HAGATNA, Guam—Gina Lopez, a renowned philanthropist and sustainability advocate from the Philippines, headlined a full house of around 300 at Bank of Guam’s 2018 Fall Economic Forum. This year’s forum included a “Green Zone” which featured sustainability interests and entrepreneurs.
Joe Bradley, Bank of Guam senior vice president/chief economist, themed his biannual talk as the connection between the environment and economy, stating “the environment is our economy and the economy is our environment,” while alerting the audience to similar tourist destinations facing outright closure due to polluted attractions. He also acknowledges that visitors from both South Korea and Japan come from very sustainable and environmentally aware communities and are looking for destinations that share similar values. Finally, he noted, “Guam can no longer postpone action to protect our primary civilian industry and the lifestyles we cherish.”
Keynoting the forum was 2017 Seacology winner, Gina Lopez, who was recognized for “her untiring environmental advocacy in the face of powerful opposition” and chosen for the award for “showing exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.”
She was introduced by bringing attention to the idea that “sustainability is not an option for islands.”
While Lopez was impressed by Guam’s natural beauty, she alerted the audience to our risky dependence on imported food, stating that lack of fresh, local food is not healthy for the community. She then shared a number of examples of projects she is overseeing which are intended to not only clean up the environment but also provide a sustainable living for communities who are dependent on tourism, claiming that higher spending visitors are seeking unique experiences, farm-to-table food experiences and pollution-free natural environments.
Lopez, who served briefly as the Philippines’ director of Environmental and Natural Resources, encouraged the audience to place priorities on healthy living and a healthy environment as a means of sustaining Guam’s only civilian industry. She encouraged small actions by individuals and businesses to protect the primary source of our economic growth. “We are already learning lessons from Boracay and Maya Bay; assets that generate growth must be cared for.”
Stating “it can’t be just about the money,” Lopez said that a values-driven economy can actually be more profitable. When communities benefit from their economy, they have a stake in their future and will actually care for the environment. When they don’t benefit, they behave accordingly.
A panel of four community leaders, including Bradley and Lopez, was then convened to add Maria Leon Guerrero, Bank of Guam executive vice president and Fran Castro from the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability.
Student volunteers from Tiyan High School and Okkodo High School also staffed and attended the annual event. (BOG)