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For years, China topped the world’s worst environmental rankings, but it is now leading the way towards a greener and more sustainable future.
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.
Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Situated 2,300 meters above sea level and encircled by mountains, the region receives almost no rainfall and the blinding sun singes exposed human skin within minutes. But 40 meters below the salt flats lie our planet’s largest and purest reserves of the chemical element lithium. Lithium, the lightest of all metals, has the best electrochemical potential. This makes it perfect for rechargeable batteries, a technology that powers our smartphones and is expected to become even more crucial in the future. Now, a Chinese firm is attempting to gain control of the Atacama reserves.
Like its whole economy, China’s auto market grew at breakneck pace in the 2000s, and while it is slowing down, it still contains enormous potential in terms of both raw sales and innovation as China shifts toward electric. The Chinese government is actively promoting new-energy vehicles, offering subsidies that amount to about 23% of the price of a vehicle. And consumers, many of whom no longer consider car ownership as a status symbol, are more willing to buy electric cars. Yet despite favorable policies and growing market demand, there are challenges ahead: lack of power stations, fragmented manufacturing of power batteries and insufficient innovation.
“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.
Some people think Chinese people and enterprises have not formed the habit of giving. Is it true? Although it is the world’s second largest economy and has the second largest number of billionaires, China ranks 144th out of 145 countries on the 2015 CAF World Giving Index, which measures engagement in charity and willingness to help strangers. It is also reported that China’s top 100 philanthropists gave $3.2 billion—which is less than the amount given by just the top three givers in America. But despite the disappointing numbers, there are reasons to believe philanthropy is on the rise, with an awakening of social awareness and increasingly new ways to give.
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.
Are you among those who worry about where their products come from? So you prefer to shell out an extra buck for fair trade coffee instead of a regular cup of joe. You look for the Fairtrade certification when you buy clothes. But what about your phone? Fairphone, an Amsterdam-headquartered company, is selling phones on the premise that they are made from conflict-free minerals. Is that a compelling proposition for customers? Will they pick an ethically produced phone over an iPhone which has greater functionality, more aspiration value and a style quotient?
In a bid to improve the environment, the Chinese government is considering imposing a pollution tax. But how exactly should it determine the tax amount?