China is the world's factory, and thus it is imperative to work toward "greening" its companies, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) director Wei Dong Zhou explained. The June 19 program, hosted jointly by the Canada Institute and the China Environment Forum, focused on green business initiatives in Guangdong Province, China's industrial powerhouse. Speakers You-Zhi Tang, Canada Cleantech Fund, and Jay M. Dietrich, IBM, discussed environmental efficiency strategies for businesses, and provided examples of Canadian and U.S. involvement in China. Opportunities to green industries and reduce energy usage are endless, said the speakers, but the effort requires an organized structure of checks and balances. Due to China's dire environmental situation, the country has increasingly encouraged "green business" ventures that have been supported by Canadian and U.S. corporations operating in China.
Can Red China Become Green?
Though China has often been criticized for its excessive pollution, the country is well on its way to becoming green, argued Wei Dong Zhou of BSR. He noted that BSR has more than 250 members worldwide, including IBM, Procter & Gamble, Nike, and Coca-Cola. The non-profit group assists businesses worldwide in making their Chinese factories more sustainable. BSR also mediates cross-sector relationships that bring together producers, retailers, and transporters to strategize ways to mitigate their collective impact on the environment.
The newest program of BSR is the South China Energy Conservation Community, which aims to reduce the usage of the top 100 energy consuming companies in Guangdong by 20 percent by 2011. Zhou stated that he believes that this goal is in reach if companies are innovative, have forward-thinking leadership, and create green-focused corporate culture. Some Chinese companies are already quickly becoming leaders in green technology and culture, including Broad Air, BYD, and Green Fountain.
Canada's Place in Green China
A second challenge for Canadian companies is that they tend to be more risk averse, while Chinese businesses tend to jump at opportunities. This difference becomes especially apparent when looking at the two countries' responses to new technologies. As Tang explained, "[Canada] can wait, China can't." These contrasts in corporate culture have made Chinese-Canadian business collaboration more difficult, though some Canadian companies have been successful in China's emerging green industry by targeting niche markets such as thermal energy.
Though Guangdong is often said to be at the forefront of China's environmental initiatives, Tang suggested that the province could do much more in the environmental realm. For example, China has shown preference toward implementing Cleaner Production (CP) programs that focus primarily on pollution prevention. Tang suggested that such programs are the wrong approach to greening business in China since CP strategies only address current environmental problems, rather than look forward to innovations in efficiency.
Drafted by Laura Pedro, Program Intern, Canada Institute
David Biette, Director, Canada Institute