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The continuing journey of corporate sustainability

By Angela Kiara S. Brillantes, Special Features and Content Writer

There has been a growing awareness among organizations on the need to embrace sustainability in light of existing socioeconomic and environmental issues. In order for them to take part in this sustainability agenda, companies have further utilized frameworks such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in setting their respective directions towards becoming sustainable companies.

At the same time, the adoption of digital technologies has accelerated among many businesses. While technology is improving work efficiency and productivity, businesses are also beginning to see that it can also bring more positive outcomes, including improved strategic planning and even reduced energy use and waste production. Digitalization, thus, is seen to have the power to further equip businesses and help them achieve sustainability in the “now normal.”

At this year’s BusinessWorld Economic Forum, a panel discussion with leading experts from both public and private fronts gave their thoughts on how corporate sustainability can be achieved with the help of technology-driven transformations.

Corporate leaders are at the forefront of opportunities to improve their operations and direct their companies into becoming more resilient and socially-responsible organizations. While embracing sustainability is the right thing to do, some might say that it still remains a hurdle.

Yet, as Aboitiz Group of Companies First Vice-President and Chief Sustainability and Reputation Officer Ana Margarita “Ginggay” Hontiveros-Malvar pointed out, with the right technology, tools, and platforms corporate sustainability can be a key for companies to do their share in addressing the many challenges that the Philippines is currently facing.

Tech in sustainability can be an enabler if we all embrace it.


“Sustainability really has a landing place within the business model. So, for us, it’s really embedding it to our business strategies. When you talk about sustainability, you also talk about stakeholder concerns, Ms. Hontiveros-Malvar said.

“There is a process within sustainability which is called materiality. It’s really talking about the issues and the challenges that are important to your stakeholders… and, at the same time, how they impact the business,” she explained. “The outcome of that process helps drive the input to our business strategies and drive the decisions that we make in terms of the focus areas we need to look into, especially the areas of ESG (environmental, social, and governance), considering stakeholders concerns that are important. We define our targets, as well as [set] the programs and initiatives that help us achieve those targets, and [then we measure our] performance against those targets, making sure we’re actually monitoring and evaluating.”

Sustainability is also becoming an essential component in building up business continuity, Ma. Victoria A. Tan, head of Ayala Corp.’s Group Risk Management and Sustainability Unit, said.

Just think that you are doing something for the future — for your children and grandchildren.

— MA. VICTORIA A. TAN, Head, Group Risk Management and Sustainability Unit, AYALA CORPORATION

Being one of the leading and diverse business groups in the country, Ms. Tan shared, Ayala Corp.’s secret to its successful sustainability journey so far is developing a commitment to the ESG framework, creating shared value to address societal challenges, and inserting innovative approaches to come up with business solutions.

Ms. Tan emphasized that at the core of Ayala Corp.’s sustainability efforts is the understanding that sustainability and business continuity are intertwined together.

“This sustainability philosophy guides our capital and resource allocations and our decisions. This also ensures that we remain a responsible organization and, at the same time, contribute positively to the societal and economic development of this country,” Ms. Tan said.

In its “transformative journey” toward the goal of creating a vibrant future by combining technology and sustainability, Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC) has been making the most out of such journey throughout the years.

RLC’s Chief Financial, Risk, and Compliance Officer Kerwin Max S. Tan shared that the real estate developer has already progressed in integrating sustainability within their organization as their sustainable activities have yielded “impressive results.”

Among its sustainable solutions include integrating solar energy across all Robinsons malls, transitioning to LED lights, revolutionizing workspaces, and embracing digital transformation by developing mobile applications and portals that will provide easy access of Robinsons’ products and services.

It should be a buy-in for everyone; you set a sustainability target that is achievable. It’s a group effort to make sustainability happen.

— KERWIN MAX S. TAN, Chief Financial, Risk and Compliance Officer, Robinsons Land Corporation

For Mr. Tan, technology plays a key role in their sector, providing better access to data, resources, products, and other resources.

Moreover, he also agrees that technology and sustainability are the perfect pair to transform businesses, in particular for managing risks and optimizing cost-efficiency purposes. Not only does technology can transform businesses, he added, but it also has the ability to boost financial inclusion in the broader market.

“At the end of the day, it should be a buy-in for everyone… It takes a group effort to make sustainability happen,” he added.

Speaking from the perspective of the public sector, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commissioner Kelvin Lester K. Lee stressed that the SEC is developing the practice of sustainability reporting to help businesses determine their ESG impact.

To recall, listed companies in the country are required to submit a sustainability report as part of their annual report each year. Such reports can be based either on an internationally recognized framework or a template offered by the SEC.

Mandating sustainability reporting among corporations, Mr. Lee added during the forum, also aims to embed sustainability into corporate governance culture of organizations.

The government is here to help you, both on the digitalization side and the sustainability side.

— KELVIN LESTER K. LEE, Commissioner, Securities and Exchange Commission

“We are looking to issue multiple regulations in relation to ESG and embedding ESG into your frameworks, and that’s something we’ve been looking at. We are also coordinating about possibly coming up with a bill in relation to requiring sustainability reporting and ESG disclosures of our publicly listed companies and public companies,” Mr. Lee shared.

More recently, the SEC is looking to introduce mandatory sustainability reporting for non-listed companies, particularly public companies and small enterprises, giving incentive to those who will abide.

‘Tone from the top’

For PLDT and Smart First Vice-President, Chief Sustainability Officer, and Head of Investor Relations Melissa V. Vergel De Dios, sustainability is regarded as the standard and the key pillar of business strategy.

As telecommunications service providers, PLDT and Smart have embodied their sustainability efforts by embedding sustainability in the corporate culture while also creating a safer and more reliable digital environment for Filipinos.

According to Ms. De Dios, PLDT and Smart’s sustainability journey continues to provide digital innovation and solutions through green technologies and nature-based climate solutions, and improved digital infrastructure that will help in connecting Filipinos and protecting the environment while doing business responsibly.

If there’s no common understanding in the organization, properly executing sustainability is impossible.

— MELISSA V. VERGEL DE DIOS, First Vice-President, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of Investor Relations, PLDT AND SMART

“In PLDT, the products that we sell in connectivity and sustainability, in its broader definition, go beyond climate change and environment. Under the social pillar, the narrowing of the digital divide is basically part of the sustainability goal. So, in the offering of our services, in connecting people, we are actually operating sustainably; but it does not stop there,” Ms. De Dios explained.

“If you connect people, you are able to introduce them to this big wide world of business and entertainment and all that, but the other responsibility of a telecom provider is to make sure that the online environment for your customers is safe,” she continued. “So, cybersecurity is important for us. It’s a mission for us that our customers are protected while they enjoy the services.”

To create a better digital ecosystem, Ms. De Dios highlighted collaborating with the public sector to create smart cities and for better digital governance.

Within the private sector, meanwhile, she emphasized the need to incorporate the principles based on the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) in supporting companies that share the same sustainability initiatives that align with human rights, environment, labor, and anti-corruption.

To properly embed sustainability within businesses, knowing and understanding what sustainability truly means is the right way to go forward, Ms. De Dios said.

“The first thing we need to [understand] is that everybody [in our organizations] should understand it (sustainability) the same way. Some people only think of it as climate; some people think of it as a CSR activity. If there’s no common understanding across the organization, then we cannot execute it in the same direction,” she explained.

Aside from common understanding, Ms. De Dios noted that the good way to start is to fully understand the role of the governing body of the companies in the sustainability agenda.

“For companies starting their sustainability journey, the key factors have to do with your board, president, or chairman embracing sustainability,” she said.

Sharing the same sentiment, Ms. Hontiveros-Malvar of the Aboitiz group pointed out the need for sustainable governance within companies.

“To companies who are starting their sustainable journey, you really need to have robust, very dynamic sustainability governance. It really helps to institutionalize ESG across the organization. Sustainability is a tone from the top; so, there is a direct oversight of the board of directors on anything that is sustainability,” she said.

“To further ensure that we fully embedded sustainability in business operations across the group, we have an ESG technical group which is composed of sustainability champions from the different business verticals that we have. That has really helped us progress and move forward in terms of our ESG performance. It’s having this very robust and very active governance structure,” she explained about their group’s practice of oversight.

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