Greening the Almighty Yuan: Consumer Choice Comes To China!

You're reading TreeHugger, so you know that the green in your wallet can be leveraged for a greener globe. Eco-consumption, though something of a contradiction in terms, is an idea, a movement, and finally a market with deep roots in the Western world. (These are our roots, treehuggers!) Now, with consumption rapidly rising in China, the awesome power of consumer choice is finding its way to the Middle Kingdom's expanding middle class. "The conditions are ripe for consumers to support [green consumption in China]," says Ma Jun, a prominent Chinese environmental activist. "They have multiple options and the government is very open on the provision of environmental information."

Last week, just in time for World Water Day, a coalition of 21 Chinese environmental groups called on consumers to pressure polluters using their purchasing power. The campaign, dubbed Green Choice (not to be confused with this Green Choice, which we'll be covering soon), has made use of the government's provision of environmental information to produce a blacklist of companies cited for violating environmental laws. So who's made it onto the Great Wall of Shame? Nearly 5000 Chinese companies and over 50 multinationals, including American-Standard, Dupont, Nestle, Panasonic, and PepsiCo. Much more post-jump.The Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), a well-known nonprofit organization, is leading the Green Choice charge. The environmental offenders list was created using data assembled by the Institute, which has also compiled thousands of government environmental records into a publicly accessible, searchable online database. (We first covered IPE's exciting efforts to put environmental information into ordinary citizens' hands here.) Companies are cited for violations dating back to 2004, and some assert that they have since addressed problems or that they shouldn't have been included at all. It's also been pointed out that information released by government sources may not be accurate. But as Ma, director of IPE, said at the Green Choice launch, "This is a start."

With clean drinking water said to be the Chinese public's #1 environmental concern — and with good reason — World Water Day was a natural choice for promoting Green Choice. Not only were most companies on the list cited for dumping polluted waste water, but local water quality is also a problem that weighs on Chinese consumers — and that might just drive them to green their purchasing. "It's not very likely that local pollutants are killing our people," says Ma. "It's absolutely."

The Green Choice coalition is hoping to reach individual shoppers, but they're not stopping there. IPE is engaging directly with the environmental offenders. Some 20 firms have already approached the Institute to start communications, and five have committed to correct their polluting practices and submit to strict third party auditing. Ma hopes that the future holds supply chain involvement, as well. Once the Green Choice database is fully available in English, he envisions international companies using it to check up on their Chinese suppliers.

If capitalism with Chinese characteristics comes to incorporate consumption with a green conscience, China and the world will be far better for it. The Green Choice coalition is poised to push purchasers and polluters along. And with the coalition looking to reach beyond China's borders to hold multinational offenders to task, there might soon be a new way for you to green your — that is, the world's — water.

::China Daily and ::The Wall Street Journal (Login needed to view the whole article.)

Tags: China | Pollution