The State of Sustainability Management and Measurement in China
Sustainability management is more than an emerging field; it is a vital aspect of many organizations and economies across the globe. The chief driver behind sustainability and developing a green economy is the need to continue economic growth while reducing the impact of that growth on the earth’s natural systems. Today’s leaders have accepted this as fact, and interest in environmental sustainability is increasing at all levels of society, which makes incorporating sustainability into daily operations of great importance.
On an increasingly crowded planet, the scale of production has expanded, and with it we see an increased draw on the earth’s finite resources. Organizations must continually adapt the way they operate as things around them change, and while water, energy, and waste used to be minor factors in an organization’s cost equation, those days are gone. A well-managed organization is now one that ensures that physical constraints, resource costs and environmental impacts are inputs to routine decision-making. Following the lead of both private sector corporations and public sector policymakers, the field of sustainability management is focused on analysis of strategies and implementation of the most effective policies and technologies. The field of sustainability management can help us manage our global economy, ensure long-term growth, and secure a sustainable material future, but we will need public policies, private innovation, and international collaboration to accelerate the transition to such a sustainable economy.
At China’s largest environmental conference last month, Eco Forum Global, the Earth Institute Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management co-organized a sub-forum event on sustainability management and how to adapt its principles and practices to the unique Chinese context. The sub-forum, sponsored by the statistics bureau of the local host province, was led by Earth Institute postdoctoral research scholar Dong Guo, along with the Research Program’s research partner, the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE). The sub-forum was attended by more than 200 representatives from central and local governments, academia,
and the private sector. Dr. Wang Jun, CCIEE’s lead researcher, presented joint work on developing a sustainability framework and set of metrics for Chinese cities. The Earth Institute’s executive director, Steve Cohen, discussed the importance of implementing sustainability at the operational level with effective tools and practices, both at the government and corporate levels. The forum also featured keynote speeches from the deputy director of China’s National Statistics Bureau on the effort to implement a system of green accounting, and an outline of innovative techniques that China’s Henan province has been using to fight pollution and set national precedence.
Dr. Guo moderated a panel discussion on the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach in addressing sustainability issues. The panel included the Earth Institute’s Dr. Satyajit Bose, representatives from the National Statistics Bureau, Wei Dong Zhou, managing director of The Sustainability Consortium China, and the chairman of Xinyuan Real Estate, a NYSE-listed real estate company. The panel discussed the U.S. private sector’s leadership in sustainability initiatives, but concurrent lack of financial incentives to implement long-term sustainability solutions. The government, they insisted, must serve as an active leader in both resources and authority in order to make the transition to a sustainable economy, while NGOs and academics are necessary in bridging gaps between the private and public sectors.
Dr. Cohen delivered a keynote speech to over 4,000 people at the closing ceremony of Eco Forum Global, focusing on China’s connected goals of economic growth, sustainable development, and poverty reduction. He stressed that it is important for China, and all of us, to have a greater recognition of the impact of human development on the environment, and that while we shouldn’t expect people to reduce their quality of living, we can develop the technologies and energy sources to maintain our economic growth while improving environmental quality and public health. Cohen reiterated this message in an interview with CCTV, China’s largest news network, adding that “whether you’re very poor or very rich, you still have to breathe and the air.” He emphasized that economic development, getting people out of poverty, and protecting the environment are not incompatible goals. Specifically for China, locally-driven innovation can help clean the environment and provide jobs that will allow China to meet its sustainability and economic objectives.