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China’s green washout

The launch of environmental disclosure rules was hailed as a turning point for eco-protection in China's business world. But two years on, they have all but been forgotten, says Huo Weiya.

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When chinadialogue organised a talk last May to mark the first year since publication of China’s environmental transparency regulations, “Measures for the Disclosure of Environmental Information” (or “Measures” for short) Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), said the biggest problem had been “the almost total lack of action from business”.

China’s firms may be unwilling to reveal environmental data, but when it comes to green marketing, there is no shortage of enthusiasm. In public, top executives never doubt the importance of environmental protection, nor do they deny their social responsibilities.

The Annual Summit of China Green Companies is a discussion forum established by such “environmentally aware” firms. Since the first meeting in 2008, the member companies have ceaselessly flagged up their concern for the environment with their choice of conference topics, ranging from “green competitiveness” to “green transformation” to this year’s “green evolution”.

April’s summit saw the publication of the China Green Companies Top 100 – one of the products of three years of this “evolution”. The list, compiled by the organisers of the meetings, the China Entrepreneur Club, indicates which enterprises have the most foresight, best meet their responsibilities and take most action on the environment, according to the organisation’s chief consultant, Yang Peng.

When he launched the list, however, Yang also revealed that the compilers, who examined almost 1,500 enterprises during their research, had found that Chinese firms were not in the habit of revealing data. A severe shortage of corporate environmental information had been the biggest obstacle, he said.

But China’s businessmen are never stingy when expressing their enthusiasm for environmental protection.

The attendees at this year’s meeting made constant reference to their personal efforts to protect the environment. Yu Minhong, head of the English education firm New Oriental, said that he had stopped flushing on night-time visits to the toilet, preferring to save water by flushing just once in the morning. And Guo Guangchang, chairman of investment firm Shanghai Fuxing enthusiastically promoted the practice of taijichuan, claiming it to be the most environmentally friendly of sports because people only need a small space to practise it. Some put forward more extreme positions. Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma said before the meeting that e-commerce aimed to eradicate paper; while Zhang Yue of air-conditioning manufacturer Broad once said that his goal was to eliminate air-conditioning.

In 2004, the ALXA SEE Ecological Association was established by 100 businessmen to work on issues ranging from sandstorm prevention to setting up ecological awards. They now also fund other Chinese NGOs. Some have started investing in private environmental funds. One of the founders of ALXA SEE, property developer Feng Lun, set up the Vantone Foundation, which is modelled on philanthropic funds in the United States and operates independently of its parent firm.

Such open expressions of environmental concern and participation in environmental events have improved the public image of these businessmen. But this does not mean the companies themselves are environmentally friendly. There is plenty of evidence that the greening of Chinese firms has gone no further than the mouths of their figureheads.

In 2009, a report on China by United Kingdom-based charity the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) concluded that the gathering and management of data on carbon emissions would be one of the main obstacles for Chinese companies taking a low-carbon route.

Each year, CDP requests the disclosure of carbon data from several thousand companies. In 2008, Chinese consultancy Syntao started working with CDP, asking for data from 100 of China’s largest firms by market value. In 2009, only 11 firms filled in the questionnaire, with 18 listed companies providing related information. In 2008 those figures were five and 20 respectively. Although the situation is improving, the ratio is still very low. In October last year, Greenpeace China carried out a survey of the world’s largest 500 firms and the biggest 100 listed companies in China, finding that none of the 25 factories owned by those 18 listed firms had released pollution data within the time limits set in the “Measures”.

Work by the IPE offers further dismal statistics. Since 2006, the IPE has published and updated maps of air and water pollution in China, having collected a range of official environmental data from 2004 onwards. By March this year, the two databases contained over 58,000 cases of firms being placed under supervision or sanctioned for environmental violations. And, in a report published in March on the role of Hong Kong in overcoming these failures, the IPE found that 175 firms listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange had committed over 750 known breaches of environmental rules on the mainland.

Chinese firms are greening only their image – their actual businesses remain unchanged. The reason is clear: going genuinely green costs, while a change of image is much cheaper. As economist Zhang Weiying said at the annual meeting, “If there’s no green business model, it’s all just slogans.”

One way to change this would be to ensure that firms can make money at the same time as being green. China’s government and many academics view green development as the key to maintaining both economic growth and sustainability, and so the state is currently offering various methods of support. This is the carrot.

At a sub-forum on green financing at the April summit, a number of investors expressed confidence that there was money to be made by backing environmentally friendly projects. But if the government does not change its approach and spur green development, that carrot will not be of any use.

In his article, “A paper victory”, chinadialogue’s Beijing-branch deputy editor Liu Jianqiang explains that certain government departments are sending out false signals that the environment is improving, thus providing cover for the polluters. This is bound to slow down the greening of China’s businesses.

Many environmentalists have placed their hopes for improvement in the “Measures”, as they benefit public participation and, therefore, oversight of corporate pollution. In an interview in April, Ma Jun said “The ‘Measures’ lay the foundation for the regulations and policy for openness of basic environmental information.” But there has been little action to report, and no firms have released information in line with their requirements.

There has also been a marked lack of interest from the Chinese media in noting the second anniversary of the publication of the regulations. The Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs published the Hong Kong report already mentioned, but the government ignored the event. It seems the document has been forgotten.

If there is no carrot to tempt businesses into becoming green, the “Measures” will fail to work. The public will be unable to put pressure on the corporate sector, and nothing more than greenwashing will have taken place.


Huo Weiya is associate editor in
chinadialogue’s Beijing office.

Homepage image from daonong.com shows a poster for the 2009 Annual Summit of China Green Companies

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评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

习惯

“中国企业还没有习惯披露数据”。要是披露数据是自发的话,这习惯恐怕猴年马月也养不成。要是公布数据是强制要求的,他们没公布,就不是个习惯问题,是违法了吧。怎么好像他们公布数据还是给老百姓的恩惠了,简直是本末倒置!

Habit

"Chinese companies still do not have the habit of disclosing data." If disclosing data was voluntary, I'm afraid not even god knows how long it would take for it to become a habit. If it is compulsory to publish data, and they don't publish it, then it is not a matter of habit, it is breaking the law. How is it that they make it seem like they are doing a favour for the people by publishing data, its reasoning is simply upside down!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

环保宣传仍需加强

从企业家对的环保行为可以看到,他们对于环保的认识还处于比较低的层面。

Still need to improve environmental awareness

We can see from the environmental behaviour of entrepreneurs that their understanding of environmental protection is still low.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

自我宣传大于环保宣传

我上网去看了一下文章中链接的"中国企业家俱乐部",从他们的会员活动看来,除了最频繁的喝茶唠嗑(所谓论坛沙龙)以外,次主要的活动就是打高尔夫球.高尔夫球啊,这项运动多么的不环保,中外对话之前的一篇文章就已经提到过了.http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/ch/3631-All-the-tees-in-China

Self-promotion is greater than Environmental awareness

I went online to look at the "China Entrepreneur Club" link in the article, and from their member activities, it looks like other than their frequent tea drinking and chats (so-called salon discussions), the main activity is playing golf. Golf is such a non-environmentally friendly activity. A previous China Dialogue article has already mentioned this. http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/ch/3631-All-the-tees-in-China

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

老百姓能减多少碳?

事实就是如此,环保本身就无望,政府企业都不在乎,每天号召百姓节能环保?低碳更是从何谈起呢???

How much carbon can people reduce?

That is the truth, environmental protection has no hope in itself and governmental enterprises don't care. All they do is tell people everyday that they should save energy and protect the environment. And where to begin with low carbon???

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复评论3

部分万科小区真的做了几年垃圾分类减量;王石等真的从珠穆朗玛捡回了不不少的垃圾,其中废氧气瓶100多个,世博的中国馆要拿去展览,万科馆就展示不了了

来自新浪微博

Re: conment 3

Part of Vanke Estate did take waste recycle and reduction for several years, and Wang Shi did Picking up litter too from Chomolungma, including over one hundred deserted oxygen cylinders, which were wanted by the World Expo China Pavilion and then weren't exhibited in Vanke Pavilion.

from sina miniblog

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

我从不看好这个《办法》

我比较看重的是中国的《环境评价法》和《政府信息公开条例》。

依照上述法律,中国上层两级政府环保部门公布了准入市场的企业建设名录;依照上述条例,上层国土资源部门应公布准许征地的建设项目名录。

这样,除上述两种准入之外开工的建设项目属于违规违法。

这样,政府、企业和公众监督的环境责任分工明确,这才是依法环保的根本之道。

陈继群
曾经草原网站
www.cy.ngo.cn

I'm Not Optimistic About These "Measures"

I think relatively highly of China's "Environmental Assessment Act" and the "Ordinance on Governmental Information Disclosure".
According to the act, the two upper levels of the Ministry of Environmental Protection must publish the records of enterprises permitted to enter the market. And according to the ordinance, the upper levels of the Ministry of Natural Resources must publish the records of expropriated lands for construction projects.
This is to say that besides the two kinds of entries mentioned above, initiating any other kind of construction project is illegal.
In this way, responsibility for the environment may be clearly divided among the government, business and the public. This is the method of environmental protection in keeping with the laws.
Chen Jiqun
Echoing Steppe
www.cy.ngo.cn
Comment translated by Clay Baylor

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

寻找绿色动力需要时间

我认为企业家不需要借此宣传自己,他们在寻找道路,需要全社会的支持,也需要大家一起寻找道路。比如垃圾分类,可以从自身做起!节能环保在每一天的生活中!

finding green power takes time

I don't think enterprisers really need this kind of publicity. They are looking for a way forward, and that process needs help and support from everyone in society. Take sorting household waste for example. Everyone can start doing that themselves. Save energy and protect the environment in daily life!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复7:依然可疑

企业家是在真诚地寻找道路,还是仅仅借此宣传自己,很难判断。但现实情况是,一些企业家一边高调讨论环保,一边污染环境。我们可能觉得虽然他们意识到了环境问题,但转变需要时间。可是他们面对自己污染的态度太让人质疑了。

Re: comment 7 still questionable

It's hard to judge whether entrepreneurs are sincerely trying to find solutions or just promoting themselves. But the current situation is, some entrepreneurs are having high-profile environmental protection discussions, while polluting the environment. We can feel that although they are aware of the environmental issues, but making changes takes time. But the attitude they have towards their own pollution is very questionable.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

是否真诚很重要

是否真诚很重要,这决定了出发点。诚然,企业家因其巨大的成功而承担了更多的社会责任,但相信其中的一部分,甚至大部分真诚的看到可持续绿色发展是正确的长远的并非为了宣传自己,是应该被人相信和尊重的,如果社会没有一点点相互的信任度,是否也是一种倒退?每个人都有为节能环保做贡献的义务,你是否承担了自己应做的那一份?如果自己做好了,再来评价别人不迟,如果自己真正意识到了地球所遭遇的危害,再来看到一部分企业家,就会相信他们的真心和真诚了。改变需要时间,需要寻找正确的实践方法,你自己的生活也一样,不是普通人就理所应当的不需要为可持续做贡献,每个个体都应当承担自己的义务!如果你连意识都没意识到,甚至没有说更没有做,那你就更没资格质疑别人的真诚!

Whether it is in good faith or not is important

Whether it is in good faith or not is important, this determines the starting point. Indeed, because of their great success, entrepreneurs bear even more social responsibility, but I believe that a part of, or even most of them who honestly see sustainable green development as the right long-term goal is not promoting themselves, it should be believed and respected by people and if society doesn't have even a little bit of trust, then isn't it going backwards? Each person has the obligation to contribute to saving energy, are you taking responsibility for what you should be? If you have done well, it's not too late to evaluate other people, if you are really conscious of the damage the earth has suffered, and then look at the actions of some of the entrepreneurs, you will believe that they are genuine and sincere. Change requires time, and needs to find the right ways, your life is the same, ordinary people should not take for granted that they do not need to contribute to sustainability, each individual should undertake their obligations! If you are not even aware of it, not spoken about it or done anything, then you don't have the right to criticise the good faith of others.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

扭转人类的劣根性需要全社会的努力

我们都很清楚应该做什么,不应该做什么,而我们每个人都很难做到,明知该做的不做,不该做的还在做,人类的劣根性或说贪欲,这就是地球走向灭亡、人类走向灭亡的原因,一部分企业家在探寻道路,也许做得不够,但他们意识到说出来已然是一种进步,何况在努力寻找企业里的解决之道,而每个个体是否更需要这样?少用一次性筷子、少开空调、少用餐巾纸、少换一次手机或电脑、多步行、开始尝试垃圾分类、接洗衣机的水冲厕所……你做到了吗?你意识到了吗?人类在慨叹社会退步的时候往往忘记了自己的责任。自己不负责,还质疑别人的负责之心,或许比不质疑要好,但不如努力行动更好!

The efforts of the whole society are needed to reverse the evils of humans

We all know very clearly what we should and should not do, yet it is very hard for each of us to do. We don't do what we know we should do, and do what we shouldn't do. The inherent flaws and greed of humans is the reason that earth and humankind are doomed for destruction. Some entrepreneurs explore the pathways and perhaps that is not enough, but they are aware that talking about it is a kind of progress, much less make an effort to find solutions within the company, and should each individual do the same? Use disposable chopsticks less, turn on the air conditioning less, use less napkins, change mobiles or computers less, walk more, try to separate your rubbish, use the water from the washer to flush the toilet...can you do it? Are you aware now? When humans lament about the deterioration of society, they always forget their own responsibilities. They do not take responsibility and question the responisibilities of others, or maybe it is better than not questioning, but it'd be better to take action!