SM Malls shopping centres – now a 56-strong network across the Philippines – have evolved into sustainable structures that are proving to be valuable investments in the event of the frequent natural disasters which strike the nation.
In the last few years, SM malls have consciously integrated disaster risk reduction into design and operations in the midst of worsening effects of climate change.
Speaking before the annual meeting of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in London, recently, SM Prime president Hans T Sy shared that the company has taken major steps to ensure the longevity of its developments and safeguard its host communities given this context.
SM’s malls, with a total gross area of over 7 million sqm, have an average daily foot traffic of over 4 million people and some 15,000 tenants.
“My experience has proven that investing in resilience of our company’s assets makes good business sense. Depending on the location and assessment of the project, around 10 per cent of capital expenditure is allocated to Disaster Resiliency,” said Sy who is the only Filipino to be part of the UNISDR’s Private Sector Advisory Group.
“We see the entirety of our malls as a city in itself, with locators, employees, customers and the communities we serve,” he added.
One of the latest SM malls to open, SM City Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija, is a good example of how SM Prime has adapted to climate change by making its infrastructure more disaster resilient.
Cabanatuan was affected by Super Typhoon Lando (International name: Koppu) which caused massive flooding, mudslides and power outages that affected 9 million people in the northern region. The mall’s design allowed the free flow of creek floodwater during extreme flooding while the lower ground structure served as a flood catchment, thereby reducing the risk of flooding and ensuring the safety of the surrounding communities. The mall likewise served as a refuge for over 400 customers and families in the area at the height of the typhoon.
Over the past several decades, SM Prime has made significant inroads in incorporating disaster resiliency in its centres. The best example is SM City Marikina which opened in 2008 and was built on concrete stilts to allow flood water from the nearby Marikina River to flow freely. When Typhoon Ondoy (International name: Ketsana) flooded most of Marikina City, the mall stood high above flood waters and all its tenants were undamaged and safe.
The roads surrounding the Marikina mall are at ground level. Anticipating floods during heavy rains at that level, SM Prime constructed the first two levels of SM Marikina as parking areas without wall enclosures. The upper parking level was constructed at an elevation of 20.5 meters. During extreme floods, the parking floors are vacated and the supportive stilts allow for the free flow of water through the lower levels, while the business units continue to operate safely as was seen at the onset of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) when a huge part of Marikina was flooded. The mall became a refuge for stranded people and food seekers. It also became a re-packing center for relief goods.
SM City Masinag in Antipolo, SM BF Paranaque, SM Angono and SM San Mateo both in Rizal province were provided with catch basins underneath the mall to hold water during flooding.
SM Muntinlupa in Alabang, was also designed to ensure the safety of the customers even if it was found to be located on a “discontinued major fault line”. Its design features a slab system that minimises the effects of earthquakes.
The Mall of Asia Complex in Pasay City, one of SM Prime’s biggest investments located on 60 hectares of reclaimed property, has also been been designed for resiliency. He said that the main feature of the complex is that all structures were constructed at a height of 4.5 meters above the National Building Code requirements.
“SM Prime places crucial importance on disaster resilience, not as an additional cost, but as part of our core business strategy. It allows us to serve our communities better, to be competitive, to increase our value and bottomline. But most of all, disaster resilience ensures the safety of our customers and the communities where we operate,” Sy said.
Aside from introducing sustainable features in its malls, SM Prime also educates and updates its partners and stakeholders on disaster risk reduction (DRR) through internal procedures and various forums, such as the Green Retail Agenda, Business Case for Disaster Resilience, Top Leaders Forum and others. It also values and supports the government’s programs and initiatives in their information and educational campaigns such as the first Metro Manila Shake Drill for Earthquake Preparedness.
SM Prime also supports DRR projects such as the Weather Philippines Foundation’s Automated Weather Station (AWS) which specialises in local weather forecasting. All SM malls have also installed the AWS device which provides online five-day local weather forecasts as a form of public service in support of the government’s weather forecasting.
SM has also donated 1000 units of disaster resilient houses to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm to make landfall in the southern part of the Philippines.
SM Prime set up its efforts to lead Philippine businesses and communities disaster-resilient through the Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies (Arise), a worldwide initiative spearheaded by the UNISDR to create more resilient societies.
Arise was introduced for the first time in Southeast Asia during the 2015 Top Leaders Forum at the SMX Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
Arise, which was launched in London last September, was created in order to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year global roadmap adopted in March 2015 which aims to curb disaster mortality and economic losses substantially.