Jay Gregorio: What it takes to respond to Pope Francis' Laudato Si

July 02, 2015
Jay Gregorio; Photos by Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

The Ateneo de Manila High School (AHS) has always sought excellence in the various fields of endeavor: academics, sports, leadership and service. Nurtured in the spirit of Magis and in solidarity with Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudato Si, it is only fitting that it should also engage students in leading campaigns for aggressive and sustained environmental awareness. That is, to become a positive transforming difference by fostering respect and care for the environment through responsible use and management of resources.

Very challenging, isn’t it?

The Blue Goes Green advocacy is a school-wide response to the challenge of taking care of the campus, addressing its waste management concerns and collaborating with environmental organizations and institutions in the University to further strengthen the drive to restore the environment by going “green”. But, what does it take to go green? For many organization including schools, it is not easy to be “green”. The idea that environmental initiatives will yield economic returns has tremendous appeal but this popular idea is also quite unrealistic to some. Responding to environmental challenges has always been a costly and complicated proposition for school administrators. In fact, environmental costs are skyrocketing which seems to question its economic payback. Perhaps it is inevitable that environmental goals post real economic costs. The school community at large may rightly choose those goals despite their costs, but must do so knowingly.

For schools like the Ateneo, going green will mean rethinking its programs and continuously upgrading its facilities to support the ultimate goal of having a sustainable environment. Sustainability is such a big word which entails a new way of thinking about problems and exploring creative ways to solve them. It requires a whole-school approach that naturally gives more opportunities to respond to pressing environmental concerns. Take the case of classroom clean-up drives. How many schools hire employees to do this work? Can we start teaching students a sense of responsibility and stewardship by doing simple things? Culture building is important and education takes a prime spot in an open field of opportunities to make this happen. However, it takes a little modeling.

The strength of the school’s environmental program is dependent on the support of school administration, teachers, staff, and parents in all aspects of implementation – education, engineering and information dissemination.

It is always necessary to dream big but it is worthy to start small and make old things new, use old ideas and breathe a new life to it. A more practical approach is to promote programs that will reinforce a “greener” mentality such as the Bring Your Own Baunan (BYOB), Clean As You Go (CLAYGO) and the improved waste segregation scheme. These are considered more concrete and practical to start influencing the right behavior among the members of the Ateneo community. For these programs to take off, become marketable and eventually influence positive behavior in the long run, there is a need to invest – money, time, effort and talent. As an old adage puts it, “if there’s a will, there’s a way."

The “Sagipin at Wastuhin ang Kapaligiran (SWaK)” is a student-run organization that supports the Blue Goes Green advocacy in the Ateneo. They designed and distributed peripherals such as posters and laminates, billboards and campaign letters. It took them a while to realize the impact that they have made because they just enjoy what they are doing. This is a talent search in a way. Find where they are good at and give them appropriate tasks to show them off. The results are rewarding. No one can put a price on how much learning can occur today and how well these things influence students’ lives in the future. It would be very disappointing at first knowing how challenging it is to “change attitudes and convenient practices” but it will slowly take its place at the right time. There may be some people who will raise their brows.

Be patient and get their hands dirty too.
Ateneo HS’ Recycle Bins. Photo by Fr Jboy Gonzales SJ
The challenge with the issue of indifference is to view environmental practices as manageable, not as a set of mandates for which “to obey” is the only solution. This is quite punitive. One can always invest on good packaging to make it marketable. This is putting value to the true sense of the work. The first step is to understand why practices that impact environment in a negative way have to change. The second step is to devise a feasible plan on how they can contribute in lessening the environmental impacts of their practices. The cost is secondary. There are a number of ways that ensure achievement of maximum environmental impact at minimum cost. Go to the school’s carpentry area, explore your garden and stock rooms. You may find something old but useful there for your next class project.

The most impressive thing about the school’s advocacy project like the Blue Goes Green is not the extent of its accomplishments, but the courageous vision of its key people in undertaking it in the first place. The contribution of the Facilities and Management Office of the AHS, the Environment and Sustainability Committee and SWaK has been valuable. It cannot be an easy journey for everyone but its effect has been extraordinary.

This is “seeing God in all things” which has always been part of the Jesuit tradition. It is a recognition that everyone is called to be stewards of God’s gifts and that everyone has a responsibility to use resources conservatively, keeping in mind the long term costs and effects of decisions that are being made today.

This is the Ateneo way. What does it take to go “green”? It starts with you.

Now, go out and breathe.
Jay Gregorio
(Note: The author, Mr. Jay Gregorio, was a physics teacher of the Ateneo High School. He has been the moderator of SWAK whose primary objective is the care of the environment. Mr. Gregorio will pursue further studies in Washington DC, USA.)