaching underserved markets, and reshaping communities. Robinsons Starmills in Pampanga boasts of having the world’s largest rooftop solar panel. Total investment in solar panels for the various Robinsons malls all over the country will reach close to P1.7 billion by the end of 2019.

JG Summit Petrochemical Group’s flagship environmental programs in Batangas City manifest that environmental responsibility is a priority. One such initiative is the construction of artificial reefs in Barangay Simlong where the plant is located. Now on its 17th year, the project has demonstrated a long-term positive impact on the marine environment in the area. As it supports abundant marine life, fishermen from nearby communities now have better fishing opportunities. The potential for the artificial reefs to become tourist income-generating diving sites is also being explored.

Robinsons Bank focuses on financial inclusivity to serve the typical Filipino who remains unbanked. Simplé Savings, which was launched in October 2018, opened gateways to easily obtain a savings account with its simplified requirements.

As one of the country’s largest multi-format retailers, JG Summit affiliate Robinsons Retail Holding, Inc. contributes to the growth of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) within its supply chain. Out of its total 2,300-strong supplier base across all its categories, around half are SMEs. Meanwhile, TGP (The Generics Pharmacy), which has the widest network of community drugstores in the country with around 2,000 branches nationwide, encourages aspiring entrepreneurs through its franchise model.

The various SBU CEOs also shared their dashboards, which identified the key material topics that need to be monitored for their upcoming sustainability reports.

“Today, more than ever, business exists for a nobler purpose. Business has an inherent responsibility to uplift the lives of people while ensuring that this one Earth where we live in remains viable for future generations,” Lance Gokongwei said of the SBUs’ efforts to become increasingly sustainable.

A legacy for future generations

While the CEO Sustainability Summit was an opportunity to affirm JG Summit’s top-level commitment to its transformation, it was also a chance to ensure that sustainability is ingrained in the way the company does business for generations to come.

In one area of the room, Lance Gokongwei’s wife and children sat and listened while different strategic business units shared their road maps toward enhanced sustainability.

For the JG Summit chief, the presence of his children in the summit is not only a continuation of the family tradition of exposing their children early on to the business that their grandfather built and expanded to the next generation. More importantly, he wanted them to learn how business today is evolving — how an entrepreneurial mindset needs to include commitment to the common good.

“I have my kids here listening so they can see that their father is working for a company that is socially responsible. I do think that’s probably true for you, with your own families,” he told the summit’s participants.

And with this, the conglomerate’s journey to sustainability continues.