Environmental Stewardship/Corporate Social Responsibilities
As the leading Filipino clean and renewable energy company, First Gen recognizes the impact of its operations on society and on the environment; thus, it diligently pursues its role and responsibilities as a corporate citizen. First Gen strives to ensure that its power generation facilities are operated efficiently and in a manner that meets or exceeds Government health, safety and environmental standards. First Gen is also committed to invest in opportunities that allow its host communities to grow with the Company.
First Gen, in partnership with local government units and other local stakeholders, has supported community development projects that address economic, socio-cultural, health, education and environmental concerns of the communities in which it operates. Infrastructure development such as roads, schools and water systems have also been -- and continue to be -- financed by the Company.
In addition, First Gen's plants have unfailingly and diligently allocated Php0.01 per kilowatt-hour of their total electricity sales as financial benefits to their host communities as mandated by the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 9136, otherwise known as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), and Energy Regulations No. 1-94 of the Department of Energy (DOE). Monies from the allocation are devoted to electrification, development and livelihood, or reforestation, watershed management, health and /or environment enhancement projects identified by the relevant local government units that directly benefit the concerned communities.
First Gen's corporate responsibility initiatives extend beyond its surrounding communities. First Gen has partnered with various non-profit institutions to develop and implement projects that have a significant impact on the fields of environmental conservation and education.
Environmentalism: Part of the Business Model
At First Gen, environmentalism is not just a buzz word or a part of its corporate social responsibility. Environmentalism is a vital and intrinsic part of its business model. From the fuels that it uses for its power generation to its conduct of businesses – purchasing of materials to operations at its various sites and offices – caring and nurturing the environment is an essential element in its decisions. When First Gas started operating the country’s first natural gas-fired plants — the 1000-MW Santa Rita and the 500-MW San Lorenzo plants in Batangas in 2000 and 2002, respectively — it blazed the trail for the use of indigenous natural gas for power generation, signaling the start of the development of the country’s natural gas industry.
Conscious of the fact that natural gas is the cleanest form of fossil fuel, First Gas developed an environmental program that ensures the environment within its compound and adjacent to it is also protected and preserved, if not further enhanced. One of its major projects is the protection and preservation of the mangrove area inside its compound. The mangrove area is not only important nursery habitats for fish and crustaceans, but it is also a biological filter for estuarine waters and acts as a carbon sink that captures and stores carbon dioxide and other pollutants. From a mere patch of a mangrove in 2001, with only three recorded species, this mangrove area has now become home to at least 28 species, making it a habitat where fish fingerlings hatch and thrive to maturity; as well as a good hatching place for crabs that are released to the adjacent river, helping the marginal fishing community increase its harvest. This project was given an award by BG plc.- 2nd place BG Chairman’s Award for protecting the environment in 2004.
With the continuous monitoring of the seawater and regular cleanup of its beach area behind the First Gas power plant, the beach has now become a rare nesting site for some Olive Ridley turtles, proof of the healthy condition of the beach area. Hopefully, after years and years of wandering in the vast oceans, these turtles will come back to nest in the same area where they were hatched. The First Gas compound has also been home to several species of migratory birds such as the Chinese egrets and intermediate egrets during their annual flight.
Binhi: A Greening Legacy
It has always been the dream of the Lopez Group and First Gen Chairman Emeritus Oscar M. Lopez to help reforest the country, conscious and alarmed at the continued degradation of the country’s forests. As such, when First Gen purchased in November 2007 a controlling stake in PNOC Energy Development Corp. (now known as Energy Development Corporation or EDC), Mr. Lopez knew his dream of reforesting and saving those that can still be saved from denudation would finally be realized.
After all, EDC is a geothermal company. Geothermal energy– steam and heat coming from the earth – is dependent on having water underneath the rocks. And the only way to have this continuously is by having a healthy watershed. Trees suck in water whenever it rains. A healthy forest cover is vital to sustaining the underground reservoir that provides geothermal energy.
As such, First Gen through EDC launched in December 2008 a major reforestation project dubbed “BINHI: A Greening Legacy” (BINHI). “The modern Lopez Group has become one of the trailblazers of the corporate green movement, hence the rooting of “environmentalism in Philippine business” philosophy among the various Lopez companies and business partners,” Mr. Lopez said. BINHI targets to establish 1,000 hectares of forests annually over a period of ten years. What makes BINHI different from the usual tree planting is that EDC will use prime endangered Philippine tree species like the tindalo, kalantas, mayapis, mangkono in its activities. Thus, BINHI is not only a broad-scale reforestation; it is also a biodiversity restoration project. Designed to meet man’s specific needs, the BINHI project has four modules: Tree for Food, Tree for Life, Tree for Leisure and Tree for the Future.
The “Tree for Food” module intends to accelerate the re-vegetation of denuded forestland and establish tree plantations and agro-forests that would provide a significant source of livelihood under sustained yield management for forest settlers living within EDC's geothermal reservations.
The “Tree for Life” involves bridging of forest gaps between mountain systems to address the fragmentation of habitats of these valuable ecosystems. By doing so, trees can continue to provide ecological services like water storage, carbon dioxide sequestration, oxygen release, etc.
The “Tree for Leisure” involves planting more trees to preserve the natural beauty and ambience of the forest areas in EDC’s geothermal project sites to make it an eco-tourism destination. Currently, its Bacon-Manito geothermal reservation area is already known as an eco-tourism destination in Sorsogon.
The fourth module is the “Tree for the Future” which is the core of the “greening legacy.” EDC will plant seeds of these rare endangered tree species in areas where these trees can have the utmost protection such as in school grounds, municipal parks and historical shrines. This module ensures there will be “mother trees” as sources of seeds for future reforestation requirements. Other First Gen subsidiaries such as FPPC, FGRI and First Gen-managed FPIC have their own individual environmental and community projects that are in cooperation with the local communities such as mangrove protection and rehabilitation as well as tree planting. These projects allow these communities to enjoy the benefits of a healthier environment while at the same time achieve better crop yields and increased fishing harvests.
Development and Conservation of the Verde Island Passage
First Gen, along with First Philippine Conservation, Inc. and Conservation International, also initiated a program in 2006 to protect the Verde Island Passage off the coastal waters of Batangas, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon. The program, called Project Center of the Center (Project CoC), involves marine conservation work in partnership with local communities along the area. The Verde Island Passage hosts a fragile ecosystem that is so significant that a marine scientist, Dr. Kent Carpenter from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, called it the “Center of the Center” in marine biodiversity. The conservation of Verde Island Passage has attracted the support of a number of organizations and corporations that are convinced with Verde Island Passage’s importance in the preservation of the world’s marine biodiversity.
In 2010, First Gen through First Gas assumed the role of direct implementer of Project CoC with focus on marine law enforcement in nine marine protected areas (MPAs) in the coastal towns of Mabini, Tingloy and later in Lobo in Batangas province. Project CoC, thus, has become an institutionalized activity under the Community Relations Program of First Gas.
With its focus on marine law enforcement, First Gas now extends logistical and operational support to Bantay Dagat (Sea Watch) volunteers in the three Batangas coastal towns. The logistical support includes fuel, honorarium and food allowance, new equipment, training and legal support to the Bantay Dagat volunteers, and even educational support to the loved ones of the volunteers.
The First Gas support helps the Bantay Dagat volunteers conduct regular reconnaissance patrols in their respective municipal waters. The reconnaissance drives help secure the MPAs against illegal fishers, while at the same time keeping commercial fishers from the municipal waters off the three coastal towns.
As direct implementer of Project CoC, First Gas also helps the marine biodiversity program of the provincial government of Batangas. Along this line, First Gas extends support to an awarding activity that the province of Batangas is implementing for the benefit of the MPAs. Called BRAVO (Batangas Recognition Awards for Verde’s Outstanding MPAs), the activity aims to encourage and popularize good governance practices and performance among local government units in designated MPAs in Batangas.
Support for Quality Education
First Gen’s corporate social responsibility and community relations programs consider education as one of four core focus areas that are designed to help develop and improve the quality of life of residents in the host communities and promote their level of self-reliance.
In Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija, First Gen through First Gen Hydro Power Corporation (FGHPC or FG Hydro) implements an Educational Incentive Program (EIP) for the benefit of four adopted public elementary schools in the host communities. Under the EIP, FG provides educational assistance to Grade 6 students from the four public elementary schools in Pantabangan. The assistance aims to help assure the students’ completion of their primary education.
To complement the EIP, teachers are trained on various teaching skills and methodology that are based on a training module approved by the Department of Education (DepEd) and designed to make lessons more interesting and comprehensible to students. The DepEd-approved EIP adopts an integrated approach in improving the performance of the EIP’s beneficiaries. As an integrated program, the EIP also includes a feeding program designed to reduce the malnutrition rate in the adopted schools to five percent – or lower.
In Batangas, subsidiary First Gas has tied up with Batangas State University to implement the Teachers’ Education for Students Thrust (TEST) program. Under the TEST program, teachers from Santa Rita Aplaya Elementary School (SRAES) and Santa Rita Karsada Elementary School (SRKES) complete a Master in Education course. By enhancing the proficiency of the teachers, the TEST aims, in turn, to improve the mean percentage of pupils from both public elementary schools, located within the host barangay of Santa Rita in Batangas.
Both First Gas and FG Hydro implement other education-related projects for the benefit of their respective host communities. These include school clean-up and repainting drives; plant tours for visiting teachers and students; and the distribution of free school supply for thousands of indigent pupils.
FG Hydro also reached an earlier agreement with Knowledge Channel Foundation, Inc., a non-profit Lopez Group member company, to bring free satellite-fed educational television programs to two other public schools within the host community – the Pantabangan East Central School and Tanawan Elementary School.
First Gas, on the other hand, sponsored review classes for SRKES and SRAES students taking up DepEd’s National Achievement Test.
Under the TULAY Program, First Gas also has helped residents in the host communities of Santa Rita Aplaya and Santa Rita Karsada organize into a joint cooperative. The cooperative, United Santa Rita Cooperative, provides manpower services to First Gas and Siemens Power Operations, Inc., which holds the operations and maintenance contracts for the First Gas plants.