Eco-Advantage Blog

May 22, 2007 | Andrew Winston | Jump to: Comments (0) | Post A Comment

A Visit to Shanghai

I just got back from a speaking engagement in Shanghai, China. I can confidently report that greening is a global phenomenon. It’s almost a cliché now to say that the battle to save our planet and ourselves will be won or lost in China, but it’s still true. The country is growing so fast — Shanghai is putting up skyscrapers at a torrid pace — and lifestyles are looking pretty Western. You can see endless apartment buildings with clothes drying out the windows, but air conditioning units as well. From an energy use and environmental impact perspective, this is terrifying. But I saw some really good signs of progress.

Every day the hotel provided a copy of the Shanghai Daily, a pithy English-language newspaper. In just the one day I really read it (I was only there two days — which does wonders to your internal clock), there were three pieces on greening, including a short blurb on Toyota going luxury with its hybrids. One editorial was titled “Big polluters emboldened by local governments that ignore violations.” It was a somewhat depressing piece about pollution problems and how wastewater recycling equipment, for example, would only be turned on when environmental inspectors showed up. But I was heartened by the fact that this article was even written — it shows that awareness of the problem is acute.

Second, there was a great story about a Finnish company that was poised to make a ton of money as China tightens rules on energy-conserving materials in buildings. The company, Glaston Corp., makes glass processing machines needed to produce “Low-E” insulating glass. Glaston is opening a new plant in China which will be 10-15% of the company’s manufacturing capacity. This is a classic Green to Gold tale — pressure from regulatory stakeholders and the upside benefit from meeting green market demands.

These two stories — of downside risk and upside potential — show me that the media frenzy around green business is not just a Western thing. Everyone is having the same conversation.

One other point…Shanghai is in the middle of a wrenching move from the ancient to the modern. Shiny new mega-developments are going up right next to (or replacing) old buildings and apartment complexes. It’s jarring. But the potential to leapfrog on technology is tremendous. Just as many developing countries have jumped right to cell phones, China can adopt the greenest technologies without passing Go and going through the more inefficient designs that we now have to retrofit.

The challenges are great in China, but hope is high.

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