Monday, May 26, 2008

Going Green in Shanghai

More than ever, it's become important to spread "green" messages in China. As the economy continues to develop, people need to know that they can play a role on the individual level to fight the effects of global warming.

After moving here, I was shocked to find that a formal recycling program doesn't exist. Right now, people will go through the garbage to look for items like plastic bottles to take to recycling centers. The government is beginning to take some action by banning filmsy plastic bags in grocery stores. People will now have to pay if they want to use the bags. It's the hope that people will go back to using cloth bags and baskets like they did 20 years ago.

The following article will appear in the June issue of The Courier, the magazine of the Shanghai Expatriate Association. Before writing the story, I thought that I was doing a pretty good job with being green - bringing cloth bags to the grocery store, taking shorter showers, and turning off lights when I left a room. But I quickly found out that there is so much more than I could be doing after doing interviews with these environmental groups and firms. I've decided my next efforts to be more green will involve using more public transportation and buying more local foods. I just started to unplug all my appliances at the wall if I'm not using them.

Here's my story:

In Shanghai, it’s easy to see the environmental consequences of rapid economic development with the hazy skies and murky waters.

Grappling with these issues throughout the country, the Chinese government has ordered the ban of free ultra-thin plastic bags common at shops and supermarkets starting in June. Customers will need to pay for any that they use. People go through up to 3 billion plastic shopping bags a day in China.

The government has also called for the return of cloth bags and shopping baskets that residents used before the filmsy plastic bags became widely available. While it’s an important initiative, Shanghai firms, organizations, and environmental advocates say that more can be done at the individual level.

This city wide green effort kicked off in April at the Eco Design Fair at the Urbn Hotel, the country’s first carbon neutral hotel. The fair featured products from over 25 eco-conscious businesses and groups, including organic clothing, home accessories, toys, building materials. A portion of the proceeds were donated to Shanghai Roots & Shoots and its tree planting program in Inner Mongolia.

“Green living is a consciousness of lifestyle…understanding how our lifestyles impact our surrounding environments,” said Ryan Dick, A00 Architecture. The firm encourages clients to incorporate green elements into their projects.

A00 Architecture along with SGTH Design, Wobabybasics, and the Urbn Hotel recently formed Green Ideas Green Action (GIGA) to share the best practices for sustainability in the design community. The group has started a database of local sources of green materials and textiles on its Web site.

GIGA holds events for the design community, but we will also plan events for the general public to share ideas on how to be more green, Dick said.

Dick said tracking an energy bill can help someone start reducing their energy consumption. Some simple steps that can be taken in home include turning up the thermostat a few degrees during the summer and unplugging appliance from the wall.

“It starts creating an awareness. Once you start actively paying attention, it makes you enthused to do more,” he said.

The challenge ahead cited by groups like GIGA is creating a consciousness about environmental issues and the individual’s influence on a daily basis.

“A lot of people want to do something, but they think, ‘Can an individual make a difference? It’s up to the corporations and government.’ With 1.3 billion people, everyone can make a difference” said Jessica Sun, who founded Shanghai Live Green Eco-Tech Inc last year. The company spearheads educational programming and produces eco-friendly products such as bags made out of recylcled plastic bottles and portable stainless steel chopsticks.

“In the old days, we would reuse, but now people want the convenience. We tell people it’s a lifestyle [to be green], it’s not just going back to the old times,” added Sun, a native Shanghaiese, who returned to the city in 2006 after living in Canada for a decade.

“The economic development is good, but it’s the cause of the environmental impact. Climate change is the threat that we’re facing,” she said.

Sun and her group currently works with the local municipal governement and universities. They’ve held “no plastic bag days” at area supermarkets and forums for the students to watch the American documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Shanghai firms have also taken education to rural areas. Environmental consultants from Greennovate started the Greennovate Environmental Challenge for Kids Outreach (GECKO) after working with businesses in these areas.

We designed 6 modules that give an introduction into how the environment works and how people impact it. The program takes place over the course of several months. Currently, 1,000 students from two high schools and one middle school in Guizhou Province are participating, said Mihela Hladin, general manager of Greenovate.

“If we teach a message with them, they can reach the entire family. We are showing them that they can do something small and it counts,” Hladin said.

In Moganshan, a thickly forested hilltop area about 60 km north of Hangzhou and 200km away from Shanghai, Naked Retreats offers guests a more green place to stay. The retreat rennovated and operates its houses in an environmentally friendly manner, promotes environmental awareness through education, and provides employment opportunities in the immediate area to residents.

“It’s part of our internal philosophy…More than tips, we’re sharing an attitude about our earth,” said Gabriela Lo, managing director of Naked Retreats.

The retreat doesn’t market itself as eco-friendly, but many of guests find out how we operate, Lo said.

In a city of 18 million, environmental advocates remain optimistic that changes will take place over time. With the World Expo in 2010, the city is expected to go green where it can in the planning of the festivities.

The eco-conscious group is growing among the Shanghaiese and there are more expats coming to live here, Sun said. “Expats are trendsetters to Chinese people. The Chinese people think what the foreigners do is fashionable,” she said.

Hladin said students in the rural communities have taken a strong interest in their efforts in reaching out to them.

“I think the foreign community is at a high level of awareness. This is a good first step,” said Hladin. “NGOs are also running more programs. It shows big interest that this is the way to go.”

Boxes accompanying the story:

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is a measure in units of carbon dioxide that calculates the impact of human activities to global warming. Some of these activities include lighting and electricity, heating and cooling of the home, transport, travel, and the purchasing of goods. Calculate your footprint at Living a greener lifestyle can help reduce your footprint.

Everyday Tips for Being Green:

-Unplug your appliances/electronics at the wall
Appliances on “stand by” look like they are switched off, but they still drawing a significant amount of power - and costing you money. You can turn off your computer at the end of each day.

-Bring your own bags for shopping
Jooi Design and Greennovate have collaborated on a reusable Bag that is functional and compactable that you can carry with you everywhere. Proceeds from the sale of the bag will go to Greenovate’s efforts to educate children in rural China about the environment. Bags available at the Jooi Design Studio, International Artist Factory - Taikang Lu, Lane 210, Studio 201, Shanghai Live Green Eco-Tech sells a bag made out of recycled plastic bottles,

- Wash your clothes in cold or warm water instead of hot
Using warn or cold water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, according to Drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

-Pay for your carbon emissions
You can help offset the carbon footprint of your car, home and air travel by funding renewable energy projects through Shanghai Roots & Shoots’ Carbon Footprint Planting program ( Buy a tree for 25 rmb or a well for 8,000 rmb.

-Buy locally produced goods and food
Being in China, buying local goods isn’t a problem, but cutting down on buying imported goods can help.

-Use public transportation, bike, or walk when you can

-Turn off the lights when you leave the room

-Buy a reusable plastic water bottle

-Take shorter showers

For more information and tips:

-Greenspace,, go there to download "The Environmentally Friendly Gardener"


-The Daily Green,

-Green Ideas Green Action (GIGA)

-Eco Design Fair. The fair was in April, but the site features a directory of companies and individuals that offer environmentally friendly products and services.

-Naked Retreats

-Live Green Eco

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