Why sustainability is no longer enough: The call to be regenerative
Richard B. Tantoco, President and CEO of Lopez-led Energy Development Corporation (EDC)
Why sustainability is no longer enough: The call to be regenerative
(Philstar.com) - October 15, 2020 - 3:00pm

The following is an excerpt from an online message delivered by Richard B. Tantoco, President and CEO of Lopez-led Energy Development Corporation (EDC), on Sep. 20, 2020 in commemoration of the “Season of Creation” — the Philippine Church’s response to the call of Pope Francis’ celebration of the 5th Anniversary of Laudato Si, organized by the Focolare Movement and Global Catholic Climate Change Movement-Pilipinas, together with the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice & Peace (NASSA) of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) under its Episcopal Commission on Social Action–Justice and Peace (ECSA–JP).

For over 40 years, our company Energy Development Corporation (EDC) has been rather quietly generating power from geothermal sources. We generate energy from close to 1,500 MW of purely renewable facilities across the country, 1,205 MW of which is baseload geothermal. As the Philippines’ premier renewable energy company and the world’s largest integrated geothermal producer, we take pride in providing the country a service that is not only reliable but also socially and environmentally responsible.

However, we realized over the years of generating 100% RE that we shouldn’t keep quiet. Not anymore. Not when we know that sustaining the path we are on which seeks only to do less harm is simply not enough. We have a responsibility to our planet and to humanity and we have chosen to take a stand. We have chosen to use our voice to send a distress call to as many people and organizations as possible because we are running out of time.

The world is in trouble. Yes, we now live in quite dystopian times, characterized by the most unprecedented disruption in generations.But what is engulfing us today in this COVID-19 pandemic is but a sneak peek of the geologic-scale changes that we have been seeing in record-breaking temperatures hurricanes, typhoons and forest fires hitting the planet with regularity and consistency every year now. We are in a climate crisis and we are mortgaging the future of our children if we do not take resolute action to alter the course we are on.  

Everyone — from individuals to businesses to government — need to transform to a model of regenerative development.What does regeneration actually mean and how can we do it? For us in the Lopez Group, which EDC is proudly a part of, it is about aligning our business, our resources, and our capabilities to fulfill a mission: and that is to elevate everything we touch.  

Regeneration includes our employees, our community, our environment, our partners — such as our customers, contractors, suppliers and our shareholders. All need to benefit from the positive impact of our decisions and actions. While our investors are important, regenerative thinking demands that we look at our business from a wider lens than just profitability.  

This year, we crystallized our mission at our group of companies, including EDC, and that is: “To forge collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future.” It’s a deliberately high bar and we are nothing short of humbled by it. But we expect this short, ten-word phrase to be the beacon that guides us through this turbulent decade and beyond.

EDC and the rest of the Lopez Group are not there yet. I am not sure if anyone is. We have not reached that state of regeneration but we would like to believe that we are a work in progress. 

ELEVATING EMPLOYEES: We have always strived to foster a healthy and positive working environment, but it was during this COVID-19 pandemic that management was truly able to show its genuine familial care or pampamilyang malasakit. While we required most of our colleagues to work for home, we formed a skeletal force that expertly operates our power plants with good sleeping quarters, appetizing food, and stable internet so they can always get in touch with their loved ones while working on site. But we went beyond the obvious to elevate our colleagues. We repurposed their benefits, delivered to their doorstep masks, comfortable office furniture, and equipment, and go grocery shopping for their families while they are on duty. We do not want them to worry about the basics while they are taking care of running our power plants. 

We even offered to vaccinate all employees and their families against flu and pneumonia, to increase everyone’s chances of survival. Majority said yes to this offer. We provided access to counselling services for those who feel the need to take care of their mental health. We also launched a Special Interest Development Program — paid for by the company — that covers learning and hobbies such as guitar, karate and photography lessons, to help keep everyone whole.

ELEVATING OUR COMMUNITIES: Genuine malasakit is also extended to our partner communities, each time they are hit by a natural catastrophe and even more so during this pandemic. Apart from providing food and medical supplies to our communities and the medical frontliners in areas where we operate, we sent container vans that they could use as quarantine facilities or sleeping quarters for the medical staff on duty. 

We are likewise helping them put up their first PCR testing centers to help stem the transmission of COVID-19 in Ormoc City, Negros Oriental, and later this year, in Kidapawan City. From one to ten days of waiting for PCR test results to be released from the nearest testing center, which was Cebu for Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental and Davao for Kidapawan City, they will soon be able to get their results within one to three days. 

ELEVATING THE ENVIRONMENT: Caring for the environment has always been at the top of our list of priorities admittedly because it is necessary to sustain our geothermal business. Lush forests help recharge our steam resource. About ten years ago, we committed to take our tree planting efforts to the next level by committing to bringing back to abundance 96 of our most endangered Philippine native tree species through our BINHI greening legacy program. 

So far, close to 10,000 hectares of degraded and open forests in watersheds have been scientifically replanted with indigenous tree species and fruit-bearing trees. All these were done with the help of our partner communities. Having geothermal reservations as vast as 1% or 270,000 hectares of our country’s total land area made us realize that we cannot undertake an ambitious program like BINHI and guard our forests on our own. 

We formed farmers and community associations, and inculcated in them the value of environmental stewardship as we enabled them to help us take care of our forests. We incentivized them and helped them transform into our green warriors. Our Baslay farmers association in Negros Oriental, where we operate our second largest and oldest geothermal facility, tells a successful story of transformation from slash and burn farmers or kaingineros to BINHI green entrepreneurs. 

ELEVATING OUR PARTNERS:  The roots that BINHI has grown doesn’t end there. In 2019, EDC was selected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be their only local partner in the Philippines as a result of our efforts to update the status of 35 of our 96 flagship threatened native tree species. The IUCN’s secretariat, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the world’s largest plant conservation network, selected EDC to be part of its Global Tree Assessment program to help them update the status of 800 Philippine endemic tree species. To date, EDC has assessed 200 species and IUCN has updated and published 89 species in their Red List. 

The healthy ecosystem that BINHI has sustained has a further purpose. We have applied systems thinking to hit many regenerative targets with a strong partnership with the UP-Diliman Institute of Biology (UPIB). We launched a Biodiversity Conservation and Monitoring Program (BCMP) that shows today, our areas of operation are home to myriads of wildlife species—291 birds, 43 bats, 25 other mammals, and 46 reptiles and amphibians, almost half of them are endemic to our country. While we are proud to report on their abundance given wildlife biodiversity is a good barometer of the robustness of the habitat in our sites, we couldn’t have documented them without the help of UPIB’s team of scientists.

Another partnership we are proud of is one with the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF). In 2012, we adopted Philippine Eagle Geothermica, which is now on loan to Singapore Jurong Bird Park along with its female counterpart, Sambisig, as part of an agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and leading wildlife conservation group Wildlife Reserves Singapore. The most recent addition to the growing biodiversity in our sites is another Philippine Eagle aged 3 to 4 years old, which we and PEF have named Makilala-Hiraya — after Brgy. Makilala, the area where she was rescued. After being treated for her minor injuries this July, she was released back into the wild in our Mt. Apo Natural Park geothermal reservation where we can monitor her growth. 

ELEVATING OUR CUSTOMERS:  Our customers, which include distribution utilities and cooperatives, and businesses such as hospitals, commercial establishments, manufacturing plants and universities, have shifted to renewable energy for their source of power because it is affordable and clean. Even before the start of the lockdown, we have been conducting climate change workshops, helping them find ways to reduce their energy consumption and become more energy efficient to lower their businesses’ carbon footprint. 

As I was crafting my message, we realized that some of the things we have been doing were already regenerative. But one of the key insights is this—we know that the issues confronting us are so huge that we need everyone’s help. We will only successfully fulfill our mission if we collaborate with others, even with our competitors. As our chairman Federico R. Lopez keeps stressing: “This is definitely not a competitive beauty contest. It is not about which company won the most awards.  If we find ourselves ahead but alone at the finish line of this massive and humbling undertaking, we will then have failed in our mission.”  

Regenerative thinking is also not a light switch that you turn on when you’re at work and turn off in your personal life. Since our new chosen path is anchored on our Lopez values, all of us employees are enjoined to walk the talk. Leaders need to lead by example in our company and even in our private life 
to have a truly regenerative company. 

All of us can be regenerative in our own way  no matter who we are or what we do.  For as long as you think beyond just doing less harm, and focus on doing more good, there is a chance to be meaningfully regenerative. We are running out of time — and I would like to ask all of to think about the Law of Limits, to consider what we have done to our planet, to rethink the way we live and do business, to become beacons of light that inspire and collaborate to forge pathways to a decarbonized and regenerative future.

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