Agnes de JesusAs a pharmacy student of the University of the Philippines, Agnes de Jesus, now chief sustainability officer of First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPH), was attracted by the brilliant colors of so many flowers she had to study in her first botany class. The allure of the combination of hues—purple, yellow, green—under the microscope was so powerful that she changed majors and finished botany, the study of plants, instead. She also earned a master’s degree in plant physiology, the functions and biochemical processes in plants and plant parts.
This knowledge of both the anatomy and the functionality of plants equipped her to give lectures and conduct laboratory research and fieldwork in ecology, the study of the interrelationship of living things and their environments.
Research for EDC
Then she was recruited to do research for Energy Development Corporation (EDC), then a government corporation controlled by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC). “They (PNOC-EDC) needed a botanist because of the agricultural issues related to geothermal drilling,” De Jesus recalls.
What was supposed to be a six-month consultancy engagement in 1981 turned into regular employment lasting until 2014, when De Jesus retired as senior vice president for Environment and External Relations at the privatized EDC, controlled by First Gen Corporation since November 2007.
Transcending the academe
EDC let her translate theory to practice. “What I read in books, I could see happening in the real world. What we controlled in the laboratory, we saw translated on the ground. As a scientist, I found it very interesting to observe how the individual interacts with a dynamic environment. I’m glad I transcended the academe to business because the output was more tangible. I really wanted to work with nature. For me, ecology was the convergence of art and science. It unified everything. Working for a corporation like EDC allowed me not only to study the totality of man, business and the environment, but also to have an impact on their interaction for sustainable coexistence,” says De Jesus. Joining FPH immediately after retiring from EDC , she says it was FPH chairman Federico R. Lopez’s commitment to corporate sustainability and EDC president Richard B. Tantoco’s support that convinced her to stay with the Lopez Group.
Agnes de Jesus: Planting the seeds of sustainabilityAuthenticity in leadership
“The Lopez family members themselves are natural sustainability champions. They walk the talk and that is whatwe need to ingrain sustainability. We need authenticity in leadership whether in corporate social responsibility, investing in people, sustainability or any initiative we pursue. They made me look forward to the job. It’s very important for me to admire my leaders. I get inspired, I get my energy from them—which is way beyond respect due to their rank. There is alignment of my internal and external or corporate values, which is why I am still here,” De Jesus says.
Social justice, nationalism and business excellence are values paramount in working toward a sustainable enterprise. “In any type of business, you need to understand how you enrich or if you are already impairing the community and the environment. You always have a footprint. If you ensure that your operation does not harm society, that is social justice. If you safeguard the forest, you are protecting the patrimony of your nation and that is nationalism. And when you excel in your work, have efficient processes and reduce waste from operations, that is business excellence. Working toward sustainability mandates that we optimize theintensity of use especially of natural resources; that is, we must get more out of our natural resources as only God can create them,” she explains.
Sharing best practices
With the tone set from the top, FPH and associated companies have embraced sustainability as a path to corporate longevity. De Jesus was also given the freedom to share best practices across and outside the Lopez Group so that more people can learn and be equipped to deal with sustainability issues.
Her message to LopezLink readers: “All of us must be sustainability champions. If we value our families, we must think as global citizens. Why? Because some of our emerging problems in the company and in the conglomerate are global issues—urbanization, natural disasters, scarcity of food and water, climate change. These have no walls, no boundaries, they affect everybody. We are affected by global issues but we have local circumstances. Hence, the local solutions we apply to solve our problems must be aligned with the global solutions. We can never do it alone. Through local action, we can contribute to the resolution of global issues.” (Story/Photos by: Carla Paras-Sison)