A Philippine university's journey to being the greenest in the country
By Zeus Legaspi
Amid the dense urban jungle of Dasmariñas City, Cavite, Philippines, is a 27-hectare piece of land that stands in stark contrast to its surrounding area. De La Salle University-Dasmariñas (DLSU-D) is a green blot on a background of dust and smoke. The university is lauded both at home and abroad for its sustainability and environmental policies. Only recently, it was hailed as the greenest university in the Philippines for the ninth time in a row by Universitas Indonesia (UI) GreenMetric World University Rankings.
DLSU-D has become an environmental bubble in the middle of a highly urbanized community. It is eyeing the expansion of its horizons by being involved in more environmental campaigns beyond its walls. But the university did not begin as the green ambassador of stewardship that it is today. In fact, its need to adopt environmental policies sprung from a ubiquitous problem – population growth.
The Journey towards being Green
“In the early 2000s, the school became aware of environmental concerns due to its rising population”, said Marlon Pareja, former director of the university’s now-dissolved Environmental Resource and Management Center (ERMAC which was replaced by Green Architecture and Environmental Management). Where people go, garbage follows. “The school then had a big problem with solid waste management,” he added. “We had around 10,000 students and the school generated 12 dump trucks-worth of trash every month,” he said in Filipino.
At first, the university shaved off its solid waste problem by incinerating the trash it generated. But, rightly so, the enactment of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 made this process illegal. DLSU-D’s response was to create an office within the university that will be in charge of environmental policies, hence the formation of ERMAC.
“The ERMAC then conducted a waste analysis. They found out that about 70 percent of the school’s waste is recyclable,” Pareja recalled. With this knowledge at hand, the DLSU-D erected an ecology center, the first of its kind among other schools in the De La Salle schools system in the Philippines, which hosts the Materials Recovery Facility where recyclable wastes were sorted and bought by a private contractor. Under its Ecological Solid Waste Management Program (ESWMP), the university managed to reduce its generated waste from 12 to only four dump trucks per month.
The university’s ESWMP and its ensuing policies were recognized all over the Philippines. In 2009, DLSU-D earned its Dark Green Status from the Philippine Network of Educators on Environment (PNEE). In 2011, it was hailed as the Most Eco-friendly and Sustainable School in the Philippines by the country’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). DLSU-D was officially on its track towards being the greenest in the country.
The dark green university, however, did not stop at solid waste management. Its next step? Reducing its carbon footprint. The Black Out, Green In - Project Carbon Neutral was born.
“It was based on the idea that we all produce carbon footprint. So, we either offset this by planting trees, or we mitigate it by integrating sustainable approaches in our water management and our use of energy among other things,” Pareja explained.
In lieu of this project, the university gradually shifted from using fluorescent lamps to using Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs to increase energy efficiency and started practicing green purchasing. It also became the first university in the Philippines to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
In its September 2021 report, the university stated that it reduced 14,161 metric tons of its carbon emissions from 2019 to 2020 and an estimated 8,756 metric tons from 2020 to 2021.
Pareja, who was the main proponent of this carbon-neutral project among De La Salle schools in the country, claimed that this is the most effective sustainability program of the university to date.
“It’s the most effective because it is all-encompassing, second, it reflects our advocacy. This is where Laudato Si steps in,” said the former director of ERMAC.
Laudato Si in the University
As a Catholic University, the DLSU-D made it its calling to follow the teachings of Pope Francis enshrined in his second encyclical – Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.
Prior to the university’s participation in the Laudato Si movement, it was already conscious of its role in the stewardship of God’s creation. Beyond being a response to the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, the ERMAC was also a response to the Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Stewardship of the Earth’s Resources.
“Back then, we used to have a belief that the environment is separated from issues of economics and politics. But Laudato Si taught us that the environment encompasses all those things,” said Pareja. In 2019, the university joined the Global Climate Catholic Movement (GCCM) which later on became the Laudato Si Movement-Pilipinas.
The university continues to integrate the pope’s encyclical in its environmental policies and curriculum. “If you [have] noticed, your General Education subjects tackle issues on the environment. That is a conscious decision by the school,” explained Pareja.
The university’s continued efforts to improve its green status have been met with challenges. “We may rank first in the country, but we cannot place higher in the world because we have a low priority on green technology,” said Jocelyn Luyon, DLSU-D’s Pollution Control Officer (PCO).
“If we prioritize green technology, it will be better for us in the long run,” Luyon added. She noted that the university takes time in prioritizing sustainable technology because it is relatively expensive. “Cost and practicality are the reasons why we have to gradually replace fluorescent lamps at school. We cannot just replace them with LEDs in one go,” she added.
Although the university has been consistent in ranking first in the country in the UI GreenMetric World University Rankings, it has also been consistently slipping from the ranks on the international level. Most notably, the university slipped from 127th place in 2020 to 180th in 2021.
“We have been ranking lower recently because more and more countries are joining. Standards are also constantly updated, and right now [in] this pandemic, we find it hard to monitor some of the indicators,” the university’s PCO said.
What’s next for the University
At present, environmental champions in DLSU-D are working on the next step of the institution’s environmental policy – Sustainable DLSU-D: Making Green “Greener”, which aims to institutionalize sustainable measures within the university.
The university is also working on fulfilling its commitment to the seven-year Laudato Si Action Platform by the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development.
“This means we go beyond what we already did,” said Pareja. Indeed, for an institution that has maintained its position as number one for about a decade, the only way forward is to go beyond.