China’s clean choice
On 22 March, World Water Day 2007, 21 Chinese environmental NGOs came together to launch a new “Green Choice Initiative”. Aimed at China’s vast consumer population, the hope is to encourage all individuals to consider a company’s environmental performance in guiding their daily purchasing decisions.
Unfortunately, too many brand name companies pollute illegally. By carefully scrutinising the goods produced by these illegally polluting enterprises, consumers can harness their own individual purchasing power to exert pressure on them to reform their harmful environmental practices.
World Water Day was a fitting date to launch such a proposal. China currently faces grave water pollution problems. High volumes of wastewater discharged by polluting enterprises play no small role in threatening our public health and damaging our already scarce water resources. Some enterprises are in such breach of legal wastewater standards as to cause serious pollution accidents and water supply stoppages. Yet such guilty parties face no repercussions for their reprehensible actions and instead continue to enjoy high business success. This sends companies a distorted market signal. Without so much as a slap on the wrist, companies continue to lower their environmental standards. Without any financial penalties, polluting enterprises enjoy market share gains, while slacking on their environmental protection responsibilities. When we consumers do not take a stand against polluters, the companies win and we lose. In the end, the pollution that results from production harms the quality of life and public welfare.
Today the conditions for a successful Green Choice Initiative in China are primed and ready. First of all, consumers face a multitude of wellknown brands in the marketplace, which gives them the power of choice. Second, there are the efforts of the environmental protection arm of the government to disclose information based on government and official state media reports. In fact, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs has compiled a list of nearly 5,000 businesses in violation of pollution discharge standards. Most of these violators are small and medium-sized local firms, but the list also includes far too many large-scale industrial players and multinational corporations.
We hope that consumers will carefully consider the list of polluting companies and be mindful of particular brands. The next time consumers are confronted with a choice, we hope they will be able to identify the goods from violating firms and make a Green Choice, thereby sending a clear market signal to companies. Consumers can exert tangible market pressure, and ultimately force polluters to contemplate the damaging effect of illegal pollution on their brand reputation and market share. The power of consumer choices will eventually force companies to comply with discharge standards and become better stewards of the environment.
At the same time, we challenge large retailers and major industries to take the initiative of strengthening their supply-chain management by comparing their supplier lists with the list of polluters and then by conducting strict audits on suppliers that violate standards. Companies that adopt genuine green supply-chain management and ensure clean processes from production to market will win the confidence and support of environmentally-minded consumers.
We know that businesses contribute significantly to the country’s economic prosperity and social development, but we also firmly believe that this does not give them the right to pass on the environmental costs of their manufacturing processes to the rest of society. No one has the right to violate environmental laws and regulations– neither a small family-owned business nor a large multinational company. We hope that lawbreaking enterprises will fully bend to public pressure and discontinue illegal discharges, and strive to improve their environmental behaviour. Only then will lawbreaking enterprises regain the public’s confidence and trust. Our group of 21 Chinese NGOs is actively seeking to secure resources and will make every possible effort to assist those enterprises that want our advice and expertise to improve their environmental performance.
We are optimistic that Green Choice will exert real market pressure, and so help environmental protection agencies at every level of government in managing pollution more effectively. We are confident that Green Choice will help to build a fair and equitable marketplace–one in which environmentally sound firms remain competitive and financially successful. We are hopeful that Green Choice will be a catalyst for waste reduction and energy savings among commercial enterprises and will galvanize a positive new direction for our nation’s economic development. We have faith that Green Choice will help the public defend and protect its right to a healthy environment, once again restoring the country’s jade rivers and blue skies.
The Green Choice Initiative was launched by the following NGOs: Global Village Beijing; Green Earth Volunteers; Friends of Nature; Huai River Guards; Green Island; Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims; Beijing Promotion Association for Sustainable Development; Nature Keeper; Environmental and Public Interests Association; Global Environmental Institute; Wild China; Xinjiang Conservation Funds; Hebei Voice of Green; Tianjin Friends of Green; Chongqing Green Volunteer Federation; Yunnan Green Watershed; Gansu Green Camel Bell; Hubei Green Hanjiang; Nanjing Green Stone Environmental Action Network; Wenzhou Green Eyes; Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
- Visit the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs: www.ipe.org.cn
OECD Observer No. 261 May 2007
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