Q&A with Chiara Cox: Exploring Sustainability Through the Lens of Filipino Upbringing

May 9, 2023

Arthaland was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Ms. Chiara Cox, an artist, a Filipino-American Music and Art Ambassador in South Carolina, and the daughter of Mr. Jaime C. González, the esteemed Vice Chairman and President of Arthaland Corporation.

1. Chiara, what inspired you to write an article about your father, Jaime González, and his sustainable real estate company, Arthaland?

The article that I wrote in PositivelyFilipino is truly a love letter to my parents. I start by telling a story about my Mom’s passion for sustainability and I end with how my Dad magnified her passion and its impact through Arthaland. During the pandemic, I didn’t see my parents for 3 years, and I missed them terribly. So, I guess writing about them made me feel closer to them and to the causes that they stand for.

2. How has your father's work in sustainable real estate influenced your own perspective on environmental issues and sustainable living?

My father’s influence on my own perspectives on environmental issues and sustainable living started even before his work in sustainable real estate.

Growing up in our household meant being aware of my own impact on the environment. Until today, I still try to do my best to turn off the water in the shower while shampooing or soaping, use two sides of any piece of paper, reuse, recycle, and compost. I guess it has become a mindful culture passed down by living it every day. Rather than being a casual thought, it became a dedicated habit to care about and to embrace for the good of the environment.

When it comes to real estate, what I learned from my Dad is that, despite increasing discussions about sustainability through the years, when it comes to buying a property, most people still view sustainability as a “nice to have” option and most will choose to pay less upfront. It seems there is a need to educate buyers on just how much they can save financially in the long-term by choosing the sustainable alternative.

Thus, I believe that companies that place sustainability at the forefront, like Arthaland, must ensure that their developments remain competitive and sustainable, as well as be able to communicate the long-term value of their product.

3. How has your father's journey with Arthaland shaped your understanding of the real estate industry and its potential impact on the environment?

It was not until my son interviewed Arthaland’s engineers for his school engineering project that I really learned about the details required to build and maintain GREEN real estate.

As I understand it, the underlying aim of any sustainable real estate developer is to improve the quality of life of its residents and tenants, as well as the community at large. By building sustainable residential and commercial developments, the developer can pass on substantial savings to its residents and tenants by lowering their energy bills and to the community by using less of their resources altogether.

The amount sustainable buildings can save over conventional buildings is quite staggering and, even then, Arthaland surpassed its own targets in 2021. Their target was to reduce water consumption by 20%; they reduced it more than double at 45%. Their target was to save 40% on energy; they saved almost 15% more at 54%. Finally, their target is to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 100% in 2030, and, almost a decade away, they have already reduced it by 59%.

With this realization, I learned how much involvement there is in upholding the promise of a sustainable real estate company, apart from designing, building, selling, maintaining, and managing it. There is so much work to be done in educating people on the merits of a sustainable development and this is exactly what I want to support and contribute to through my work.

4. In what ways do you believe your father's work with Arthaland is setting an example for other real estate developers, both locally and globally?

I believe that Arthaland’s efforts in sustainability can serve as a benchmark and hopefully an inspiration to other developers. It will be a symbol of what can be achieved through a strong commitment to sustainability.

If Arthaland can offer its tenants produce at cost from its own potager gardens, other developers can hopefully do the same.

If Arthaland can create the very first and only master-planned mixed-use community in Southeast Asia to achieve Platinum certification for both LEED® for Neighborhood Development and LEED® for Homes categories, then other Southeast Asian developers can follow suit.

If Arthaland can be the first real estate developer in Asia, and the first signatory from the Philippines, to pledge to decarbonize 100 percent of its portfolio by 2030, then other Asian companies may commit to that same promise.

If a 100% multi-certified sustainable boutique real estate developer can build the world’s first Edge Zero Carbon Building in a developing country, then it is also possible anywhere.

Having more people committing and working towards the same goal will be beneficial to all of us, especially to our environment and future resources.

5. The article that you wrote on PositivelyFilipino speaks a lot about your family dynamics and the belief that was instilled in you growing up. What lesson would you like to impart to your readers about your family ethos?

It has a lot to do with sustainability; that sustainability is not something you do once. It is an active decision and a habit that must be practiced daily. It is a way of life. I wanted readers to understand that in my family, this ingrained culture helped create a boutique company that is spearheading sustainable developments in an emerging market.

I also believe there must be heart behind anything to be successful and this is what Arthaland has. Mom’s, Dad’s, the Arthaland team’s heart. Mom’s passion inspired the idea behind Arthaland and Dad and his team chose to be a 100% certified sustainable real estate developer because of a passion for sustainability, because of a passion for leaving the world in a better place for the next generations, and because of a passion for building quality developments for its occupants.

6. Aside from the ones mentioned in the article, can you describe some of the unique features and design elements that Arthaland incorporates into its projects to promote sustainability and eco-friendly living?

As the definition of sustainability keeps expanding, it is important that Arthaland continues to innovate and push the limits to remain the foremost sustainable developer in the Philippines. Dad and his team understand that wellness does not stop at environmental health.

Wellness also impacts the spiritual and mental health of people living and working in their developments, which in turn affect their productivity.

While all properties have impressive sustainability elements, I have been particularly excited to tell people, especially the health conscious, about the Sevina Park Community which is situated in Laguna. With a view of the Sierra Madre mountains, 60% of the area will be dedicated to green and/or open spaces.

The condominium buildings called Una Apartments will have spacious studios and one-bedroom apartments with ceilings 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) high and floor-to-ceiling windows leading to balconies. They are also move-in-ready, furnished with eco-friendly IKEA products.

On the other side of the community, Sevina Park Villas will promote walking by having conveniences nearby, villas will have shared courtyards maintained by Arthaland, and their four-bedroom units will be solar powered.

Both Una Apartments and Sevina Park Villas invite ample natural light into their units and ERVs or Energy Recovery Ventilators pre-condition incoming air to improve indoor air quality and humidity. To date, Arthaland is the only developer in the country providing these ERVs. Arthaland is also the only development in the Philippines to partner with a hospital to offer medical clinics on-site dedicated solely to the wellness of residents. A 24-hour ambulance is also available to transport residents to Medical City about 10 minutes away, if needed.

These are just some of the creative and innovative ways that they were able to mix sustainability and functionality to achieve holistic wellness for the community.

7. How can a sustainable developer collaborate with local communities, environmental organizations, or government agencies to further its mission?

For a sustainable developer to truly further its mission, it cannot stand alone. They must team together with various stakeholders locally, regionally, and worldwide. It was helpful to read through Arthaland’s corporate social responsibility page to learn more about their engagement in serving their community (https://arthaland.com/corporate-governance/corporate-social-responsibility).

Furthermore, I wanted to share with you Arthaland’s commitment to 12 out of 17 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. In 2022 alone, Arthaland:

  • Fought to end poverty by hosting “Health Hauls” to help 380 distressed Filipino farmers save 4 metric tons of overproduced fruits and vegetables while providing healthy food for 255 families;
  • Ensured healthy lives and promoted well-being through 65% of its portfolio rated with WELL Health-Safety, its employee HMO benefits packages included all essential healthcare services, and the company helped to vaccinate its workforce against the COVID-19 virus, flu, and pneumonia;
  • Established sound policies that promote gender equality and empower women at all levels of the company and can boast 31% of its leadership positions are occupied by women;
  • Ensured availability of water and sanitation by achieving 45% (target 20%) water efficiency compared to conventional operations and established a monitoring system to measure the graywater use in Arthaland’s portfolio water source mix;
  • Ensured access to affordable, reliable, sustainable energy by achieving 54% (target 40%) energy savings compared to conventional operations and successfully shifted 45% (target 100% by 2030) of Arthaland’s energy mix to renewable energy;
  • Measured safe and secure working environments for its workers through zero work-related fatality during construction and achieved economic productivity by opening green job opportunities;
  • Focused on sustainable cities and communities by certifying 98% of Arthaland’s portfolio as sustainable projects (the 2% are the temporary structures that are not viable for certification) and planning for a socialized housing community project to increase Filipino’s access to adequate, safe, and affordable housing;
  • Protected, restored, and promoted sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and halt biodiversity loss by planting threatened species listed in The IUCN Red List to take urgent and significant action in the restoration of the Philippines’ biodiversity;
  • Provided access to justice and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels by establishing an anti-corruption and anti-bribery policy and annually discloses the company’s governance, financial, social, and environmental performances; and finally
  • Strengthened global partnership for sustainable development by creating partnerships with DHSUD and NHFMC to develop socialized housing and collaborating with privately-owned companies to advance net zero in the country through the Net Zero Carbon Alliance (NZCA).

8. On a personal note, what lessons have you learned from your father's work that have influenced your own life and career choices?

One of the most crucial lessons I learned is fully comprehending and committing to your priorities. I learned that not everyone will choose to moderate profitability with one’s responsibility to the environment and the community as a whole. Not everyone will choose to make time to educate the community on sustainability over profitability. Not everyone will choose to face the challenges of today for a better tomorrow. But Dad does.

Mom and Dad continue to teach me every day, through their actions, that better choices are not necessarily easy to make. Yet, sometimes, the more challenging path becomes much more fulfilling and impactful, not only for yourself but for a bigger community. With that, I am truly grateful for them. They have taught me that all my life, even before there was an Arthaland.

9. Finally Chiara, how do you envision the legacy of your father's work and its lasting impact towards a sustainable future?

I hope that the legacy of Dad’s work in Arthaland will continue to be appreciated, enjoyed, admired, and be a source of inspiration for his grandchildren and beyond, for people in the Philippines and the world over.

This engaging conversation draws inspiration from an insightful article penned by Ms. Cox for PositivelyFilipino.com, where she delves into her family's unique cultural background, the profound influence of her parents on her dedication to sustainability, and her father's impactful work with Arthaland Corporation. We invite you to read the full article at the following link: http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/a-certifiably-sustainable-way-of-life

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