Out of the long list of lessons that Hans T. Sy learned from his late father, SM Group founder Henry Sy Sr., one stands out and has guided his life’s journey: Walk the talk.

For the 64-year-old chair of China Banking Corp. and the executive committee of SM Prime Holding Inc., that means not just mouthing platitudes about the need to take care of the environment, but actually investing his time, resources and expertise to help the group and the country better respond to the call to protect and nurture Mother Earth.Sy does this through his involvement with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). He started his work there as a member—the only Filipino—of the Private Sector Advisory Group. Today, he has taken on added responsibility as an international board member of UNISDR Arise, or Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, a platform for businesses to share knowledge and strategies toward investing, particularly in disaster resilience and management.

His work there takes on added significance this June, which was declared Philippine Environment Month in 1988.

“Self preservation is a natural instinct so why shouldn’t it be as inherent in our nature to want to preserve, restore and improve on what was given to us? After all, this planet is all we have. There should be no recourse but to take care of it,” Sy told the Inquirer.

Sy emphasized the urgency of doing just that as the Philippines is particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change, ranking fourth among countries most affected by extreme weather events and third highest in terms of disaster risk.

“Given the archipelagic nature of our country, at least 60 percent of our total land area is exposed to multiple hazards, and as much as 74 percent of our total population—now a little over 100 million—is susceptible to these adverse impacts,” he said.

Government alone will not be able to mitigate these risks by, for example, building more resilient cities. The private sector has to do its share in building critical infrastructure to help communities thrive above the effects of climate change.

“This became very apparent to me when I saw one of our malls in Pangasinan go under the flood along with the whole town during Typhoon ‘Pepeng.’ I realized that resilience is important to our stakeholders—our employees, tenants, customers, suppliers and communities surrounding our malls. I was determined to help our stakeholders bounce back better and stronger,” Sy said.

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