While politicians bicker over act ion on global warming, a growing number of businesses—from start-ups to multinationals—are taking action and cutting greenhouse gas emissions on their own. These environmentally minded companies have started implementing ideas that range from as simple as nearly waterless washing and using energy saving devices, to as complex as a “greening” of entire supply chains by multinationals and big retailers.

In the hospitality industry, while the response is still not equal to the challenge, things are moving in the right direction. “One of the most pressing challenges of businesses today is really in how they are able to sustainably manage their waste,” shares Susana “Annie” Guerrero, president of The Cravings Group and a staunch advocate of Zero Waste Management. “This is especially true in the hospitality industry because we handle a lot of waste. At Cravings,” Guerrero states, “nothing goes to waste. We want to show everyone in the hospitality industry that it’s really possible to go ‘Zero Waste.’”

Zero Waste 

The Cravings Group started its operations in 1988 when Guerrero and her eldest daughter Badjie opened a bakeshop counter along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. What started as a humble bakeshop has since grown into a chain of full-service restaurants (Cravings a n d C 2 C l a s s i c Cuisine), coffee shops (TCB), schools (CCA Manila and the Asian School for Hospitality Arts), hotels (Seven Suites Hotels and The Orange Place), the C3 events place, and a CSR arm called the Culinary Education Foundation.

Even before corporate social responsibility became mains t ream, The Cravings Group had already spearheaded a n Environment Management System (EMS) Committee five years after the business was set up. Comprised of four sub-committees divided according to the Four Es of Waste Management ( E d u c a t i o n , E n f o r c eme n t , Engineering and Entrepreneurship), the EMS Committee eventually evolved into the Cravings Group Goes Green (CG3), which was launched Earth Day, April 22, 2010.

“Environmentalism has been a personal mission since I was a kid,” Guerrero shares. “I come from a very self-sustaining family,” she says, “and everything we needed was in our backyard. We had a fish pond, a vegetable garden…sinanay kaming plant-based ang diet, and to minimize waste as much as possible.”

The Zero Waste philosophy, which encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused, is felt across the entire organization. “We have a list of environmental programs that we encourage our employees to be involved in,” Guerrero shares. “Our story has always been about our struggle to be green, greener. And we believe that the more information and technologies are shared and exchanged, the faster we can move towards becoming both an environmentally and economically sound company,” she adds.

Economic Impact 

The Cravings Group’s EMS Program was set up in compliance to the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (RA 9003), says Guerrero. While the company has reached zero waste status, Guerrero laments that nationwide, the RA 9003 is still a failure in terms of compliance. “That law has been in place for 11 years now, but it hasn’t been properly implemented. In the last data I got from the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), progress in terms of implementing this law is only 12 percent,” she states, “and that’s already for the entire 11 years.”

Guerrero, who acts as interim president of Zero Waste Philippines, further shares that an important way to encourage the practice of zero waste management is by making people realize its economic value. It was this idea that propelled the development of the Cravings Kaingin Eco Center, a 4,000-sqm site of permaculture development that serves as the Group’s source of organic vegetable and herbs, grown with the help of compost made from the Group’s recycled food waste. “The eco center also serves as a training center for composting, vermiculture, permaculture and creative recycling practices that provide sustainable livelihood for locals living in the area,” Guerrero shares.

The company also implemented the Green Chefmanship Training Program, in collaboration with the late environmentalist Odette Alcantara. The course aims to instill principles of a “green” kitchen to help lessen the chef’s carbon footprint. Other financially sustainable environmental programs include vinegar production, which recycles coconut water to produce naturally fermented vinegar for selling; composting and organic fertilizer production, which generates income from the sale of compost soil; and the publication of Guerrero’s book, “A-Z Green Guide for a Green Pinoy,” whose income helps support community outreach projects of the group.

“We have over 30 projects that not only help in saving the environment, but are also generating income to help sustain CG3,” Guerrero shares. “Our EMS fund continues to grow and we are already using it to finance new programs. We hope to show the hospitality industry and the government that saving the environment doesn’t necessarily mean all dole-outs,” she concludes, “because there really are job multipliers in just protecting the environment.”

Published in the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin, October 17, 2011