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- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce


Ten Ways China is Going Green

Yes, we know about the filthy air, the coal-fired power, and the terribly polluted rivers. We also know about the loss of farmland to make way for urban towers, and the suppression of protest. Like the US with its gas-guzzling cars and Canada with its tar-sands, China is full of planet-destroying behaviour. But China is also helping lead the world towards green, planet-saving behaviour.

1. China's Cars Are More Fuel Efficient
At 15.6 kilometres per litre (36 mpg), China’s standard for new vehicles is 40% better than America’s. While compact cars pay 3% tax, SUVs and heavier cars pay 20%. Chinese companies are also determined to develop the electric vehicles market.

2. China's Bicycles Are More Electric
The streets of Beijing used to be full of old-fashioned black bicycles. Today, they are increasingly full of smart electric bicycles and mopeds that sell for $200 and have a running cost of 1 cent per 17 kilometres. With 70 million electric bikes on the road, China has 75% of the global market.

3. China Is Developing More Renewable Energy
Under China’s National Renewable Energy Law, the share coming from renewables must double to 15% by 2020. This includes 3% from wind, calling for an increase from 6,000 MW to 30,000 MW by 2020, but progress is so rapid that energy experts believe China could reach 100,000 MW by then, providing 20% of its power. (Canada has 2000 MW of installed wind power.) By 2009, China may be the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines; it is already the second largest manufacturer of polycrystalline silicon solar voltaic cells, producing 820 MW in 2007, second only to Japan.

4. China Has Most Of The World’s Solar Hot WaterChina has two-thirds of the world’s solar hot water heaters, totaling over 40 million systems. Around 10% of China’s buildings use solar hot water, covering 108 million square meters of rooftop. The systems cost under $400 - newer systems less than $200, about the same as an electric heater. The financial payback is around two years. Almost all of China’s solar heaters use the evacuated tube technology, not the older flat plate technology.

5. Rizhao is Aiming to Become Carbon Neutral
The coastal resort city of Rizhao (“Ree-jow”), population 3 million, is aiming to become fully carbon neutral, a goal it shares with Vancouver, Arendal (Norway), and Växjö (Sweden). 99% of the buildings in the city’s urban area use solar hot water (30% in the rural area); many streetlights and traffic signals are solar; and the city has 60,000 solar-heated greenhouses. The city government is closing down small enterprises that burn coal, and using methane from industrial waste-water as a source of electricity. Since 2000, Rizhao has cut its CO2 emissions by almost 50%.
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6. China has Banned Free Plastic Bags
Until June 2008, the Chinese were consuming up to three billion plastic shopping bags a day, using 37 million barrels of oil a year to produce them. In June, a nation-wide ban on the manufacturing, sale, and use of ultra-thin plastic bags kicked in, along with a requirement that stores charge the actual cost for the use of bags, with a $1200 dollar fine for non-compliance. Reports indicate a 50% fall in use, with some stores reporting up to 90% reduction as customers change to woven baskets and cloth bags.

7. China's Buildings are Getting Greener
China needs to build urban homes for 400 million people over the next 12-20 years. New design codes – if enforced - will cut energy consumption by 50%, and the LEED green building standard is becoming established, but the scale of change needed is enormous. In Guangzhou, the 71-story Pearl River Tower will generate 100% of its own energy, including built-in wind turbines.
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8. China is Planting Trees
China’s cities have been choking under terrible sandstorms caused by the fast-eroding deserts that make up 27% of China. In response, a huge tree-planting effort is now part of everyone’s life, with 42 billion trees being planted since 1982, increasing the national forest cover rate form 12% to 16.5%. A “Great Green Wall” is being planted to try to shield China from the increasing sandstorms and restore eroding soils. Another solution may be to bring back the wolf, restoring grazing patterns and grassland ecology - but that’s another story. See

9. China is Tackling Its Carbon Footprint
A possible 1-2 metre sea-level rise this century will inundate major areas of China’s coast, including Shanghai, and two-thirds of the glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau will melt by 2050, causing China’s rivers to dry up. In response, China is aiming voluntarily to reduce its CO2 intensity (but not its absolute emissions) by 20% by 2010, and 80% by 2050. China is also aiming for a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2010, has mandatory energy efficiency labeling for all appliances, and is subsidizing 50 million efficient light bulbs, cutting their price by 50%. The average Chinese carbon footprint is five times smaller than a Canadian’s; and three times smaller than a European’s, but as a country, China has the world’s largest carbon footprint.

10. China is Building a Green Economy
Environmental costs harm China’s GDP by as much as 8-13% a year, eliminating the impact of all economic progress since 1970. In response, China National Bureau of Statistics has started a “green accounting” initiative. The People’s Bank of China is planning to evaluate loan eligibility based on environmental performance, using the Equator Principles. China’s $200 billion state investment fund has also promised not to invest in companies that damage the environment, waste energy, or produce tobacco.

Guy Dauncey is author of the newly published book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming.

First published in Corporate Knights Magazine, September 2008