How can the business leaders of tomorrow, save the planet today

Cover art Erka Inciong

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Digital Reporter

Sustainability has become a bit of a buzzword in recent months, used in everything from fashion to tourism. According to the Brundtland Report, sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future.” But what does that mean in business practice? And how can today’s current generation of pioneers use it to build the future of business?

This was the primary point of discussion during the National Sustainability Summit for Millennials & Gen Zs, held on Sept. 22. More than 500 student leaders from different universities gathered at University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P)’s Li Seng Giap Auditorium to discuss why sustainability is so much more than just a buzzword.

The issue with renewables

Federico Lopez, chairman of First Philippine Holdings Corporation, called out how the majority of today’s business models have programmed human beings to consume without end, without regard to the cost it entails on our planet. This wasteful, destructive cycle demands a paradigm shift, he said.

Mr. Lopez acknowledges that the most evident method for going sustainable, switching to renewable energy sources, is a difficult one for the Philippines. The national government’s ambivalence towards climate change means legislation falls flat on the House floors, while greed powers the continuous funding of coal-centric projects.

But Mr. Lopez remains optimistic, primarily because of the youth. “In survey after survey done on your generation, it clearly stands out how a majority of you consider the environment and sustainability as among your top concerns, and rightly so,” he said.

“Your direct engagement in energy and sustainability issues is the only assurance we have that the country and the world does not blindly lock itself into the old paradigm that got us into this sorry state.”

Difficult choices

With the impetus on young professionals to create sustainable businesses comes the need for sound strategies for caring about the planet.

His Excellency Jaco Beerends, Deputy Head of the Mission for the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands, and Dr. Bernardo Villegas, Co-founder of UA&P, discussed the active role today’s youth can play.

HE Beerends focused on the power of the individual. “Difficult choices,” he said, such as eating less meat and walking instead of driving, “can be done to contribute as an individual.” Collectively, the youth were encouraged to hold governments and regulatory bodies accountable for their future.

Dr. Villegas emphasized how millennials and Gen Zs “must be the first to rebel against evil consumerism” by “promoting an economy that favors productive diversity and business creativity”. Entrepreneurs must strive to first serve the people and the planet, with profit guided by the simple goal of sustaining their businesses.

Securing a low carbon future

With high carbon concentrations being one of the environment’s greatest threats, Energy Development Corporation’s President & COO Richard Tantoco and The Climate Reality Project PH’s Country Manager Rodne Galicha discussed ways to secure a low carbon future.

Mr. Tantoco listed four steps towards sustaining the environment:

  • Choose one cause and commit,
  • Start a movement,
  • Partner with a business,
  • And consume less.

He also talked about his “Year of Giving” wherein he refused to buy items that he didn’t need, not only to lessen consumption but also to instigate personal improvement. It was difficult but ultimately rewarding, saying, “Repeated acts of giving change the giver more than the recipient.”

Improvement was also a focal point for Mr. Galicha, who stressed that coal is an “obsolete perspective of development”. Comparing our usage of coal to a toxic romantic relationship, he encouraged cutting these literally asphyxiating ties and starting anew with clean, renewable energy — a relationship, he says, that never stops giving.

Communicating climate change

The Age of Anthropocene marks the era where humanity’s actions have become the dominant influence on the Earth’s ecosystems — the era in which we currently live, marked by declining animal populations and metric tons of food waste.

WWF Philippines’ President and CEO Joel Palma mourned that, at the rate humanity is exhausting the earth’s resources, we would need 1.7 planets to sustain our lifestyles.

Yung puhunan mo, ginagamit mo na (You’re already using up your capital),” he said. But aspiring for the One Planet Lifestyle — zero carbon, sustainable transportation, zero waste, and sustainable food and water — can help avert further disasters. Aside from living this lifestyle to set an example, he also encouraged explaining these issues to others and inspiring them to act as well.

But this type of sharing, if done improperly, may cause even important advocacies like sustainability to falter. Finding engaging ways to communicate is vital here.

Ron Jabal, PageOne Media’s CEO, discussed that Gen Z Filipinos entering the workforce are global citizens and social entrepreneurs at heart. Adapting to their means of communication can effectively send the message across. Experiments like Sustainable ITP’s “Climoji”, a sticker pack illustrating the disastrous effects of climate change are attempts to step in that direction.

“At the end of the day,” Mr. Jabal said, “we want meaning made and meaning sent.”

A call to action

The summit’s varied speakers expressed hope that the youth of today would take the lead in building the world of tomorrow, starting initiatives to promote and practice sustainability both in their personal and upcoming professional lives.

The planet’s dire situation can no longer afford inaction and apathy, businesses and enterprises included. As environmentalist and author Bill McKibben said, aptly quoted by Mr. Federico Lopez: “Business as usual and growth as usual spell an end to the world as usual.”