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
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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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