Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Greenwashing and SM City Baguio

“SM City Baguio’s green design is an example of a development project that does not only look on the economic aspect of development which will also be a big support in the tourism industry in the locality for it will offer something new in the city, It is also a development putting much into consideration the protection of the environment which some developers in the city of Baguio failed to do. The SM expansion design will speak for itself.”

The above paragraph was part of an opinion column published in a local daily last February 16, 2012 ( I agree with the last sentence – that the SM expansion design speaks for itself, and what it spoke of were gross ignorance, corporate greed and utter disregard for the community’s sensibility and the city’s heritage. So did the article, and what it spoke of was its failure as a PR effort.

First, a “Green Building,” according to Wikipedia, refers to a structure and using process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. With just the first consideration, SM City Baguio’s expansion plan already fails miserably. Their chosen site is also the site of 182 living trees that already provide breathable air in the already heavily polluted Central Business District.

The expansion’s design also shows us that they’re not really building “on” Luneta Hill, they’re practically obliterating half of the hill to accommodate their new building. The hill that gave birth to Baguio as a city will be defaced, almost eradicated from the face of the earth.

The article also raved about the much ballyhooed roof garden that SM City Baguio plans to install on their new structure, just like the one they have at SM City North Edsa, as if this could really get even near what the existing trees in the area have been providing the community for decades: clean air, protection from harsh weather conditions and aesthetic value. Will their roof provide for soil that’s 20 feet deep or more for real trees to grow on it? And the “landscaping” at the roof garden of SM City North Edsa constantly changes, which tells us that either plants there die or are merely rented and need to be replaced every now and then.

And in an attempt to address the heritage issue, the article also waxed pathetic about the expansion’s design that incorporated “the concept of rice terraces which is part of the history of the region.” Aw, come on.

Fact is, from any angle, SM City Baguio’s expansion cannot be justified given the impact it would have on the environment, the welfare of the community and the heritage of the city. It’s also shocking that two faculty members of the University of the Cordilleras have all but sanctified the expansion project as if it’s the Holy Grail of green architecture, when it is their campus that will be the first to suffer the consequences should any, God forbid, natural disaster is triggered by the mass murder of trees and the carving of that hill.

SM City Baguio has also been trumpeting the 2,000 saplings they have planted in the last few years and the 50,000 saplings they promise to plant to replace the ones they plan to “earthball.” I wonder though how many of those 2,000 saplings they’ve planted have actually grown into mature trees. I wonder if they’ve ever gone back to check on those saplings at all. That’s the thing about these photo ops masquerading as tree planting activities – they have their pictures taken holding a sapling, and they believe they just saved the world.

And if they can prove that their efforts in the past have indeed resulted in full grown trees today, I congratulate them, but it still does not justify killing those trees in the name of crass commercialism and heartless capitalism. It’s like a public official saying he should be allowed to steal from government since he’s built overpasses and waiting sheds in the past. Or a murderer claiming the he should be allowed to kill at will since he's also a father who's sired a child.

I do read SM City Baguio’s pronouncements about their planned expansion project, hoping to see a glimmer of any good that could come out of it. Alas, I see none. They’ll have to do better than a sad attempt to brainwash, or greenwash as environmentalists call it, the community.

Make no mistake, there’s hardly any real green about SM City Baguio’s expansion plan.

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