May 5

Leading With A Green Heart

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

Sunday morning, 7.15 a.m. The first employees and customers of Merck Ltd., Thailand arrive at the registration booths that were set up in Benjasiri Park nearby the company’s office. Some of them bring along their spouses, children and friends. Upon registration, everybody receives a blue Merck Thailand Volunteer polo shirt, special shoes and tools.

At 8 a.m., 10 buses with about 500 people are heading to the Bangpu Recreation Center in Samutprakarn Province, about 50 km outside of Bangkok. On arrival, they meet another about 700 people who had decided to go with their own transport to Bangpu. They also are employees, customers and friends of Merck Thailand. A team from Kasetsart University, members of the local municipality and a local youth team have joined too. They are all willing to sacrifice their Sunday and to volunteer their time and effort for the benefit of society.

In their “Care for Green” – event, co-organized with the Plant-A-Tree-Today-Foundation (PATT), a NGO (=Non-Governmental Organization) from the U.K., Merck Thailand had called on their employees, customers, suppliers and friends of the company to join in planting mangrove trees in cooperation with the Royal Thai Army, Samutprakarn Municipality at the Bangpu Nature Education Center and the Bangpu Recreation Center.

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Merck Thailand had donated 2,008 trees. Employees and customers were given the chance to buy additional mangrove trees at Baht 40.– (about Euro 1.–) each. This price included the support from the Royal Thai Army to care for the site, maintain and protect the trees and replant the dead trees over the next two years.

The response was overwhelming. Employees, customers, suppliers and friends of Merck Thailand donated 9,856 mangrove trees bringing the total count to 11,864 trees. We had to stop accepting participants for the event even before the end of the official registration deadline due to the huge logistic challenges going along with it. It was not easy to provide food and drinks as well as sanitary facilities near the place where we intended to plant the mangroves. And after all, the number of participants was about six times the number of our staff!

CSR3After my opening speech, Col.Chanin Phopoonsak, Director of Bangpu Nature Education Center, says: “Ever since I have taken a position here at Bangpu, this is the biggest planting event with the largest number of volunteers. I give my word to all of you that I will ensure that your mangrove forest is well protected. This forest will also be dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen’s project of “Forest Rehabilitation”.”

Next, the local community representative, Sergeant Major Niwech Chooparn, explains mangrove tree planting techniques and gives a demonstration.  Mangrove forests are some of the world’s most important ecosystems, yet they are also one of the world’s most threatened habitats. They protect coastlines against erosive wave action and strong coastal winds, and serve as natural barriers against torrential storms.

Finally, the planting can begin. A huge crowd of about 1,200 people walks towards the coastline, straight into the mud where soldiers and volunteers are already waiting to distribute the bundles of mangrove trees that they are holding. It is a tough physical job to plant the mangrove trees. The more you walk towards the sea, the more you sink into the mud. Walking becomes difficult, occasionally you get stuck. But the difficult conditions, the soaring heat (temperatures of about 37 degree C), the tiredness and the mud cannot stop the volunteers.

CSR4The ones who nevertheless have great fun are the kids. After all, which kid doesn’t like to play in the mud and get totally dirty. And the parents feel proud about themselves, because they participate in a volunteering event where, besides doing good, they can educate their children about how to take care of the environment.

At 1.15 p.m., 11,864 mangrove trees have been planted. The volunteers have done a marvelous job. This is the highest number of trees ever planted in  one day in Thailand. People feel exhausted, but they also feel happy with a sense of accomplishment.

This reminds me about one of my favourite quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous American philosopher: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life… We can never help another person without helping ourselves.”

This reminds me about one of my favourite quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous American philosopher: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life… We can never help another person without helping ourselves.”

CSR1People are heading for a well-deserved lunch in the restaurant of the Bangpu Recreation Center. After lunch, some employees and customers go on an optional trip, organized by Merck Thailand, to visit a sightseeing spot: Ancient City. Our experience has shown that it is good to offer during volunteering events also some fun or sightseeing part, since this increases the number of participants.

Some other people head straight home knowing that they have made today a great personal sacrifice and contribution to reduce the increasing levels of deforestation. They are aware that they have helped to stop global warming and that they made a difference on that very Sunday, August 31, 2008.

Care_Gr_ (298 of 321)The above described event was already the second “Care for Green” – event organized by Merck Thailand in cooperation with PATT. On September 9, 2007, also on a Sunday morning, about 400 volunteers (employees and customers of Merck Thailand) joined hands to plant 4,144 trees in Prapadaeng, Samutprakarn province. The strong positive feedback and the desire from our customers encouraged us to arrange a second event.

A key learning from our first event was that it is better to allow also the spouses and the children of our employees and customers to participate. This brings the number of volunteers significantly up, especially also when you design the event like a family day activity.

The two “Care for Green” – events are good examples of caring leadership. It shows that when you approach people for a contribution to a worthwhile cause, they will respond. Even, if they have to sacrifice part of their weekend.

CSR5I hope that this blog will inspire you to encourage your company to organize similar tree planting or other events. After all, the financial cost are manageable. And the rewards are huge: happy employees, happy customers and, last but not least, the executives of the company also feel good about what “they” have initiated.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 at 06:32 and is filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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