Thursday, September 17, 2009

McDonald’s Puts Green Design into New Restaurant

Posted on Thursday, Jul. 09, 2009
Watts are free at new McDonald's
When it opens Tuesday, the McDonald's at 1299 Kildaire Farm Road will be the country's first McDonald's with an electric vehicle charging station. The station will allow drivers of electric cars to plug them in and charge them while they eat. McDonald's is one of several chains exploring green store design. Wal-Mart and Target are revamping their stores to conserve energy. Subway has opened its first stand-alone LEED-certified restaurant in the state in Chapel Hill.

There seems to be a rush to go to the LEED-way of fast food restaurants, is it a good thing or is it greenwashing?

For me, I think this is a start, though these companies are cashing in on the fact that they are certified is questionable, the hand of PR and Marketing always does some hocus pocus per se

I am not really familiar on the LEED standard in terms of architectural planning and construction but during the operation of the proposed site, the critical measure is its actual overall resource efficiency over time compared with the existing rate of resource use in an average fast food store.

Let's not limit ourselves to the WOW factor of building us the Numbers!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Yum Brands Opens First Green KFC-Taco Bell Restaurant

The firm issued its first corporate responsibility report last year. And the construction of the KFC-Taco Bell in Northampton is intended as the "first of a series" of projects being pursued by Yum Brands' Building Environmental Sustainability Team as part of the company's Energy Environment and Economics (E3) Initiative, the report says.

The report also says the new restaurant and the initiative make up "the primary exploration vehicle to test and evaluate green building methodologies." Data about the performance of the new restaurant and that of other company sites are expected to inform the Yum Brands' work to green existing buildings, plan prototypes and develop in restaurants.

The new restaurant in Massachusetts has a lighting control system that takes advantage of natural light and uses LED lights inside and out where feasible. The site features energy efficient kitchen and building equipment, rainwater harvesting, a rain garden that serves as filter for storm water and low-flow water fixtures. In addition, the restaurant uses solar energy to preheat fresh air entering building, reducing the need for natural gas.

Yum also said counter tops, insulation and materials used in the building contain recycled content and that wood used in construction was harvested sustainably.
Photographs by Derry Berrigan, DBLD Lighting Design, courtesy of Yum Brands 

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

ANSI Approves Green Seal for Restaurants

ANSI Approves Green Seal for Restaurants
Posted On September 9, 2009 (8:48 am)
Restaurants seeking to be "green" have another measure of confidence...
Article taken from Environmental Leader -
URL to article:

For the industry, this seems to be good news! However, are fast foods included in this standard? Fine Dining and Quick-Serve Restaurants have different operating capacities, once, I even heard people in our industry wanting the QSR to have a separate industry classification.  I am so glad to hear that GS-46 follows the specs and guidelines of ISO14024 which follows specifies a comprehensive framework to operations on how to reduce their environmental impacts.

Maybe I'm just disillusioned about my job because most of my superiors don't like dealing with comprehensive frameworks specified by international science-based standards and would rather make their own "egotistical" frameworks. In my studies, I have learned that the environment is not chaotic and we can always find order like in food chains and the order leads to interconnections.

For more information please see Green Seal, Inc.

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Some Thoughts Behind Industry Conferences on "Greening"

I have been attending industry conferences for quite a while and I do agree that such events can influence corporations to change their ways, but change will be a very slow process. I am not sure what goes into the minds of managers who attend these events but deep inside they are still the same people who are just going for the usual bottomline. Stand alone projects such as energy conservation, waste reduction, etc. are useless if they are simply viewed as individual programs because it does not affect a change the overall corporate views of companies.

As an EMS auditor, I would rather focus on Top Management commitment and clarity of environmental policy rather than the number of environmental projects that a company churns out. Green conferences provide a venue for sharing best practices but the focus is more on technologies and projects that a specific company has proven effective within its own context but such fora must also not fail to provide frameworks for companies who are "lost" in integrating such programs into their sustainability agenda.

Oftentimes, this becomes the root of Greenwashing, because companies focus more on promoting specific projects and programs rather than their actual commitment towards sustainable development.  Third party verification to a certain degree is far more  effective than blatant ads in ensuring compliance to regulations and commitment to sustainability. However, current validation criteria is still not a perfect system of validation, reliance on scientific data on the impacts requires continues studies.

Green conferences are a good thing, but it will take a lot more of these to really change how things go about...

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Saving the Earth is a Balancing Act...It Needs A Lot of Thinking Before We Could Judge...

I have been to both sides of the fence, in my early days, I once supported Greenpeace-like civil society groups in their campaigns to eliminate the ills of the environment by eliminating the cause. However, just my luck when my first job was with a business school to do research on how companies can implement environmental management systems. After more than a decade, the business school paradigm did influence my way of thinking but the social action awareness is still there. My problem right now is how do I put the two together.

Stakeholders are important, they can be customers, the government, regulatory agencies or even our Friends of the Earth. Having a voice is important and fast food companies must consider the deeper meaning of their stakeholder's advocacy not just simply please them and give them what they want.  Just like the polystyrene dilemma, in effect, a new problem arose in term of effluent and air quality impacts within the vicinity of a fast food facility. Such is the impact of just simply trying "to please" a stakeholder rather submit themselves on a far more critical environmental due diligence.

Often, we see environmental managers strongly influenced by NGO pressure that they fail to consider that managing environmental impacts is implemented in a strategic framework....I remember a case when a fast food manager agrees to set up an NGO-recommended compost bins for a fast food store without due consideration to the existing HACCP-based food safety management system....well flies swarmed over the burgers...and it became bad for business.

The purpose of civil action is not to be simply pleased for a certain issue, it requires companies to take a more responsible approach in their strategies that environmental management becomes a core organization framework not just simply a fire-fighting PR agenda.

(Photo credits from Greenpeace)

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Saturdays, Beef and the Dilemma of Food Security in the Third World

When I was young we only get beef on Saturdays, that's how it is in developing countries if you source it out from the local market, you can only get beef once a week and most of the time its Saturday and its in limited supply, if you get to the market late well, better settle for pork then or chicken.  In developing countries, it is much easier to become a locavore since what is available to you are simply local stuff.

With economic growth and the affluence that enabled us to have western standards, things have changed, we can get beef anytime of the week in meat shops at groceries and hypermarkets. Cattle raising and beef farming did try its expansion given the demand but it is still cheaper to most of the beef in the frozen section comes from Australia, New Zealand and of course Brazil. With blast freeze technology, we really could not recognize whether that beef came from a top a nearby hill or halfway around the world. Now, we rarely get beef at the local market, maybe once a month but not too often.

It is the need to cheapen things up that expanded the mega-fast-food's supply chain. Producers are trying to do their best to minimize cost and this means externalizing most of it. However, acting on the short-term interest like cheap fast food right now often produces long-term results that nobody really likes.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Disturbing News from Taco Bell!

Taco Bell's New Green Menu Takes No Ingredients From Nature

The video from ONN was forwarded by Squidgirl! Its a Taco Bell spoof....some people thought it was real. Its really funny but I found it disturbing because those kinds of  PR guys go around the fast food offices "spin-doctoring" proven scientific research on the impacts of fast food operations. Those PR people made my work life difficult to a certain degree but it made the fast food smell good in the public just like roasted burger with melting cheese on top....yum!

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The Five Stages of Adopting Corporate Sustainability: Yeah Right, We're at Stage 5..woohoo!

The Five Stages of Adopting Corporate Sustainability
Posted On September 2, 2009 (8:14 am)
Adopting sustainability as a goal now will help corporations develop...
Article taken from Environmental Leader -
URL to article:

The usual Greenwashing firm couldn't care less about the stages of adopting corporate sustainability. I can truly attest to that. Most fast food firms are still stuck in compliance issues which is the core measure of feasible environmental responsibility. Its because profitability is much stronger a driver than responsibility. I think it is the stiff competition that drove most fast food environmental programs to be viewed as a marketing ploy rather than a shift in corporate paradigms. I just hope people   suggesting to the fast food industry to adopt stuff like biodegradable packaging or biodiesel development have to realize that such suggestions would just fall on deaf ears if fast food firms do not have the proper Top Management commitment, organizational infrastructure and comprehensive programs on how they will integrate such suggestions into their environmental management frameworks.

In putting pressure to the fast food, what is essential is to pressure them to change structure not adopt projects like shifting from polystyrene to paper packaging, or getting them to convert used vegetable oil into biodiesel. This will require that civil groups adopt a mindset and skill of a third party auditor make sure that what a Greenwashing firm's commitment to sustainability is indeed at the level in which it is trying to project!

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Starbucks Serves up its First Fairtrade Lattes and Cappuccinos Across the UK and Ireland

Starbucks Serves up its First Fairtrade Lattes and Cappuccinos Across the UK and Ireland

Limited only to UK and Ireland?

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Life Cycle Thinking

In my readings, I came across an old article about a cause I once supported during my college days. I guess I had previously written about it in an earlier post. I once supported a popular civil society group in convincing some big fast food company to switch from polystyrene to reusable wares. It was a victory on our part because gradually, the fast food company's ware did change part of their dine-in customers. However, after a decade, these fast food who once got acclaim for their effort in shifting are now condemned as polluters of our waterways because the cost to clean up their effluents is still not present. The point is we should never look at one thing and think such is a great thing, environmentalists still haven't caught up with life cycle thinking. 

I guess this is my problem being most of the time a consultant more than being an advocate which is every now and then. Sometimes, I just know too much because I have been in both sides of the fence, before lobbying for stricter environmental regulations and working for an industry requesting for a compliance holiday. But the point is what matters is our overall impact.

Ever since we were born, we have always consumed resources. A professor who had passed away a year ago once told us in his lecture that it is much more energy efficient to die than to stay alive, wherever he is, he sure has reached a level of optimum efficiency. Looking at the chicken diagram, well I have eaten so many eggs and so many chicken in my lifetime and that consumption had supported the chicken farms, etc., etc.

Going back to the fast food sector, polystyrene packaging is not the only issue, not only waste water or its impact on the Amazon rain forest since most them outsource their beef from that region. We should know that all fast food corporations are made out of people, not in the "soylent green" sense but in the human resource sense. What drives these people to stick to their guns and continue on their unsustainable path is the way they think and how they see things and the need of their immediate customers. It will be quite a while but the transition is on-going.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Will Greenwashers Push the Green Movement Back to the Fringe?

Will Greenwashers Push the Green Movement Back to the Fringe?
Posted On May 1, 2007 (10:37 am)
If you want to attract a loyal green consumer, use...
Article taken from Environmental Leader -
URL to article:

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Worst We Could Do Is Isolate Ourselves

In most corporate offices, the environmental department is an enigma, not really, more like sidelined given its relative novelty. Unlike accounting, legal, facilities engineering or purchasing, it is only recently that such units are being put into place when things like environmental compliance issues and safety concerns are being addressed given its legal and economic consequences. While working for the fastfood, people from other departments would ask me what is the purpose of an EHS department? Being new at that time, I was surprised that a lot of old timers were not oriented on the purpose of such group.

More surprised, I found out that our group's decision-making process was not directly linked to anyone at the executive level which in my prior industry affiliation was the usual case. This coming from an industry dominated by ISO14001 certifications where top management commitment is and auditable criteria.

I am validating the article I previously posted were only 12% of the surveyed firms in the United States have executive teams directly involved in sustainability programs, I agree that this is the usual norm not only in Corporate America but in emerging economies. Top management often sets up this units or departments not because of its commitment to the environment but to minimize the risks brought about by environmental compliance issues and stakeholder advocacy on a company's productivity.

If your EHS/CSR group is stuck in that situation, the worst you can do is isolate yourselves. By isolating and even stigmatizing such groups, the environmental concern becomes less mainstream within an organization. Having our jobs does not make us special as if we are mystical beings. I have always cautioned that an environmental management program must be rationalized not mysticized, because turning it into a somewhat spiritual  experience does not allow it to have the proper organizational infrastructure it needs to become mainstream where only a few in the organization could understand it and even appreciate your groups existence. It is becoming  more of a fad and not an essential part in the growth of an organization. If you are in a dead-locked situation, where top management does not even recognize the purpose of your presence in the office when they see you, again the worse you can do is try to make an impression.  It would be a lot better to make sure that everyone including your janitor and photocopy guy knows and appreciates what you are doing. By developing the lower ranks of the hierarchy, the change necessary can reach the top, noting from the book Thinking in Systems, the purpose of the hierarchy is to fulfill the needs of those in the bottom.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Only 12% of Major Firms have Executive Team for Sustainability

Only 12% of Major Firms have Executive Team for Sustainability
Posted On August 27, 2009 (6:48 am)
Many large corporations are merely paying lip service to their...
Article taken from Environmental Leader -
URL to article:

Click Here to Read More.. Green Fast Food: Really Here or a Green Dream? Article
Sat Aug 29 04:29:49 2009
admin ( sent you

this article:

Green Fast Food: Really Here or a Green Dream?

The fast food industry is seeing a growing demand for environmental sustainability. How can investors, consumers, and other stakeholders know which restaurants are truly embracing sustainable development and which are only greenwashing their practices?
To read this article please go to:

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Welcome to

After much thought I got myself my own custom domain. I started this blog because I wanted change and change is necessary to achieve sustainable development. The fastfood industry at the moment given its rate of expansion, multinational supply chains and unrestricted pollution in terms of local emissions and effluents is truly in an unsustainable path. Though efforts of going green in the corporate levels are being done, the programs could not totally address the magnitude of its impacts given its scale of operations. Worse thing however is the blatant branding that some fastfoods are "environment-friendly" this is what we call greenwash. This is what I'm trying to stop, blowing up programs that are not validated or verified.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Changing the Corporate Culture of More PR and Less Substance

The colors green and red reminds me of Christmas but I just found out that having green can make you red (

Sometimes I would think about how much of a multi-national company's budget goes into PR and how much into efforts towards sustainable development or lets just say environmental improvements that will lead to minimal environment, health and safety impacts within the course of their supply chains?

Is certification and validated ecolabels enough to say that companies are indeed doing their best? Being involved in matters of ISO audits and certification, we still have a long way to go and there are still so much possibilities that can be done both technical and administrative...but the challenge is the impacts of our old ways are now creeping up on us at a faster rate than the speed we have about changing our paradigms.

I also pose a caveat on changing paradigms, changing mindsets does not necessarily change our values and often I have dealt with corporate people who have strong environmental advocacy but have a very weak value system that supports change such personalities can lead to futile programs and campaigns that often lead to greenwash and in the end shames corporations in shameful shade of red...

When green wash fails, often they go back to white wash...advocating their purity and innocence.

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Made to Measure: Learning from Quality and Integrating the Lessons to the Environment

When I started working, I once had a problem with working with quality professionals, I don't understand what the hell are they doing, on the other hand quality professionals sometimes don't get me, I guess they don't know what the hell I'm doing. Now that we are at the age of recession and cost-cutting, we have to tighten our belts and reduce excessive energy use (my laptop is on energy-save mode) so accredited ISO certifying bodies and management consultants have advocated the implementation of Integrated Management Systems or people may say IMS.

In my day to day existence in the corporate world, the lowly corporate person will not immediately get this when told, they often need a couple of days of training to understand IMS or a week if they have no background on management systems. Maybe I myself couldn't have known this on my own if I hadn't had some mentorship during my management consulting days but now that I have gained the knowledge and experience...I am frustrated because being young indeed pose a problem and none of my colleagues would like to accept this knowledge that I got from an unlikely mentor who I guess is equally frustrated now-a-days.

Just to note, a former boss was once agreeing with me to implement an EMS in our organization (this is what I previously mentioned in the caveat of my earlier post) but he just could not accept the fact that he is quite lost (he needs a lot of trainings but too stingy to attend even one, relying on taxpayer money to attend free government seminars which leads nowhere) and he could not even accept the fact that I was the expert. Rather than reading the standard, he sets up a number of programs that are incohesive to organizational thrusts.

When implementing management systems we must always realize that organizations have their own agenda, objectives, cultures and motives that are far stronger than our advocacy towards environmental improvement. The key is to gradually align those agenda and motives towards sustainable development and that agenda is defined by who is on top of that organization.

In working with quality professionals, I have learned that their focus is on satisfying the requirement of the customer which is quite straight forward. The key is to know your customer. This on the part of the company enables them to develop their competence to satisfy customer needs. I was once involved in a manufacturing facility where a big sign in the doorway says "Our customers pay for our salary" which is translated that non-attainment of customer requirements jeopardizes a company's profitability.

In implementing Corporate EMS do companies really understand the requirements of the environment? We must control ourselves from implementing environmental programs as if its a mystical experience because there is a tendency to become moralistic and biased. Often corporate entities lobby to create their own effluent or emission standards, which regulatory agencies gladly agree in the midst of discussions, in quality terms we are trying to manipulate our customer requirement.

Before, I thought IMS was a bad thing for environmental professionals because, customer requirements will dominate over environmental compliance. However, I found out that it is a way for companies to make sure that the environment becomes a well-loved and well thought of customer who has its specific requirements.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Magnitude of This Burger Makes Me Think of its Environmental Impact

The first time I saw this picture of McDonald's MegaTamago scared me, not for environmental reasons but for health reasons. The burger is unbelievable unhealthy...3 patties, bacon and an egg.

This burger is only available for a limited time in Japan who among the world has a population with the longest life span. Beef and Japan is a truly ironic combination even the fact that some Japanese still believe that whale meat is a cultural delicacy. I'm just posting a picture, this is a complicated matter...

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Locavores: Closer to Home

Is it colonial mentality that enables us to judge that imported is always better? Nowadays, the rule is imported is cheaper, especially if it came from India, China or Vietnam. But if we are told that a product came from Australia, New Zealand or Brazil, we might think otherwise, it might be better??? Where it came from is a relative term, how it came about is what matters.

When I think of Beef and Brazil combined, I think about the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest which leads to habitat loss of endemic species and loss of biodiversity and analyzing its impact further it will lead to climate change. In the Philippines, it is still not mainstream knowledge, but globally it is quite a concern and efforts by Brazil to claim sustainability in the cattle ranching industry is often criticized for being too greenwashed. The funny thing however for this case is the burger joint is not aware that it is proclaiming support against sustainable development. The truth is Beef from Brazil is Cheap and outsourcing beef from Brazil minimizes a burger joint's operating costs.

The globally expansive supply chain of the fast food is the reason why it is unsustainable. I once wrote that McDonald's insistence on the use of trawled Alaskan Pollack for its fillet-o-fish (even its insistence on carrying the Fillet-O-Fish in countries with little or no demand) not only causes impacts on the Bering Sea but also foregone benefits are accrued due to its failure to consider outsourcing fish from local aquaculture development in developing countries. It is only recently that I encountered the term locavore. If a carnivore eats meat, a herbivore eats plants, then a locavore eats local. Is localization an option for fastfood giants? However, this joint is closer to home.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Fighting Our Fear of Standards Standards Standard

In 2005, I attended a conference on the possibility of utilizing Fossil Fuels as a "Clean" energy source organized by the Asia Pacific Economic Conference. The conference was an irony but I won't be talking about the conference topics which talked about the geological sequestration of carbon dioxide and coal liquefaction but the time when I personally met a former Energy Minister while lining up at the Buffet Table and chatted him up on the energy prospects of the South East Asian Region. When he moved on to the Halal table, I realized that no matter how complex the environmental laws of the Philippines are, we as a people generally have very low standards about how we utilize our resources and protect the environment. We are more focused on the external and superficial rather than the root cause of the problem especially the leaders.

I was impressed by the simplicity of other environmental laws within the region and the humility of the energy minister that they still do not fully understand the magnitude of the environmental impacts of further fossil fuel exploration in their countries and here we are bragging about our energy exploits which only looked good in the power point presentation but too politicized to be implemented.

While working, my boss insists that the root cause of the non-compliance of fast food firms to the effluent standard is the "incompetence"of those working in the end of pipe but the truth is the root cause of the problem is the lack of commitment of the people on top because they are too comfortable with their positions and the real focus on environmental management is quite misaligned.

Some companies even go to the effort of defining their own standards without general consideration to its impact on the environment. A change on how things are done usually threatens us and we fear it, we generally fear standards because we are too comfortable with the status quo.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Torn Between Compliance and Commitment

Regulatory agencies expect companies to be committed. More often than not, the usual third world company is just complying to environmental standards because commitment to environmental standards or eventual improvement in environmental performance is not the usual goal to achieve a company's bottom line.

In my experience working with ISO14001 firms, getting certified is a requirement by their customer,  often a multinational company with a Triple Bottomline Agenda which in turn forces the toll manufacturer to comply with domestic environmental regulations since to the cost to lose a certification will amount to losing a contract that a business is wholly dependent on.

What if the customer does not require a certification on the part of their suppliers? The motivation of suppliers to comply to comply with environmental regulations is very minimal since it has no effect on their bottomlines.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is Basic Environmental Awareness Enough to Make Environmental Claims?

In relation to what I wrote earlier, establishing an EMS based on ISO 14001 does not require a highly technical set of environmental programs but more emphasis is done in the commitment of top management to improvements and adhering to a clear environmental policy.

However, branding a company as environmentally compliant without reference to any standard is blatantly a practice of Greenwashing. Though most local companies are not aware, a specific standard is present in the ISO 14000 series that gives specific/systematic guidelines on how to integrate the results of implementing an EMS into the product labeling or eventual marketing of the outputs of the production process.

ISO14020:2000 was developed to ensure that environmental claims are done in a responsible and technologically validated and verifiable manner.

Mere environmental awareness in not enough, oftentimes results of a Life Cycle Analysis is essential to know that what is being claimed by a specific product indeed is validated and verified.

A few moments ago while watching the news, I heard a congressman marketing the merits of a specific renewable energy source and dismissing the contribution of others. What came into my mind, given the corrupt nature of most traditional politicians, is that this congressman may have had a "kickback" in the investment and marketing efforts of the said renewable energy technology (mere impression only, no claims).

It is neither ethically nor empirically correct to simply dismiss the benefits of other renewable energy sources and proclaim one source as the best unless a full benefit-cost analysis is presented in due diligence.

As common consumers we would never fully know unless we take the full effort to research further on what are the impacts of certain products to our health, safety and the environment.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Going further with ISO 14001

The great deal of my professional work experience has been all about the implementation of ISO14001. In 2000, fresh out of college, I was tasked to maintain the documentation requirements of a school's certification based on the specifications of ISO14001:1996, at that time I had the impression that it was a very technical concept but almost a decade in implementing the standard and doing consultancy work on the requirement for multiple industries it was easy as a breeze.

That may have been a biased statement given my years of experience in the field but some people still think that ISO14001 is something that can only be achieved by certified firms or industries. This is a common misconception. We should not look at ISO 14001 as a technical requirement that involves a drastic change in technology or production system but rather we should look at the standard as a systematic framework to gradually achieve changes starting with the organizational structure where people on top of the hierarchy agrees to make a change. The change doesn't have to be specific as long as a commitment is made and a willingness to spearhead the change...once this commitment on top is in place the behavioral and technological change will gradually occur.

Carrying the common misconception, most firms or organizations shun away from implementing the standard and make the common mistake of jumping onto technological innovations without the proper organizational infrastructure that will allow pollution control technologies or environmental programs to become integrated in the production system.

Unlike the other management system standards, EMS based on ISO14001 is the simplest of all and with the revision of ISO9001 for 2008, other management system standards have revised their requirements in alignment for ISO14001 in able to achieve easier integration.

Most fast foods, the really big ones implement a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) System or Food Safety Management System based on ISO 22000. Given the management system infrastructure being in place, a fast food firm who wishes to implement an EMS can integrate it with HACCP/FSMS. However, another short-coming of other fastfoods is their lack of a formal HACCP system to ensure non-contamination of products within the chain of custody prior to human consumption.

Going back to ISO14001, my point is, we should never fear a standard. It is by raising our standards even in the way we do things that eventually raises our quality of life.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

To Fast Food or Not To Fast Food

I don't feel comfortable writing fast food as part of professional background in my resume especially on top of it. Early on I know that fast food in general is not environmentally sustainable given its core operational nature and by now I realize my contribution is just going to be another futile expedition given the time I spent with the industry. I guess back then when I accepted this challenge, I thought I had this idealist sense that I can make some change, even a very little one and anyway they pay well at the corporate level.

The operation in the lower reaches of the hierarchy is too cost effective and unbearably hard (even demeaning) for someone like me, but it is this frugal efficiency that has raked so much profit for the fast food giants that is enjoyed in the corporate level.

In Donella Meadow's Thinking in Systems, it was emphasized that hierarchies are formed to serve the betterment of those at the bottom. This realization stretches your mind to think that the environmental problems or non-compliance of fast foods to regulations can also be attributed to the indifference of corporate policy makers to the situation of the people who does the dirty work. It is common sense to note that the dirt is caused by the dirty work and someone has got to do the dirty work somehow.

In my experience with the QSR, the environmental improvement suggestions by those well embedded in the corporate level are often out of touch with the actual people who are directly involved in the maintenance of the end-pipe operations since they are already comfortable in their positions at the top of the hierarchy and it is a lot easier to blame the "hit-man" at the end of the pipe. Oftentimes, these corporate suggestions does not even make sense, they try to integrate it with a promotional scheme rather than the betterment of those in the bottom.

When you assassinate someone with a hit man of course it is difficult to determine who is the mastermind unless you take the time to find out the motive. It might be a brutal metaphor about how industries pollute the environment, often out of site is out of mind and like any dictator who brutally orders the kill, they still proclaim their virtues (

In my interviews with lowly service crews, it is easy to see that they are open canvases and they just need to be aware to connect that what they are doing is causing all the pollution. It is this job-specific awareness that will teach these kids to gain integrity. However, marketing products, fun runs or other PR stuff are not interpreted by the lowly service crew as aid to helping the environment and conserve its natural resources but additional work and high volume stress.

The best gauge so far to know whether a fast food is really doing its part toward sustainable development is not to look at its promotional campaigns and sponsorship in environmental conservation efforts but to ask their lowly service crew about what their company has taught them on how to protect the environment. If they tell you that flippin' burgers can make you successful...that fast food has a long way to go regardless of what it has marketed itself in terms of their environmental stewardship efforts.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Thinking in Systems

Unlike the previous book I reviewed which I came across in one of my bargain hunt adventures, I ordered my copy of Thinking in Systems from the Earthscan site using my 20% off voucher. I got it at around 900 pesos, still quite a bargain and even I pay a bit more it is still totally worth it.

I had always wanted to have a copy of this book. I remember taking up Systems Analysis in graduate school and not appreciating a thing about it because I have to deal with classmates who have no idea what they are doing in graduate school and took the course as part of our program's core curriculum. The behavior of those people is a unique example of how they could not think in a context of a system since they have so much prejudices about how things should be like "women not being able to perform much and within they prove their beliefs at a greater cost" and such prejudices are the cause of most of the systemic problems we encounter today.

The first part of the book tackles the basics or theoretical foundation of Systems Analysis. How natural phenomena can be reduced to basic functional forms and how each element affects the stocks and flows of the system. However, the author Dana Meadows cautions that too simplistic views should not be used in examining systems, there are components that we could never know.

The latter part of the book provides guidelines on how we can use a systems approach in looking at things and be humble enough to be able to accept that we do not know everything.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Going Abroad Green in Times of Recession

I might find this not so idealistic but I just could not wait to leave the country to find a better job in the environment sector. I have lived in this country all my life, I have chosen this career path not because it pays well but because of my strong idealism and belief that there is a need to change our current ways in the market to achieve growth that is truly sustainable in the holistic sense.

However, it is quite disappointing that the once idealism I had did succumb to the monotony and bureaucracy of the system. I just submit monotonous and redundant applications for environmental permits for companies who basically have no idea what they are doing...they just need to comply as good citizens.

With the news of recession going around, conventional jobs are being lost due to the contraction of the economy. Consumers are demanding less, and output has consistently declined in the past few years and a need arises for companies in the developed world to layoff a number of their staff.

I once heard that a former colleague of mine who went abroad to work in a developed country a few months ago didn't find it hard to find a good job except that her job was taken in the expense of the locals, almost all local employees were laid off and replaced including the technical positions with migrant workers who are more educated and more value added relative to their outputs. It also helped that my former colleague have a strong background in environmental management.

With the current subsidies to develop the green industry in the first world, people like us in the third world are grabbing the opportunities. But it is also sad to note that back here at home with the global recession, reduced output also leads to lower priorities in the environment sector.

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Greenwash Guide: A Reference

In my research, I found this entry from it is a summary of the Greenwash Guide. Please check out the link to access the full publication which is nicely laid-out. Below is a summary. Often, it is difficult to discern what is mere marketing scheme and what is actually factual...remember the info-commercial about Monosodium Glutatamate being good for your health? Research have already proven its ill effects on health yet giant corporations still persists on the safety of that product. Mere consumers don't have the benefit of conducting a validation of claims.

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It just keeps on coming...
It takes a lot of research to know whether some claim are validated and verified!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Executive Unawareness of Environmental Impacts

Most companies hire consultants to do their environmental programs for them. On the other hand they hire ad agencies or PR companies to promote publicity campaigns, while executives are just willing to pay as long as the proposal looks good on paper and does not affect the traditional bottomline.

In emerging economies, the choices for environmental consultants or PR agencies are still quite limited and more often than not, we rarely encounter agencies who are specialized for green campaigns since the market is very limited. Such contractors work mutually exclusive from each other.

In the west, to ensure truth in green advertising, the use of life-cycle assessment for environmental claims is undertaken ( The use of such environmental impact assessment methodologies have not yet taken off in the developing world since it is too costly and few experts know about the significance of such methodology in the EIA process. People still think that the process is heavily technical but product LCA can easily be done by following the simplified framework of of ISO 14040, however it takes time. A couple of years ago, I did some research on the use of ISO 14040 in application to the specifications and guidelines of ISO14001 with the proper guidelines and safeguards, any layman who is familiar with their jobs and products can do it, but it will take some time and a lot references on data of the actual environmental impacts. I'll try to make a simplified outline and post it next time.

Oftentimes, we work for frustrated executives whose time lines are not in line with achieving sustainable development. They always want the quick fix solution, like the picture I posted above, they see compliance problems as if they are mere cracks on the wall that just needs a little dab of putty and paint and anyway so far no company has totally closed business due to non-compliance with environmental standards. Anyway, national and local regulatory agencies greenwash themselves, right?

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fast Food in the Third World

For most of my life in the developing world, fast food has been a luxury item for the rest of the population. For most families in Metro Manila, getting everyone to eat together inside a fast food outlet on a Sunday after mass is oftentimes the only luxury an average family could afford. In lower income communities, this could happen rarely in the course of the year. The opposite is true in the developing world, with a fast-paced life, fast food became a source of convenience and the consumption rate is faster.

This condition is never a reason for fast food companies to become less socially and environmentally responsible once they operate in the context of a third world economy where monitoring of environmental standards is much more lenient. However, the core structure that made a fast food successful is in terms of speed, quality food and low price is the structure that makes it unsustainable since it utilizes so much resources and produces too much wastes within the course of its life cycle.

The current trend in developing countries had been returning to community-based lifestyles where the supply chain is limited among local producers and benefits are reaped by local consumers. In doing so, the impacts of products are not magnified. Community-based fast food had always been the practice in the Third World where street vendors with minimal impacts on the supply chain, using local produce and serving local produce had been in existence for ages. Yes, street vendors do have impacts on the environment and even on public health but the magnitude of its environmental impacts is only a fraction of what is expected from a major fast food chain.

It will be very difficult for fast food companies to let go of the western standard and revert back to the community-based approach to doing business, it has to become a long and steady process and like the American Auto Industry, the fast food is still in its learning stages when it comes to sustainability, lesson as an industry is never to say that you already have a PhD when you are still grappling with the hormonal changes of middle school that's a blatant lie and in terms of environmental efforts you basically call that greenwash.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Greening of Business in Developing Countries

I got myself a copy of this book sometime in 2005. I didn't buy it from a bookstore or the UNRISD or other publishing house, I found it on Booksale at the basement of SM Manila. I bought the book for 200 pesos (around US$4) way below its actual value since it is a used copy (I checked at Amazon, a new copy is US$99!). Probably, someone from the first world found his or her copy insignificant given the market context of the developed world and decided to donate it. Luckily, someone in the Third World found it...that lucky person was me at a time when I was struggling in financing my graduate studies.

Richard Welford's article Disturbing Development laid a framework of how corporations should act towards achieving sustainable development. According to the article, policy areas and tools for sustainable development must not be simply limited to the physical environment but also other factors such as empowerment, economics, ethics, equity and education.

Fast forward three years later and working in the fast food industry, being quite young and being subordinate to a number of senior consultants with massive years working for the industry, none of my suggestions seemed to go beyond the meeting table. It is still difficult for people to drop their corporate biases and the current system in terms of regulatory guidance for the fast food does not enable the industry to follow a path towards sustainable development because "permitting" is still the core issue. Performance is equated with permits. On the other hand suggestions from civil society groups do not fall in the right context, just awkwardly inserted in an undefined environmental policy.

If any of my former colleagues are reading this, I'm very happy to lend you my copy as long as you return it and change your paradigms. Establish a good framework and please stop committing greenwash by posting ads that are unvalidated.

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Wash VS. Styro

A current concern in the fastfood sector is the massive use of polystyrene packaging. In the UK and most of the developed world, there is already a gradual transition from the use of polystyrene towards more sustainable packaging materials.

When McDonald's reverted back to the use of polystyrene cups for its sweet tea, it received much criticism in for its corporate social responsibility (

In the Philippines, the fast food sector still has a long way to go before it can fully transition towards more sustainable packaging. I am quick to note that I am not advocating the use of paper packaging but rather a packaging system with minimal impacts to the environment in the course of its life cycle. I have decided to write this blog in the context of the Third World since the truth of the matter is economic conditions locally is totally different from the developed world.

One of the challenges of the fast food at the moment is the impact of its transition from polystyrene packaging to reusable melamine wares for dine-in customers. The transition was once hailed by civil society as the first step towards a more sustainable fast food industry, with a number of press releases. I was still in college at that time in UPLB. I remember an email forwarded to me where a civil society group boycotted the offices of McDonald's since it didn't immediately follow suit with its competitor's move to reusable wares.

However, this shift has a catch, it did reduce the volume of polystyrene packaging wastes but for the past five years according to my boss, the waste water quality of the fast food was on a decline and the DENR is now reprimanding the industry for failing to comply to the water quality standards.
Technical solutions have been offered by a number of waste water treatment experts but none so far has been effective or let's say not so economically feasible given the space requirement, initial investment and maintenance cost over time.

Last December 2008, I attended a party of the Polystyrene Packaging Council of the Philippines, those invited where not merely the styro producers but a number of waste recyclers who made it a business to recycle polystyrene products. At that time, the municipality of Los Banos issued an ordinance banning the use of plastics and polystyrene packaging from all its establishments and other local governments are planning to follow suit. The DOST does support the recycling technologies but its environmental impacts should be assessed.

What I have learned is that every policy decision has an impact and my basic training in economics taught me that given this condition, we should optimize our options to come up with the solution with least cost or the least detrimental impact. Ideally, given this type of a scenario, a full Life-Cycle Analysis must be done but being in the Third World, we do not have the capacity in time and money to engage ourselves in this exercise.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Nature of Understanding Nature

I have no intention of antagonizing anyone I'm working with, it is just a bit frustrating when you sit in a table and everyone keeps blabbering about their solutions in fixing the environment. The problem I guess is not the environmental compliance problem itself but we don't have a common understanding of what is the nature of the non-compliance problem we are dealing with, we are looking at it at different angles.

Some say its the lack of technology while some say the sector is trying to achieve a point source standard that is inappropriate for the given industry. Looking back, I find it funny because I also blamed the government that the necessary infrastructure to control pollution is not in place such as the lack of proper land use planning in a given area. We all think differently and I am hoping a proper way of thinking could be established.

I have always believed in the specifications of the ISO 14001 management system standard as an effective, system-based approach towards environmental compliance and eventually improvement in environmental performance but the people I work with would always turn a blind ear whenever I propose the merit of such a system. They think of it as something highly technical and they would go back to their haphazard approach to managing an organization's environmental impact which over the long run fails to register any improvement in overall performance. They just could not see that it is just an outlined framework not a technical specification.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Picture Caught My Attention

This picture caught my attention. It was from the regular newsletters sent to my email by Conservation International. Scrolling down makes the picture a rarity since it allows you to have a view of what's underneath the water surface which is a vast coral reef.

It is a good metaphor of the our current environmental situation. We really don't see what is underneath and often our solutions to environmental problems are just limited what we can see.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Going Green in the Third World

Its quite hard and frustrating to live in the third world. I remember in 2002, when one of the Earth Summit agreements in Johannesburg specified that developing nations also have a responsibility in ensuring the implementation of Global Agenda 21.

Once going to Greenbelt 4 and looking at window of a high end stores, I asked the price of a patent leather pump and the saleslady told me its 56,000 pesos or around a thousand dollars. I realized that there are people who could afford them and the growth of affluence in third world is growing faster compared to the rate of efficient utilization of natural resources. I was always taught that after the Marcos era the Philippines has a very limited natural resource base.

The effort to go green in the third world is very minimal. Firms still chose to produce inefficiently, meaning externalizing their environmental impact. When I conduct trainings for company-assigned Pollution Control Officers, their mere notion is that environmental improvement can be achieved by getting and maintaining the necessary permits. But I have to ingrain in them that it is only the first step and in the long run, they must be able to change the mindset of their management by becoming more responsible through internalization of their environmental impacts.

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We Always Encounter Greenwash!

After years of working in the field of environmental management, I have observed that going green is oftentimes misinterpreted. These are just thoughts...hope my superiors won't ostracize me on this hobby!

We will always encounter greenwash. As long as there is a breakdown in the communication process and people involved in environmental management programs have tendencies to misinterpret and have quick-judge attitudes about things, some actions towards the environment then to be just futile exercises or marketing cum publicity stunts.

I did learn that good intentions are not always the solution and often environmental problems are misdiagnosed. Like integrative medicine, environmental problems require multidimensional and holistic solutions, we should never rely on technology alone nor the human will alone.

Then why focus on fast food? Well, it just so happened that I was once involved in the industry, helping them find solution to their environmental problems and most of my greenwash scenarios were in the industry which is highly competitive and heavily advertised. The heavy advertising can be exaggerated at times.

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