Originally published on Philstar.com
QUICK READ: Energy Development Corporation President and COO Richard Tantoco reflects on his passion for nature and the outdoors, which aligns with his work at EDC, specifically the BINHI greening legacy program, which aims to bring back 96 vanishing Philippine native tree species through reforestation efforts.
Confucius said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” After more than a quarter of a century of being with the Lopez group, I must admit the quote resonates with me.
I find myself leading an integrated life where I am lucky to find my passion for nature and the outdoors aligned with my work. As if fated, I became an Energy Development Corporation employee in 2008, the same year we launched our BINHI greening legacy program with the guidance provided by our chairman then, Oscar M. Lopez.
BINHI was our way of taking our reforestation work further. Instead of mono-cropping or planting invasive species, we decided to bring back to abundance 96 of our vanishing Philippine native tree species. In working to rescue from extinction our finest hardwoods, BINHI combined a business imperative with the need to preserve our natural heritage.
BINHI has always been a collaborative endeavor. We partnered with UP Diliman College of Biology as well as UP Los Baños College of Forestry to guide our efforts with scientific principles. Our foresters in our project sites work with multiple community associations to ensure that the trees we plant are nurtured into thriving forests.
To date, we count 88 farmers’ groups and over 200 partner institutions — from schools to non-profit organizations, local government units, and even private gated communities. We work together to plant and nurture BINHI trees in areas where they will be protected as they grow. To provide a steady supply of saplings of these endangered trees, we built our own state-of-the-art tree nurseries across the country, in Antipolo, Leyte, Negros, Mt. Apo, and soon in Bicol.
We have also passed the milestone of regreening 10,000 hectares of forests, home to over six million trees. Reforestation on such a massive scale recharges our geothermal reservoirs and serves as large-scale carbon sinks. The forests now absorb about 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) every year. This is in addition to our core business that avoids seven million tCO2e per year, by reducing the need for coal-fed energy production.
BINHI caught the attention of Europe-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the world’s largest plant conservation network, and the secretariat of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In 2019, BGCI asked us to be its first and sole partner in the Philippines to conduct the Philippines’ part of its Global Tree Assessment (GTA) program. We already completed the assessment of 800 Philippine native tree species and are now assessing an additional 670 tree species. Undoubtedly, BINHI will be called upon to rescue some of those close to extinction.
These efforts are in consonance with our 2020 revitalized mission spearheaded by our chairman Piki Lopez: To forge collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future. These words demand that we elevate everything we touch — from our environment to our communities, our customers, our co-creators (employees, contractors, other partners), and our investors — and transform them as partners in healing our planet.
This brings me to the point of living an integrated life. Given what I have learned from EDC in the process of executing and scaling BINHI, I attempted my own BINHI project during the pandemic.
I established a nursery on my farm when we started working from home in March 2020. What drove the idea was the high unemployment in my community. I already knew that I would help my neighbors, so why not elevate the environment at the same time?
So, I gathered some of my neighbors and asked them to help me purchase hardwood seeds from private lands. We then planted the seedlings and nurtured them. This intense effort provided employment for about 50 heads of families at its peak and resulted in the potting of 300,000 seedlings of kamagong, yakal, guijo, dungon, narra, and other endangered tree species. The seedlings have gone far and wide — in the North, to Ilocos Sur, and in the South, to Batangas.
A passion project like this gives rise to dreams. I have two of them. The first is a personal one, and that is to plant a million Philippine native trees in five years. So far it looks like I won’t make it, so I will give myself more time. To be honest, I still don’t have a business model for this endeavor right now. I am hoping though that when I have more time, I will be able to create an anchor ecotourism venture that boosts local employment in my community, exposes many others to nature, and explains the importance of trees in an experiential manner.
My other dream is that by being open about my project, others will be inspired to plant even a single native tree.
It’s summer 2023 now, and this means it’s guava, santol, aratilis, mango, and duhat season — all incredibly delicious fruits, packed with Vitamin C. Though face-to-face meetings are getting more frequent, I’m grateful for days when I get to do my daily hikes with my sons as we pick fruits fresh off the trees and enjoy them on the spot. Few pleasures come close to this and transport me back to the carefree summers of my childhood.
Richard Tantoco is the president and COO of the country’s premier 100% renewable energy producer, Energy Development Corporation (EDC). Learn more about the BINHI greening legacy at energy.com.ph.