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Leading San Miguel's efforts towards water sustainability

Coming out of retirement, Domingo Perez was asked to lead San Miguel’s water stewardship program. Here he shares how he’s managed to help reduce the company’s water consumption, ensuring Water for All.

As kids, we were taught that water is everyone's responsibility. We were told to turn off the tap while brushing our teeth. As adults in the workplace, there are reminders everywhere to be more mindful of how we use water, but we barely give it a thought, even as our hotter summers and overstretched communities are resulting in water rationing. But at San Miguel Corporation, leading the company's water conservation effort is one man's entire job description and primary responsibility.

Domingo “Domeng” Perez is the lead project manager of Water for All, San Miguel’s water stewardship program that aims to reduce the company’s overall consumption of water by 50% by 2025.

An engineer by training, Domeng worked in San Miguel’s corporate technical services group for 23 years as an environmental management associate. The unit was dissolved in 2008 after the function was spun off to the different subsidiaries, and Domeng opted to retire, signing on instead as a consultant for technical audits.

When in late-2016, San Miguel was preparing to launch a water conservation project as part of its push to integrate sustainability into the company's broader business strategy, he was singled out to lead it full-time. Effectively no such job existed before the articulation of San Miguel's water program. While certainly, it was someone's job to monitor water usage (or energy usage for that matter), it wasn't a job necessarily associated with environmental responsibility. Over the last two years that he's effectively been put in charge, Domeng has managed to integrate sustainable practices into everyday routine functions.

When he first joined San Miguel in the 1980s, there was no such thing as a green job, and he’s happy that the type of work he did then, coming up with solutions to problems related to air pollution or water contamination, have since entered the mainstream. That his current job allows him to contribute to solving an important issue—water scarcity—is a source of great pride for Domeng. Over the last 20 months or so, Domeng has audited 81 SMC facilities throughout the country, validating submitted reports with on-the-ground inspections and visits.

One full year after Water for All was launched, the San Miguel Group managed to cut water use by 14%. For 2019, the compounded results amounted to over 25%, well ahead of the group’s interim target of a 20% reduction by 2020.

The savings have come from low hanging fruit such as fixing leaks, adjusting water pressure, and controlling valves to reduce water flow.

Just after one year, the San Miguel Group managed to cut water use by 14% thanks to its Water for All initiative. As of 2019, the compounded results amounted to over 25%, well ahead of Water for All's interim target of a 20% reduction by 2020

Water audits are an exacting activity that might run two days for small facilities or office buildings, three days for mid-sized manufacturing facilities and four to five days for the more complex, sprawling operations like Petron’s Bataan refinery, Ginebra San Miguel Inc.’s Distileria Bago Inc., and San Miguel’s five domestic breweries.

A major hurdle has been the availability of records and historical data on water use. Part of the challenge has been pushing the communication downward and making everyone on the shop floor accountable for their consumption levels. Now that SMC’s water goals have been integrated into the KPIs of virtually every single employee involved in manufacturing and operations, it’s been less difficult to mandate the importance of collecting and recording data. “Once we established a baseline, it was easier to move forward,” says Domeng.

The interim target tackled, Domeng says that the next major challenge would be rolling out capital expenditure projects. He cites the example of a proposed initiative in the General Trias Area, where SMC plans to construct a water treatment plant that will collect treated wastewater discharged from several facilities, purify it further through tertiary treatment, and supply it back as utility water. The breweries intend to duplicate the tertiary treatment of Polo Brewery to recycle treated wastewater and divert it back to cooling towers and boilers, while Petron Bataan Refinery will invest sizably in their pumping system to increase capacity in their desalination facility.

Water scarcity is real, and we should not treat it as an unlimited resource. The difficulty in implementing many projects is the return on investment. Since water is considered ‘free,’ many may not see immediate returns from investments required to save water. That notion should be changed—because how do we cost the lost opportunity when water is gone? - Domingo “Domeng” Perez, Lead Project Manager, Water for All

He reports that SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon S. Ang is heavily involved in the process, “It helps that top management is invested in the process.”

“Visiting the various San Miguel facilities makes me realize that the water problem is very real in my lifetime. Water scarcity is real, and we should not treat it as an unlimited resource. The difficulty in implementing many projects is the return on investment. Since water is considered ‘free,’ many may not see immediate returns from investments required to save water. That notion should be changed—because how do we cost the lost opportunity when water is gone?”

With awareness, persistence, and a problem-solving mindset, Domeng is hopeful that San Miguel will hit its target of reducing its water use 50% by 2025. “We’re expanding as a group and it’s good that we’re starting to instill the discipline of water management at this particular point in our history,” he says. “That means our next generation of plants will be more efficient in terms of water and energy use.”

Perhaps in the future, there will be many more employees like Domeng, whose jobs contribute to the potential for a better world for all of us—a future in which the sustainability of natural resources matters in a world where our negative impacts on the climate and our ecosystems are getting harder to ignore.

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