– By Esther van Bergen, Capgemini Netherlands –
As someone not particularly dealing with China on a daily bases, except of course as a consumer, I have been noticing a lot of buzz on China lately. Many of the sources I use to keep up with CSR & Sustainability developments (in the broad sense of the word) have been spotlighting more and more on what’s happening there. Reading an article this week on World Resource Institute’s page dubbed The future of King Coal in China, made me realize how often I’ve been hearing, reading and watching about it in recent months.
I used to only learn of stories about toxic spills, how bad the environmental policies were and the lack of adherence to those that were in place or, on the other side of the CSR spectrum, the social constraints the people were living under. We still hear about these stories, but these days I am coming across a lot of other stories as well, without even looking for it. This has increasingly been intriguing me of late. And so I wondered, has China become the most visible real-life showcase, with all its ups and downs, disasters and successes, of our collective efforts to move to a ‘sustainable world’? I dove into an online search on anything to do with CSR (both the environmental and social aspects) in relation to China. I was finding so much information, soon I was unable to see the forest for the trees – pardon the pun.
China still is the top producer and user of coal-based energy and will continue to be for quite some time. From environmental perspective this remains a concern of course. But as the trend of the last decade was for China to have new coal plants popping up as if from a production line, the trend now appears to slowing down a lot sooner than expected. At the same time, as it is a developing country with 1.35 billion people dealing with a continuing rise in energy demand, so do China’s investments in renewable, clean energy sources. They’re also betting on EV’s for both private and public transport (even though there are quite a few bottlenecks to overcome) and the concept of Smart Cities.
China also seems to be slowly changing on the ‘social front’. Although the core structure remains in place and certain topics or activities are still very much deemed unacceptable by the powers that be, there appears to be some increase of ‘room to move’. Perhaps taking on a more pragmatic approach, if you will. Demands of protestors are being met more often when it comes to (for instance) environmental problems, working conditions and land grabs. It seems that both the Chinese citizens and their governmental bodies are trying to find new footing in a changing society. Social Entrepreneurship seems to be another element on the rise in China, some being quite successful and gaining a lot of attention. A common driver for these developments appears to be the internet and social media, even with the core structure of restrictions still in place.
Today’s China is a country of contradicting worlds, a country with 2 faces. One where the (unfortunately) more familiar gloomy stories are still making headlines, but also one where lots of exiting new things are happening. Now, this can be said about a lot of other countries I’m sure. But nowhere else do the opposite sides seem to be as contrastingly visible as they are there. For a country that has been closed off to much of the world during the 20th century I find this particularly interesting. China still has a long way to go, but don’t we all? At least we’ve begun and it’s starting to show.
Footnote: The links in this blog are just a very small selection of things I came across and are merely meant as examples .
Esther van Bergen is an IT Strategy consultant at Capgemini Netherlands. As a coordinator for Capgemini’s Green IT services and a member of the Capgemini’s Sustainability Network she specializes in Sustainability of and with IT.