We constantly write about how China is serious about improving its environment, most recently in the post, Is China Going Green? — Part VI — So Green It Is Going To Hurt. China is serious about the environment for one simple reason. It wants to keep its citizenry satisfied because satisfied citizens do not to take to the streets. Clean air and clean water are the basics citizens expect from their government.
Yet nearly every time we write on this, someone sends us an e-mail claiming the Chinese government does not care at all about the environment and its statements of environmental concern are purely political, with no enforcement behind them.
Back in February, in Is China Going Green? we wrote about a United States company that voluntarily spends an estimated $25,000 more per retail outlet in China to build outlets that meet or exceed the toughest U.S. environmental standards. One of the reasons we thought this made sense was because we could see Chinese citizens getting “very angry” at a polluting foreign company:
We are aware of a Fortune 500 retail company that is opening units in China that meet or exceed the toughest United States environmental laws. I estimate this company’s environmental sensitivity will cost them at least an additional $25,000 per unit, yet I am firmly convinced this company is doing the right thing. This company’s actions make sense because the odds are good that China’s environmental laws and enforcement (particularly as against foreign companies) will get tougher over time, and building environmentally sound units now will almost certainly cost less than having to retrofit existing units a few years from now. On top of this, people often get very emotional about the environment and I can see Chinese citizens getting very angry at a foreign company whose units in China are less environmentally sound than their units in the United States or elsewhere. This is obviously even more likely to be the case if there were to be some sort of environmental disaster.
That day has arrived. Recently, in China’s Fujian province, approximately 200 villagers went on a rampage against factories they believed were polluting their town and damaging their health. The angry citizens smashed factory windows and equipment and there were even reports of some deaths.
I have tried to read every article on this event and none of them relay the same facts. The actual number of villagers and factories involved varies by article, and only some of the articles report any deaths. Nonetheless, it is clear there was a rampage that caused massive damage to the factories. It is also pretty clear that at least one or more of the factories (and the one that seemed to have been hit the hardest) was foreign owned.
Bottom Line: Chinese citizens are becoming more and more sensitive to their environment. So whether or not you agree with our assertion that China’s government is sincere about seeking to clean up China’s environment, you should still do what you can to clean up your own operations. Doing so is just good business.