One small step, a big leap toward saving the planetBy Stephanie R. Asuncion |Philippine Daily Inquirer
What do you call a gathering of smart and enthusiastic young people sharing innovative yet practical ways to protect the environment and ensure the sustainability of its resources for future generations?
Bayer—a leading global firm in healthcare, agriculture and high-tech materials—calls it a big, positive leap forward toward saving the planet.
Such an event took place recently in Leverkusen, Germany. This year’s Bayer Young Environmental Envoy (BYEE) program was attended by 48 delegates from 19 countries, including four from the Philippines.
The Filipinos were Ruiz Joy Escollar of the University of Iloilo-PEN, Michael Garlan of the Western Visayas College of Science and Technology, Marylour Avila of the University of Iloilo-Phinma and Jezreel Ezer Archival of the University of Cebu-Banilad. They were accompanied by Reynaldo Cutanda, corporate communications manager of Bayer Philippines.
The students were selected following a rigorous screening process that kicked off in February. Dozens of college students nationwide, between the ages of 18 and 24, were asked to submit project proposals that would have a positive impact on the environment, particularly in their own communities.
From among the applicants, 12 finalists were chosen and given 90 days to implement their projects. Four winners were eventually picked based on how successfully they were able to turn their proposals into reality.
Practical but innovative
Escollar developed “Support Instruction Materials” or the SIM Eco-Kit made of recyclable materials to train daycare center teachers in five areas of Iloilo province on how to teach their students about the importance of caring for the environment.
On the other hand, Garlan received kudos for his “Sea Star Wars” project under which, with the help of his school and government agencies, he conducted an information drive on coral pests to spur fishermen to save the remaining corals in his home province of Guimaras.
Avila, for her part, won the local judges over with her “My Green Dream Board” project, which sought to assess and turn into a reality the dreams for the environment of children in four Iloilo barangays affected by Typhoon “Frank” in 2008.
Under Archival’s “Green Switch” project that featured the catchy slogan “Saving the Earth One Bottle at a Time,” Wednesdays became “no plastic bottle day” at his school. Archival also mobilized 300 Green Patrollers—students trained to care for the environment—who are now being tapped by school officials to maintain cleanliness on campus.
The four were named the Philippines Bayer Young Environmental Envoys and earned the privilege of going on a weeklong all-expenses-paid study trip to the Bayer headquarters in Leverkusen, where they met fellow envoys from all over the world for an exchange of ideas and insights on environmental protection.
The delegates also went on field trips to Bayer facilities and institutions where they interacted with experts and saw firsthand the modern environmental protection measures being implemented in Germany.
They visited the offices of Energiebau, the leading provider of solar power systems in Europe; the high-tech waste incineration plant run by Currenta, a Bayer subsidiary; the Leverkusen-Bürrig hazardous waste landfill site, and Lumbricus, a “rolling classroom” managed by the Academy for the Protection of Nature and Environment of Northrhine-Westfalia and which goes to schools to teach both kids and adults about nature and caring for the environment.
During the program, one envoy from each of the 19 countries was nominated to present his or her project to a jury whose members included representatives from Bayer and the United Nations Environment Program (Unep), the global firm’s partner in the implementation of the BYEE program since 2004.
Three of the presenters were chosen to receive the Bayer Young Environmental Leader Award for projects that demonstrated innovation, impact and sustainability.
Adriana Maria Villalobos Delgado from Costa Rica got the judges’ nod for finding a way to “recycle” shrimp shells by extracting an active ingredient that could be used in the production of medicines.
Mwanyuma Hope Mugambi of Kenya was cited for her project in which she and other volunteers collected discarded polythene bags that were cut up to create raw materials that were turned into bags and table sets.
Third winner Dang Huyn Mai Anh of Vietnam designed, produced and distributed a “Green Handbook for Housewives,” which contained tips she developed on how households can reduce, reuse and recycle.
Previous recipients of the award were Filipino delegates Christopher Millora in 2010 and Mary Jade Gabanes in 2011.
In an interview, Dr. Michael Preuss, head of Bayer’s corporate policy and media relations, stressed the importance of the BYEE program in educating the youth on environmental issues and fostering their commitment to protecting the earth and its resources.
“Environmental protection and sustainability are dominant topics worldwide and we were wondering what Bayer can do to facilitate discussions among young, smart people,” he said.
Preuss added that the company spent 1.2M euros annually for its capacity-building and awareness-raising projects for the youth and children, which were conducted jointly with Unep. Around 30 percent of the fund went to the BYEE, considered a major component of Bayer’s partnership with Unep.
For Bryan Coll, Unep public information officer, meeting the envoys from all over the world was always “a nice experience.”
“It’s great and amazing meeting a very innovative group of people. They have been through a tough selection process and the program aims to give them new ideas and insights and it’s up to them to share these new ideas with other people and take the initiative for their projects.”
At the awarding ceremony, Preuss and Coll called on the BYEE delegates to pass on what they had learned from the program back in their home countries.
“We are celebrating the end of this year’s program but not the end of this group’s achievements. This is a new start for the work you’re doing in your country with a new perspective,” Coll said.
He added that, although there had been a lot of talk about the environment during the program, action was just as important.
Preuss said, “Don’t keep the lessons you learned from the program this week to yourself. Share these in your country and with your friends.”
Bringing home new ideas
The Filipino envoys aim to do just that.
Escollar, an education student, said her dream was for the country to one day have its own version of the Lumbricus rolling classroom.
“It’s ideal for the Philippine setting considering how limited our resources are. If we have our own mobile classrooms, teachers can go to far-flung areas to educate people,” she said.
But for now, she is setting her sights on a more doable goal—implementing Archival’s Green Switch program in her school.
For Archival, a business administration student, the BYEE program made him realize that running a profitable business could go hand in hand with protecting the environment.
“As a future businessman, I now realize that one can run a green business just like Bayer. Making a profit should not come at the expense of the environment. Your production and manufacturing processes should be designed in such a way that these do not destroy the planet,” he said.
Avila, on the other hand, is planning to adopt in Iloilo Anh’s project on educating mothers about environmental protection. She also expressed interest in a Korean delegate’s project on proper disposal of prescription drugs through the installation of pharmaceutical disposal bins.
“I have already asked the delegates and they said they would send the project details by e-mail,” she said.
What impressed Garlan most was the sight of Germans disposing of their garbage properly, patiently looking for a bin for recyclable bottles, for instance, and keeping their trash until they found the suitable container.
“It reminded me that, although I may be just one person, I can save the earth. All I have to do is do my part,” he said.
“The experience has bolstered my passion to rejuvenate our environment in distress and, inspired by a country like Germany where environment protection and practices are above par, I am now ready to take a stand and be a paragon of environmental stewardship in my own country,” Garlan added.
Young, determined and bursting with ideas on how best to care for the planet, the Filipinos seem to have a good mix of traits required of good environmental envoys who will someday take the lead in protecting the earth.