SM: The Corporate Greenwasher



By now you should have heard about the plan of SM to earth ball 182 trees in exchange of a new mall extension. I would have to admit that the design of the expansion is an architectural wonder but that’s about all the praise I could give to this proposed expansion. Well, SM calls it expansion but we call it a death sentence.

SM is trying to justify the expansion by pushing the fact that the proposed extension building will create jobs; that the design of the building which includes a roof garden (inspired by Green Roof Technology) is environment friendly; that the trees will not be logged down but rather they will be transplanted through a process called “earth-balling”.  SM went as far as saying that they’ve done numerous activities in the past in helping save the environment; that they have sponsored hundreds of tree planting activities within the city, as if saying that they have long before replaced the trees they are about to kill.

All these arguments from SM I shall endeavor to debunk here. But first, let me address the accusations from various naysayers labeling us as backward-minded fundamentalists who are opposed to progress and development. That’s perhaps the most absurd label they can impose upon us.  Backwardness is beyond the question here. We are no more living in caves and we do not wish to return living in caves. What we are saying and advocating is that progress and development should be coupled with vigilance always keeping in mind not only the welfare of today’s generation but as well as that of the future’s.

Now off to the debunking of SM’s myths.

SM is going to earth-ball the 182 trees and then they will transplant the trees somewhere within mall’s premises. At the same time, they will be conducting a tree planting activity for thousands of saplings within the city. Earth-balling is not an effective method and empirical proof is abound to say so. As pointed out by Dr. Michael Bengwayan of the Cordillera Ecological Cordi Eco-Center Pine Tree, the survival rate of trees earth-balled is so minimal because 95% of a tree’s roots would be severed during the process. With so much of its roots dead, an  earth-balled tree will have a hard time adapting to its new environment.  A tree does not grow all its roots back overnight. It’ll take years. Statistics would say that an earth-balled tree would have less than 17% chance of survival. SM is lying when it was saying that the trees will not be harmed.

SM is also invoking that the design of the new building is environment friendly because of its green roof design. This is a just another corporate greenwashing scheme. The green roof technology is only effective in so far as beautifying SM will be concerned. The green roof technology is just a miniscule mitigating method which only affects the immediate surroundings. It’s only as good as your backyard mini-garden. Besides, you can’t grow large pine trees or alnus trees on your roof. You can only plant shrubs and flowers which will in no way replace the ecological value of those trees to be earth-balled. The green roof will not replace the ecological value of the 182 trees. Those 182 trees absorb hundreds of thousands of carbons a year. The green roof will not be able to that. If it can do the same then we would have long been mandated by our government to plant flowers on our roof. Hell, the roof garden may not even be enough to neutralize the pollution coming off SM.

Another point being advocated by SM in justifying the expansion is that they will create thousands of jobs in the city. For this, let’s look at SM’s track record as an employer. SM has questionable management and employment techniques. Since 1990, SM has been the subject of various cases involving unfair labor practices, grave coercion against union members, violations of collective bargaining agreements and violations of the labor law. SM is engaged in the practice of contractualization which is long sneered upon by law. Contractual employees have about 6 months to work at the mall. After that, someone else is contracted to perform the same job. The former employee will normally have to wait for 3 months to get re-hired for another contract. This is in gross violation of the law. The DOLE did notice this unusual trend and mandated SM to up its regularization rate. In 2003, SM was employing more contractual employees than there are regular employees. I worked at SM McDonald’s in 2008 and I observed the same situation. Just last year, I have a friend who had a satisfactory rating but was not re-hired at “endo” or end-of-contract. This is not mere hearsay but you don’t have to take it from me – just click on the various sources I’ll be referencing below this post. But what exactly is the significance of contractualization to SM? Well, contractual employees are not allowed to join labor unions. Hence, they cannot join collective bargaining agreements which are essential in negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment such as wage increases and other benefits of employment. In short, contractual employees cannot enjoy the same rights as regular employees.

Another questionable management practice by SM is its seeming bias towards members of the Iglesia ni Cristo sect.  SM has a track record of favoring the regularization of Iglesia ni Cristo members because of the fact that members of the INC are prohibited by their belief from joining labor unions. This is beneficial to SM considering the brushes they’ve had had with labor unions in the past and the present. – lesser union members, lesser headache.

SM says the expansion will contribute to the growth of the city’s economy. But if you’ll look at it closely the cost is heavier than the projected benefit. The expansion will attract thousands of non-Baguio residents to reside here to apply for job openings. This will increase the city’s population, which will increase garbage problem and other problems which come along with population growth. This in turn will make the government spend more to alleviate these problems. A large majority of SM employees are not from this city. They came from all places. Just go to SM Baguio (which I really do not recommend you to do right now but just for the sake of knowing) and you’ll rarely find an employee who can speak the [local] vernacular here.

This leads us to my next point. Do we really need another mall? Do we need a bigger SM? The answer is no! Did SM asked the people of Baguio if we need a bigger mall before they went ahead with the planning? Do we even need SM in the first place? Before SM was erected, we had our public market which was more than enough to cater to our daily needs. We were not having shortages of supply in food, clothing, and other needs. The market was able to meet the demands of the buying public. We were living our lives just fine. Nobody called SM to go up here.

A public consultation should have been in order. Who is one to say what our needs are? But then again, this is fueled by our consumerism – and I believe we are partly to blame. I’ll take my part of the blame, but I am restituting that now by publicly condemning the expansion. If only all people can fight off their desire to be seen in a new place or to buy too much stuff to satisfy their material needs. SM is great in feeding off man’s consumerist tendencies.

But we who oppose this expansion are willing to place our consumerist tendencies somewhere else. I have advised friends to destroy their SM advantage cards and boycott the mall until the mall backs off from its expansion plans. I haven’t set foot at that place for a long time and I intend not to for the rest of my life. Besides, no tourist comes up here to see the mall; they visit this place for its trees and its sceneries. Baguio will not lose its value if SM is gone. SM is not in for it for the sake of offering jobs. Let us remember that SM is a capitalist. It is only there to maximize its profits. I hope everyone sees the same after reading this post.








About the author

Howard Chan (The Student)

Howard considers himself as an armchair activist. Though his street rally days are in a slumber he still advocates changes via social media. He is a strong believer that awareness of various social issues is a good starting point in order to break out from the stranglehold of an oppressive system which only benefits the few. He is also a full time student and a part time blogger, part time web designer, part time web manager/designer for various clients. (Note: Howard Chan passed the 2014 Bar Exams and was admitted to the Philippine Bar on April 29, 2015. That being, all posts after April 29, 2015 authored by him are now under the name Howard Chan for the purpose of distinguishing posts he made as a non-lawyer from posts he made after admission to the bar).

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