For years, China topped the world’s worst environmental rankings, but it is now leading the way towards a greener and more sustainable future.
The moment finally came just after Lunar New Year, 2016. That morning, residents in Lintao, a city of 200,000 in the remote northwest, turned on the taps, but no water flowed. The groundwater that provided the town’s supply had simply run out. A year later, Si County, a cluster of settlements 2,000 kilometers to the southeast, also ran dry. After municipal wells began to empty, local schools and hospitals resorted to drilling their own. In the north, which contains nearly half of the population but only 20% of the water resources, there is not enough to meet demand. Groundwater storage on the North China Plain fell at a rate of more than 6 trillion liters a year between 2002 and 2014.
Sometimes, a major innovation starts at the top of a market and works down—think of Tesla’s electric sports car. Other times, as innovation theorist Clayton Christensen noted in The Innovator’s Dilemma, innovations bubble up from the bottom, beginning with a product that has limited functionality and seems at first like little more than a toy. That second uphill path has been the trajectory of the electric bicycle, which over the past 20 years has become an important mode of personal transportation in China and is now beginning to make inroads in the rest of the world.
We all know that air pollution is bad for our health. But what is often overlooked is that high pollution levels also cause significant harm to our economic well being. Brian Viard, Associate Professor of Strategy and Economics at CKGSB, has been researching the economic effects of pollution for much of the past few years. His team has found persuasive evidence that the costs of air pollution are greater and more wide-ranging than most people realize. In this interview with CKGSB Knowledge, he explains how tackling the pollution crisis could actually make the Chinese economy more productive.
Decades of breakneck development in China have taken a terrible toll on the air, water, and soil. The good news is that the government has started a massive anti-pollution campaign, investing at least $477 billion in environmental protection and shutting down thousands of factories. While many are being driven out of business by the campaign, it’s also creating new opportunities for green technology companies and pushing manufacturing companies to upgrade. And although a government-led campaign, further clean-up efforts can be made by private companies as local governments search for clean solutions.
On April 1st, 2017, the Chinese government announced the formation of a new special economic and development zone: the Xiong’an New Area. About 60 miles southwest of Beijing, in Hebei province, the area will combine the now relatively rural counties of Rongcheng, Anxin and Xiong. With an expected investment of $583 billion over the next 20 years in infrastructure alone, Xiong’an is set to transform from a largely agricultural and low-tech manufacturing region, into a high-tech, environmentally sustainable modern metropolis. It will also, according to the plan, alleviate some population pressures from Beijing while serving as a destination for some administrative departments, logistics bases and other government offices.
“China is not known for greenness, but it is moving in that direction,” says Christian Haessler, Head of Innovation for Covestro in the Asia-Pacific region. An offshoot of the German pharmaceuticals and life sciences giant Bayer, Covestro was spun off in 2015 and today produces advanced raw materials for like the environmental friendly coatings and lightweight materials to be used in electric vehicles. In this interview with CKGSB Knowledge, Haessler explains what Covestro’s business is like in China as a behind-the-scenes firm and how it, with material technology, supports China’s sustainable development.
Just a few years ago, China was a major obstacle to a global agreement on climate change. But the attitude of the government has changed, to the delight of all. But it will take more than good will to clean up and it will be a long time before the smog lifts. In this sense, the idea that China will be a ‘Green Leader’ anytime soon says more about how far they have to go than how far they have come. Yet in recognizing the problems and directing investments towards new technologies, China has stumbled upon a realistic expectation of leadership in the energy technologies of the low-carbon future.
“Sustainability is one of those issues that I am very passionate in, it is linked to my beliefs,” says Zhang Huaying, Coca-Cola’s VP for Sustainability in the Greater China, Korea region. She has been tasked with integrating the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility plans into day-to-day operations, taking it beyond just PR concerns. But how exactly does this work? And how is Coca-Cola’s CSR program structured differently to most companies? In this interview, Zhang talks to CKGSB Knowledge on how Coca-Cola practically implements sustainability programs in China, whether the issue is water sustainability or financial arrangements for helping out with responses to natural disasters.
In 1911, the grandest building in Beijing was the Forbidden City’s 35-meter-tall Hall of Supreme Harmony, and Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei were one province. Over a century later the gleaming China World Trade Center’s Tower III stands at 330 meters. Often its top floors are obscured by haze. On a rare blue-sky day the view from the top affords a vista of gridlocked ring roads radiating out toward a seventh ring of garbage dumps and onward to a far less prosperous periphery. Hence the drive to decongest the capital’s core via the ambitious JingJinJi plan to integrate Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei into a single, massive urban corridor.