Tanduay president Lucio “Bong” Tan, Jr. has been actively supporting grassroots sports. Beyond sports, Tan is also passionate about green initiatives. He himself was on top of the transformation to a zero-waste facility of Absolut Distillers, Tanduay’s alcohol distillery based in Lian, Batangas. The facility bagged numerous environmental awards, including the prestigious Green Apple Awards, an annual international campaign to recognize, reward and promote environmental best practices around the world. Absolut Distillers is the only local distillery to have received this award up to this day. The company likewise has since been a recipient of awards by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for their outstanding environment conservation practices.
“We understand the need to lessen our impact by making our operations cleaner and greener. We do not just want to make the best rhum in the Philippines, but we want everyone to know that our rhum is made with good intentions and we hope to improve our operations year after year,” Tan continued, adding that, they have started investing in solar energy as a cleaner alternative as well. “We want our consumers to know that every bottle of Tanduay that they drink is made from green intentions and green energy.”
The Tanduay president further shared that the concern for the environment sprang from the knowledge that the distillery industry is considered as one of the dirtiest. “Before we took over Tanduay, there have been cases filed against its practices pertaining to pollution. We said, let us clean up first. We started investing in technologies that we are using in our Absolut distillery in Batangas in order to reduce our carbon footprint. It was a long process, and we did it.”
Now, Tan would like to bring public attention to a project he started in 2011 to protect what little is left of the old Boracay. The island has been noted as one of the world’s top destinations, but it has encountered controversy lately due to the amount of pollution that has been plaguing the once-pristine paradise. There are talks of a government shutdown to tourists in order to rehabilitate the natural landscape. Tan pioneered the project “Roots for Boracay” to save the last mangroves in the island. “When we first got there, we already saw the amount of solid waste that lay among the mangroves. Before we started reforesting the area, we needed to have it cleaned up,” Tan revealed.
He noted that if the mangroves have not been cut down indiscriminately, the problems being faced by Boracay today would have been much lesser. There would be no need to set up expensive artificial waste treatment facilities for the island’s recovery, as the mangrove roots will naturally filter water waste. According to him, Boracay is far from any of his business interests, but the need to respond to an impending crisis was what drove him to act.
“It took awhile to bring together the various people who will help us in our quest to get hold of the right to implement our project to clean up and re-plant in order to stop the continuous degradation of the mangroves in that area of Boracay,” Tan further related.
But Tan had the right man on his side to make sure his visions will be realized. Gerry Tee is the chief operating officer of Absolut Distillers. He is the same person with whom his father Lucio Tan Sr. entrusted the green transformation of the Batangas alcohol distillery. With the help of Tee, they engaged the Tan Yan Kee Foundation led by Philip Sing to gather a 200-strong workforce that began the cleanup efforts in Barangay Manoc Manoc, where the mangroves are located. They have gathered four truckloads of garbage by the time they finish cleaning the mangroves area.
“To protect Boracay, it is important to go down to its roots. In this case, we seek the last frontier of Boracay – the mangroves. It is where the fish and other sea creatures get nutrients, it is where life starts. Without the mangroves, the island would also cease to exist, as it protects the island from typhoons. The beautiful fine white sand will go back to the sea because their roots are the ones holding the island together,” Tee explained.
He added that aside from building the infrastructures and replanting mangroves, the mission of the project is to showcase that part of Boracay that is often neglected, so people can know what it takes to protect the beaches that tourists love so much.
The project had partnered with the local government unit, the DENR, and concerned non-government organizations to come up with a sustainable development in the area which involves the locals, educating them about the importance of the mangroves to their island. “So much has been cut down to make way for real estate, others cut them down for firewood. A portion is also dying out because a road development cut off the water supply. With Roots For Boracay, people have begun to understand what needs to be done,” said Tee.
The Tanduay executives underscored that it is not about the company, which has also instituted other environmental campaigns in partnership with the Tan Yang Kee Foundation such as The Canopy Project, which replants trees in the denuded forests in the North. “Boracay is only part of the market for Tanduay, we are more concerned about our legacy. It is not about Tanduay, it is about the locals – their subsistence, their livelihood, and their existence. Tanduay is just there as a vehicle to raise awareness,” Tee said.
They cautioned that if the lack of concern for the environment continues in the name of profit, Boracay will not be the only one. “If Boracay is closed down, people will move on to Palawan. This has happened before, just look at how Matabungkay deteriorated,” Tee admonished. “The issue is lack of awareness, and we are trying to address that with our project.”
They said that the plans of shutting down Boracay will hurt a lot, but from their perspective of what they have seen in the mangrove forest, it could be a one-step-backward, two-steps-forward situation. “It is about moving forward, and we can all help in our own little way, by doing things like picking up a cigarette butt and not throwing your garbage just anywhere,” Tee said.
“It was a directive from the Chairman, Mr. Lucio Tan to follow the concept of sustainable development, where we do not profit at the expense of the environment. We make sure that everything we do is about reducing our carbon footprint and become more independent from the environment where we do not use to dump our waste,“ Tee further shared.