On the path to a greener future: Turning the tide on climate change

From volunteering with local NGOs to changing their waste disposal habits, employees from all corners of the world share how they have altered their lifestyle to limit their impact on the environment.

With the threat of climate change increasing with every passing year, the need for environmental awareness has become a pressing issue. In 2018, the(IPCC) reported that without “profound economic and institutional transformations”, the environment could reach the point of no return. In other words, the planet is at a climate crossroad and it needs our help.

For Gedeon Zhi Jun Lee, Ana Franco, and Duysen Namli – three Roche employees – protecting the environment has turned into a responsibility; their commitment to safeguarding biodiversity made them reassess and ultimately alter their lifestyle. From raising climate change awareness to spurring colleagues to take action, here is how three passionate employees bring us one step closer to a greener future.

Composting in Malaysia

Gedeon Zhi Jun Lee, who works for Roche Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, fears he is part of the last generation capable of turning the tide on climate change.

“When I see children going to the beach on clean-up days, planting trees, being mindful about food waste, or even taking part in climate strikes, I know we must take action for them,” he says.

Malaysia’s solid waste production has increased significantly in the past fifteen years; its daily waste production doubled from 2005 to 2016, and although around 30% of its annual production is recyclable, only a little over half of it is separated and recycled correctly.

Plastic waste can be recycled and reprocessed into another material, destroyed thermally through incineration, or disposed of in a waste system. However, because incinerating plastics emits toxins and methane – a gas that contributes to the expansion of the greenhouse effect – and the properties plastic is composed of often make the material non-biodegradable – meaning a plastic bottle could take decades to disintegrate if not recycled – , improper waste management is particularly harmful to the environment.

Driven by his desire to reduce his waste footprint, Gedeon decided to change his waste management, turning to composting instead. He learned about the zero-waste initiative in 2016; based around the practice of the 5Rs – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot – the zero waste lifestyle aims to reduce individuals’ general waste footprint by encouraging them to change their waste disposal habits.

More about composting

Composting can redirect 30% of domestic waste away from the garbage can. It involves combining three ingredients – brown, green, and water – to create an organic material that can act as fertilizer. Brown ingredients, such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs, are sources of carbon for the compost. They are placed on top of green ingredients, such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruits scraps, or coffee grounds, before being secured in a composting bin. The compost must be watered and stirred occasionally to ensure the organic matter remains moist and oxygenated. The process may last several months, depending on the amount of heat the compost is exposed to.

Gedeon volunteers at Zero-Waste Malaysia, where he shares tips and stories about his eco-friendly lifestyle with the community. Keen to share his passion with his colleagues, he brought the zero-waste initiative to work, encouraging colleagues to take home used coffee grounds from the office coffee machines and use the organic material as a fertilizer for plants.

Gedeon also lobbied for the installation of a composting machine in the office, and urged Roche Malaysia to partner with the non-profit, but the COVID-19 pandemic put his plans on hold. That did not stop him from continuing to raise awareness and share eco-friendly tips with his colleagues.

“I want to inspire corporates and businesses to reassess the sustainability of their business practices,” Gedeon says. “Consumers are ready to make the switch, but what about the businesses?”

Recycling in Colombia

Ana Franco, a proud environmentalist from Roche Bogota, is on a perpetual quest to find better and more responsible ways to reduce her environmental footprint.

Her passion drove her to join Botellas de Amor, a Colombian non-profit organization that aims to reduce plastic waste pollution by helping turn domestic plastic waste into plastic “wood”, used to build houses, playgrounds and school furniture for Bogota’s vulnerable population.

The domestic plastic waste is inserted into large empty bottles of water, detergent, or oil, and brought to collection centres where they are collected by the foundation; they are then processed and transformed into a reusable material.

“Protecting the environment and looking after biodiversity has become a responsibility; the work done by activists is admirable but insufficient,” Ana says.

In Colombia, studies show less than half of Colombian households separate and recycle their waste; under a fifth of the 12 million tons of solid waste produced in the country every year is recycled, while the remaining ends up in landfills, river basins, or the ocean.

Ana brought the Botellas de Amor initiative to the attention of Roche, where it sparked genuine interest. In May 2020, Roche Bogota joined the non-profit organization in its goal to reduce environmental waste; it installed containers across the site and offered to collect the recyclable waste from employees’ homes.

“It’s a grain of sand in the desert, I know, but whenever I manage to impact someone’s behaviour, it creates a chain, and that’s how you start a movement,” she says.

In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, Roche Bogota continued to collect the recyclable plastic waste from the employees’ homes. 58 kilograms of waste have been collected since the launch of the programme.

“We built a movement in Roche Bogota through this initiative,” says Ana. “Corporate companies like Roche have to keep raising awareness, teach employees and turn them into leaders by continuing to explore all the means for us to be sustainable.”

Coastal care in Turkey

Every year, 8 million tons of waste is dumped into the ocean; agricultural and industrial runoffs poison coastal areas, while increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere turn the ocean more acidic, destabilizing food chains and endangering entire ecosystems. These have dire consequences on marine mammals, fish, and coral reefs.

Roche Turkey and Princes’ Islands Association for Life with Sea and Sports Club (ADYSK), a local NGO based on Princes’ Islands, began their partnership, called Let the Seas Teem with Life, in 2018. ADYSK launched several initiatives aimed at protecting aquatic life and marine ecosystems, including retrieving and recycling plastic found in the ghost nets abandoned at sea, as well as reviving coral reefs through a coral transplantation project.

Duysen Namli and fellow colleagues in Roche Turkey have taken part in the various projects launched or supported by Roche Turkey and ADYSK, such as Cleanup Days or the 42nd Istanbul Marathon, where colleagues ran to raise awareness for the initiative. Volunteers have also offered to assist with the collection of the many ghost nets currently polluting the waters and shores, and the organisation of training and awareness campaigns.

“Marine pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems in the world and there is a very long way to go,” she says. “The entire world must be mobilized to protect our waters. It is our duty to become the voice of the undersea.”

In Turkey, overfishing and pollution have led to a severe deterioration of Marmara Sea’s marine life; fish nets, abandoned by fishermen, are found at the bottom of the sea, often attached to corals or tangled in rocks, threatening entire ecosystems.

“Our key priority is to reach our objectives in the most effective way, and transplant corals to suitable habitats; eliminate ghost nets in the area, clean up the shores and support awareness for the protection of the environment,” Duysen says.

More on coral transplantation

In an attempt to revive the ecosystems of the Northern Marmara Sea, ADYSK launched the first coral transplantation operations in Turkey. The process involves cutting 10cm-long branches from coral trees, and placing them into tightly sealed jars containing Mediterranean water. The corals are taken to other islands, where they are carefully and methodically planted on rocks located 30 meters below the water’s surface. The operation has known a 90% success rate since its launch.

ADYSK has successfully relocated over three hundred coral since the beginning of the project, reviving ecosystems of the Northern Marmara Sea.

Let the Seas Teem with Life

Roche remains committed to the protection of the environment. Ever since its foundation in 1896, Roche’s founding families believe corporate responsibility is tightly entwined with good business behavior, a belief echoed by the various grassroot initiatives carried out by our employees across the globe. Their growing commitment to helping Roche minimise its environmental footprint – and turn our founder’s vision into reality – brings us one step closer to a greener future..

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