A little over eight in 10 Filipinos prefer environment-friendly products and services from brands with environment-friendly operations, according to Pulse Asia survey released in February 2023. But the Philippines remains the third-largest contributor to plastic waste in the world, with our sachet economy putting us in a chokehold. Three of Metro Manila’s sanitary landfills are projected to be full in less than 20 years given our current rate of trash flow, as per the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
So why isn’t this supposed preference being reflected in real life? Although the Pulse Asia survey is representative of how Filipinos feel about sustainability, what is preached may not necessarily be what is practiced—at least for Shawntel Nieto, president of non-profit group SustainablePH.
“The issue isn’t that we may or may not be caring—it’s whether or not we have access to what we want to purchase,” said Nieto. “Intention doesn’t always lead to action.”
LOOK: Filipinos are more environment-conscious than we realize
Pulse Asia noted that the term “environment-friendly” was not explained to the respondents before they were asked to answer the survey. Metal straws, bamboo toothbrushes, and reusable bottles are usually what comes to mind for most people, but what does it truly mean to be sustainable?
To be environment-friendly is to be actively looking for ways to reduce our consumption and footprint—a practice that has been around for centuries among Filipinos, Nieto said.
“It’s very much ingrained in our culture before Catholicism even arrived in the Philippines,” she said, referring to indigenous people who share a deep connection for and with the environment and the farmers and fisherfolk who rely on the environment for livelihood. “I think it’s not without basis that Filipinos will want to purchase environmentally-friendly products.”
Such care for the environment has long manifested in Philippine culture, with Nieto citing the bayong and takal-takal as two of the more common sustainability practices in the country: “What is the bayong now but the eco-friendly bags that we’re trying to push for in groceries?” Factor in the recent scares that climate change is upon us will surely make one of the most vulnerable countries in the world want to go green.
Learning from our past can help us navigate the present as we merge our traditional practices with the ones we subscribe to now.
“We already have a lot of these environment-friendly practices ingrained in us,” Nieto said. “What we want is to be able to identify what those are and see how they can be made relevant to us today.”
Why is it so hard to be eco-friendly?
There are two variables when it comes to the topic of environmental friendliness, according to Nieto: intention (what we have) and impact (what we don’t have). The latter is concerned with the consequences of what we do in terms of how it impacts the environment, which is often where the 5 R’s of zero-waste comes in: reduce, reuse, repair, rot, and recycle.
As established, the Filipino intention is there, but there are internal and external forces that stop us from practicing a more sustainable lifestyle. Internally, there is a lot of anxiety that comes with the notion of being “environment-friendly,” regardless of how much this movement has been pushed to the mainstream.
“A lot of the time, what stops people from actively trying to be environment-friendly is because right now they’re not where they want to be and where they think they should be in order to call themselves environmental-friendly people,” Nieto said. “They’d rather get paralyzed than start.”
“It’s good to acknowledge that we’re not perfect beings. We may never be zero-waste, zero-emission as individuals, at least at this point in time because institutions will always come into play,” Nieto added. “What’s important is that you carry the intention to progress.”
At SustainablePH, they believe that no one leader can change the entire country for the better. Going green is a “whole approach” that will require everyone to take part in the movement. This is why the non-profit is focused on creating more sustainability leaders, tapping into each sector that plays a role in the environment. Among SustainablePH’s initiatives is the Learn2Lead Sustainability, a six-week hybrid course and cohort based program about the theory and practice of sustainability management.
“If we create leaders out of each and every one, then we’ll stand a chance,” Nieto said.
Externally, it’s not that straightforward. It’s been said before: it’s not so much that Filipinos refuse to be sustainable as much as it is that there is a lack of access and affordability in our choices. Poverty is one of the main issues to contend with when it comes to the topic of sustainability—and the Philippines is nowhere near fixing that behemoth of a problem.
“Being a developing country, we also want to ensure that we meet the needs of the people at the bottom of the pyramid while striving to be more environmentally-friendly,” Nieto said. “There are other variables at play that lead them towards not availing of it as frequently as they may want.”
Another barrier to entry is our culture of convenience. Being sustainable will take a lot of work—not just physically, but also mentally—which is something most people are not ready to give up.
How do we bridge the gap between intention and impact?
How can we bridge the gap between intention and impact, while simultaneously taking into account the lack of accessibility and affordability that plagues most Filipinos?
Being sustainable is a matter of compromise, where sustainability and convenience can meet in the middle without necessarily sacrificing one over the other, Nieto said. Vegans aren’t made in a day, and neither are sustainable practitioners.
“You could have that tingi-tingi level of convenience but in an environmentally-friendly way.”
The question to ask is this: What is important to your routine? Nieto suggests taking an inventory of where you are as a baseline assessment then identify which ones can be given up. She said some would find it more convenient to give up private transportation, while others would find it easier to lessen meat consumption. For the shopper, it could be to buy in bulk instead of buying plastic sachets. In this case, the best way to start is to simply start.
“Start with the low-hanging fruits with your lifestyle so that you can enter that whole journey in the most accessible way for you,” Nieto said. “Work your way from there. You develop momentum [and] start to learn about what else you can do. Before you know it, you’ve actually gone a long way in your journey to becoming environment-friendly without even noticing it.”
*This story originally appeared on Spot.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.
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