The year 2024 has arrived, and perhaps most of us already have new year’s resolutions. Yet with all our desires to become better people, is becoming sustainable a part of it?
Honestly, before, sustainability was not much of an interest or personal priority in my line of work as a practicing Certified Public Accountant. I was content with auditing financial information and being involved with professional organizations. When I was given the opportunity to lead the integration of sustainability into our Firm’s operations, on top of developing its sustainability services, my initial reaction was one of hesitation—this was an unfamiliar territory since I knew little about sustainability. I understood that undertaking this new challenge in my career would entail traversing a difficult road ahead, full of unknowns, but it may also be a rewarding and worthwhile endeavour in the long run. Today, I’m glad to have taken on the challenge.
Educating myself was the first step I took. After a lot of research and exposure to various content that focused on sustainability, I realized that it is crucial to man’s existence and the continuity of our way of life. I got more interested in the subject of sustainability, and that interest turned into passion.
Significance and progression
When you dream of a better world, what do you see? One might think of a world free from poverty and equal opportunities for all. Another would envision a world where the environment is taken care of, and natural resources are abundant and easily accessible.
To give an answer to the pressing global challenges, the United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 presented the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were later adopted by the UN member states in 2015 to replace the year 2000’s Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs are a set of universal and comprehensive goals that focus on providing long-term solutions for the current political, economic, and environmental issues across the globe. With the birth of the SDGs, it is believed that the dream of a better world is now possible. However, it is not that simple because everyone’s buy-in, taking responsibility, involvement, and cooperation are key.
The present environmental concerns and tangible inequality we see every day should serve as an eye-opener. Sustainability is more than a buzzword. Collective action, from major stakeholders down to the smallest communities, is needed because achieving sustainability is the responsibility of everyone. The SDGs’ target deadline is the year 2030, and it is already 2024. Thus, there are only six years remaining to meet these goals and implement sustainable solutions for the world’s worsening conditions. We are pressed for time.
Major obstacles faced in adopting sustainable practices
Out of the 17 SDGs, the Philippines has managed to achieve one since 2015. According to the latest SDG index score, which measures the overall progress of achieving the goals, the country now ranks at 98 out of 166 countries, a three-score drop from our 95th rank in 2022. This sad reality can be attributed to one of the main obstacles we are facing as Filipinos: understanding how significant these issues are. We can point our fingers at the large-scale disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also have to accept that the sense of urgency seems to evade us as a nation, and we have adopted in the passing years a wait-and-see attitude towards sustainability.
Based on my interactions with executives of different companies, the thrust of most businesses remains focused on mere compliance when it comes to sustainability. This is evident in their sustainability reports and is very consistent with the result of a study that was conducted a few years ago. If this is the mindset of those required to report on sustainability, how can we expect those who are exempt to even think about it, let alone contribute to sustainability? Therefore, it seems, and it is sad to note, that our own mindset is a major obstacle to achieving the SDGs. Sustainability should not be limited to mere reporting for it to be meaningful; it should go way beyond it.
Another major obstacle is the lack of mass education on sustainability. Ordinary citizens have limited access to the country’s sustainability initiatives or the fundamental principles of sustainability. We are still struggling as a nation to fully comprehend the implications if we fail to become a sustainable country. Moving these initiatives forward will require increased efforts by the government to reinforce cooperation at all levels of society and foster a proactive stance among stakeholders through valuable incentives.
In a nutshell, it should really be about everyone doing their part to be on track. Let us take, for example, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Law. The obliged enterprises (OEs), which are the entities that generate plastic packaging waste, are the ones primarily responsible for complying with this law. However, without the support of the community and the government itself, especially the local governments, achieving its main objectives would be a major challenge for the OEs.
Long-term strategies to promote sustainability
Being able to embrace an idea—to live and breathe it—starts with educating oneself. The more we know about something, the more it will hold weight in our lives. As with my own journey towards sustainability, access to valuable information can produce transformational change. I believe that both the government and the private sector need to amplify education and informational campaigns about sustainability. The goal must be that even the common folk can easily digest and understand the complex layers of these political, economic, and environmental challenges and discover their vital role in addressing them.
Just like what we did within our Firm with our sustainability campaign, we thought of ways to educate everyone on sustainability and embrace it. We asked ourselves: How can we make sustainability relatable for all ages and effectively boost information about our initiatives? That’s why we came up with PAWI, our sustainability mascot inspired by the Philippine pawikan. Our hope with the launch of PAWI is to increase the engagement of our staff members and clients towards the achievement of our sustainable initiatives. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go. Even if we do achieve our sustainable goals, true realization of those is only possible when everyone else has become sustainable.
Where the government and public sectors are lacking, private institutions must step forward and fill the gap. Businesses can mount sustainability campaigns and events that strive for collaboration with various communities. An example would be the launch of the Management Association of the Philippines’ (MAP) campaign against malnutrition and child stunting. The Financial Executive Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) is also doing several initiatives around the country. As for the accounting profession, the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) is also actively engaging its different sectors for its own sustainability initiatives and programs. The Rotary Club of Makati, where I am a member, has a lot of projects that contribute to sustainability, such as its water, sanitation, and hygiene program and its sustainable feeding program, which involve both the public and private sectors.
Taking small, consistent actions for a better future
I have come to realize that what started as a career challenge has transformed into personal advocacy. I was given the opportunity to help, in my own little way, shape a better future for our country and a world where the next generation can thrive.
Realizing the importance of sustainability is only the beginning. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, let us take time to pause and ponder what we can do for our environment, communities, and the betterment of the nation. It is essential to take a mindful approach when it comes to sustainability. However small our individual actions are, they will still have a massive ripple effect on achieving the SDGs. Our collective efforts are the key to sustainability. It possesses the power to create a culture of responsibility, innovation, and conscientious decision-making.
The goal of making new year’s resolutions is for self-improvement. Sustainability does exactly that. It allows us to evaluate our present actions and how they will impact the future. So, why not include sustainability on your list this year and make it more than just a new year’s resolution?
As published in The Manila Times, dated 24 January 2024