It all started with the planting of a single tindalo seedling in the heart of the Quezon Memorial Circle 12 years ago.
The commitment to plant more trees was rooted in Binhi, a forest restoration and native tree species propagation program of the Lopez family-led geothermal firm Energy Development Company (EDC).
Binhi began as EDC’s next-level greening initiative born of a need to maintain lush forests to sustain its geothermal reservoir.
Instead of planting fast-growing and invasive exotic tree species, EDC’s Watershed Management team focused on the use of Philippine native tree species and fruit trees to bridge forest gaps in its areas of operation.
“We realized that it was not enough to just plant any random tree seedlings to maintain, if not enhance, the biodiversity in our areas of operation. Beyond this, we knew when we launched this program that Binhi will benefit not only EDC but more so our partner communities and our planet,” said lawyer Allan V. Barcena, head of EDC corporate social responsibility and public relations.
Barcena and the rest of the Binhi team realized that this ambitious initiative entailed a huge responsibility that EDC alone cannot fulfill — something as big as the 270,000 hectares of geothermal watersheds across the country that the company is managing, which is close to one percent of the country’s total land area.
There was a need for collaboration.
Beyond the local and international accolades that Binhi, the country’s biggest private sector-led greening initiative, has garnered, EDC considers one of the program’s true greening legacies the 6.44 million native and fruit tree seedlings that it has planted on close to 10,000 hectares of land inside its geothermal reservations across the country.
This would not have been possible without the help of the 88 farmers associations that EDC has transformed from being slash-and-burn farmers or kainginero to responsible forest stewards.
“This paradigm shift of the farmers in our host communities has likewise given them a viable source of livelihood since EDC incentivized them for helping us manage our BINHI areas,” Barcena said.
One of its most successful Binhi initiatives is the Baslay coffee program. Operated by the Baslay Farmers Association (BFA) in Dauin, Negros Oriental, three generations of farmers have learned the value and income potential of taking care of the forests that also take care of them.
Through EDC’s intervention, Baslay’s community forest is now refuge to 113 species of birds and one of the primary sources of quality coffee (Robusta and Arabica) in Central Visayas.
More importantly, the former kainginero are now masters of interplanting coffee with native tree species.
The BFA is the first farmers’ association in Negros Oriental to produce premium and quality organic coffee recognized by globally trained baristas from various parts of the Philippines.
To enable more people to savor the taste of its delicious coffee, BFA opened its own coffee shop near the Baslay Hot Springs which both foreign and local tourists frequent.
Baslay is EDC’s most awarded corporate social responsibility (CSR) endeavor, having recently won the Gold Standard Award for Corporate Citizenship and besting entries from Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
Over 100 senior practitioners judged the entries of this 12-year award giving body organized by PublicAffairsAsia, in collaboration with the Public Relations and Communication Association (PRCA) and the International Communications Consultancy Organization.
Baslay has likewise earned the distinction of being CSR Guild’s most outstanding CSR program for enterprise development, organized by the League of Corporate Foundations.
It received the Grand Anvil award from the Public Relations Society of the Philippines in 2020.
For its 12th anniversary celebration, EDC launched the Binhi Biodiversity Hub at its Mount Apo Geothermal facility that showcases Mount Apo Natural Park’s rich flora and fauna.
EDC has been nurturing the hub since it started operating its 108-megawatt geothermal facility at the foot of Mt. Apo.
The hub houses the newly operational Vegetative Materials Reproduction (VMR) or automated tree species nursery, as well as the biodiversity education center and EDC’s Binhi arboretum.
“Our Mindanao tree species collection of 75 out of EDC’s 96 flagship Binhi native tree species can be found inside the arboretum,” said Myrissa L. Tabao, head of EDC’s Corporate Social Responsibility team in Mount Apo Geothermal Project (MAGP).
“We likewise propagate our priority species through the adjacent VMR nursery that allows us to fast track the production of its seedlings via automated misting system.”
These Mindanao tree species include pinulog (Ganua obovatifolia) that is endemic to Lanao del Norte and Matutum, South Cotabato; Basilan yakal (Hopea basilensis) and Basilan apitong (Dipterocarpus eurynchus) of Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay; Mindanao narek (Hopea brachyptera) of Zamboanga City and Zamboanga Sibugay; and Mindanao narig (Vatica mindanensis) in Zamboanga.
EDC recently formed a partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (DENR-ERDB) for the propagation of 11 most rare and threatened tree species, which include four Mindanao endemic species.
This VMR nursery is EDC’s fourth, the first two of which were established in the company’s Northern and Southern Negros facilities, while the third was put up in Antipolo City, Rizal to cater to requests for Binhi seedlings from EDC’s growing list of partners.
“Our Binhi partnerships that enable us to bring back to abundance our threatened Philippine native tree seedlings likewise set our program apart from other greening programs and make it regenerative,” Barcena said.
Being regenerative is about uplifting everything that EDC touches or, in the case of the environment, restoring to its original state as much as possible. It embodies the new mission of “forging collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future” that EDC and the rest of the Lopez group have committed to achieve through the way the conglomerate operates its businesses.
To date, EDC has 183 Binhi partners that helped the company establish 15 arboreta these past 12 years, with six more lined up next year.
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic stopped EDC and like-minded organizations from forming Binhi partnerships as six of them signed up during this lockdown period.
Among the partnership agreements were two from the academe: Bicol University in Legazpi, Albay and Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental; two homeowners’ associations, Victoria Valley Homeowners’ Association in Antipolo City and La Vista Homeowners’ Association in Quezon City; a religious organization from Bulacan, the Priests of Notre Dame de Vie (PNDV); and from local government, the recently signed agreement with City of Ormoc.
“We are very grateful to forge partnerships with different groups across the country who share the same goal of regenerating our environment with us. Even in the midst of a pandemic, it’s still vital to work together to achieve our shared commitment for a greener future,” said Barcena.
Around 2,000 square meters to two hectares of land from these six new partnerships are expected to become a nesting place of 96 premium native Philippine tree species.
EDC will provide the seedlings to the partner groups and the latter will be responsible for the nourishment and maintenance of the tree species.
The EDC Binhi team will provide technical assistance to the latter to ensure the growth of the native tree seedlings.
Most Rev. Bishop Benjamin Almoneda from PNDV stressed the significance of the partnership between two institutions which coincides with the year of Laudato Si or Pope Francis’ encyclical that calls for everyone to care for the earth, the vulnerable and the poor.
“This event is very significant. This has been planned by God several years ago. This project is fueled by the fire of the Holy Spirit and as we plant more trees, especially Philippine native tree species, we are taking care of the earth, our home,” Almoneda said during the virtual signing ceremony.
Silliman University president Dr. Betty McCann said their partnership with EDC widens the impact of promoting forest conservation and the preservation and the propagation of threatened native tree species.
“It is our hope that this arboretum may serve not only as a tree refuge and source of viable seeds for reforestation but also as a venue for student and community learning to enhance our nature conservation and environmental awareness,” she said.
EDC’s Binhi partnerships have become global in 2019 after the company was chosen as the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) only Philippine partner for its Global Tree Assessment of 800 Philippine native tree species through its secretariat, Botanic Gardens Conservation International.
To date, EDC has assessed 200 species and IUCN has updated and published 89 species on their Red List.
“We hope that more partners will be encouraged to collaborate with us in saving the earth by helping us bring back to abundance our threatened Philippine native tree species through BINHI. This will all be our greening legacy,” Barcena said.
EDC’s over 1,499-megawatt total installed capacity accounts for 20 percent percent of the country’s total installed RE capacity.
Its 1,204.67-megawatt geothermal portfolio accounts for 62 percent of the country’s total installed geothermal capacity and has put the Philippines on the map as the 3rd largest geothermal producer in the world.