3 People-Green-Tech Chinese Initiatives

By Dawn McGregor, Yuanchao Xu 18 December, 2018

CWR's McGregor & Xu share three ways technology is converging with people in China's War on Pollution

My Nanjing is an app that analyses residents' green activities (e.g. if they cycle to work instead of drive) and rewards them with green credits, which can be used for in-app online shopping
Elsewhere, Ningbo started an initiative in 2015 which uses QR codes to accurately sort waste with households rewarded for high marks; the the initiative has attracted RMB1.5bn in investment so far
Lastly, Ant Forest awards carbon points for any of 16 listed activities e.g. using public transport; these points are used to water a virtual tree & when it is fully grown, a real tree is planted

China is not just battling environmental issues through laws/ policies/ etc., they are also turning to technology to engage the public. This isn’t surprising given the rise of technology, big data, smart cities and so on. The convergence of technology and China’s ‘War On Pollution’ is really coming into fruition, with only more to come. This Christmas, we share three people-green-tech initiatives (apps, app functions & QR codes) from China driven by governments and private corporations.

1.  My Nanjing- Smart Nanjing

Technology App
Promoting Green credit system for residents
Developer Nanjing Information Centre (government organisation)
Location Nanjing, Jiangsu province
Release Date August 2014
Available On iPhone & Androids


My Nanjing is an app
that centralises various types of public service information for residents of Nanjing. It includes insurance information, water/gas fees, transportation details, medical care and others. The information is tailored to residents, e.g., when and how much you have to pay for water/gas and social insurance premiums, which is the best route to go to work, your personal medical report, etc. My Nanjing is based on a smart city concept.

A main component & incentive of the app is the green credit system…

…if they use public transport or cycle to work instead of drive & residents collect credit which can be used for in-app shopping

A main component and incentive of the app is the green credit system. Through all the information collected it analyses residents’ green activities, for example if they use public transport or cycle to work instead of drive and residents collect credit. These green credits can then be used to purchase certain items from the online shopping mall in the app.

The app has almost 3 million users now, over a third of Nanjing’s 8.3 million population.

2.  QR Tracked Household Waste

Technology QR Code
Promoting Efficient household waste sorting
Developer Ningbo government leads the initiative
Location Ningbo & Hangzhou cities, Zhejiang Province
Release Date Initiated in November 2015
Available On Only available to residents within selected areas

The idea behind this initiative is to develop an efficient waste management system across Ningbo city. Started in 2013, residents in 666 neighbourhoods were handed rubbish bags with QR codes. Now more than 82% of the city is covered.

When disposing of waste, residents scan the QR code & the corresponding waste receptacle opens for the waste to be disposed

The QR codes contain data describing whether the bag should contain food or non-food waste. When disposing of waste, residents scan the QR code and the corresponding waste receptacle opens for the waste to be disposed, which helps to accurately sort the waste. Random inspections are conducted. If the bag indeed only contains the denoted type of waste, then the corresponding household is awarded a high mark. However, if the bag does not contain just that kind of waste then the corresponding household receives no/ a low mark and will be educated on sorting.

Individual households are rewarded for scoring high marks with incentives e.g. 15 eggs…


…the initiative has had RMB1.5bn in investment so far

Individual households are rewarded for scoring high marks with incentives, for example 15 eggs. Similarly, entire buildings will also be rewarded if the building scores highly.

According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in 2018Q2, the Ningbo waste system ranked 3rd among 46 cities nationwide. Xiamen and Shenzhen were 1st and 2nd. The initiative has had RMB1.5 bn in investment so far, of which RMB554 mn came from a loan from the World Bank.

3.  Ant Forest

Technology App feature
Promoting Green living (human activities & growing trees)
Developer Ant Forest by Alipay & Beijing Environmental Exchange (the dedicated carbon exchange platform by the Beijing government)
Location China
Release Date Initiated in August 2016
Available On iPhone & Android (must have Alipay China app already)

Ant Forest is a special feature of Alipay, under Ant Financial, which was created as a corporate social responsibility project. In the Alipay app you can activate a special feature and Ant Forest will open a carbon account for you. The account then accumulates carbon points if the account holder does any of the 16 listed activities, for example, using public transportation, going paperless in the office etc. These points are then used to water and grow your own virtual tree.

After the virtual tree is fully grown (with constant watering by accumulating more carbon points), Ant Financial and their charity partners plant a real tree. Users can track the growth of trees through satellite monitoring.

The user collects carbon points by doing any of 16 listed activities e.g. using public transportation…


…points are then used to water & grow your own virtual tree; when it is fully grown, a real tree is planted

Ant Forest was launched in August 2016. As of May 2018, Ant Forest has 350 million users, accumulated a carbon reduction of 2.83 million tonnes, planted and maintained more than 55 million real trees (in various locations across China and Inner Mongolia).

These initiatives are indeed exciting and promising of a greener lifestyle. However, before we all start making apps or designing QR code systems, we need to have a serious look at our runaway data use as there are already some pretty serious climate implications; more on this here.

Further Reading

  • Time To Get Radical – Alarm bells are ringing for climate change but we are still wedded to the ‘norm’ and on track to miss even the 2°C target. With time running out and serious implications for Asia’s water resources, China Water Risk’s Debra Tan calls for more flashes of brilliance
  • YouTube: The Dark Side Of Going Viral – We are already addicted to the internet, YouTube, Netflix, apps and still forecasts show major growth. China Water Risk’s Woody Chan unwraps the darkside of our runaway data use
  • Fashion Has The Power To Shape A 2℃ World – If fashion were a country it would have the fourth highest carbon emissions behind the US, China, & India. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor & Debra Tan question why the industry is not under the spotlight like coal and call for faster disruptions
  • To Tea Or Not – Black, Green Or Milk? – Tea is the second most drunk beverage after coffee but what does it mean for water, for carbon? Does the type of tea matter? Plus, see what consumers can do to reduce impact
  • Youth & Water – 3 Key Takeaways from Egypt & Stockholm – China Water Risk intern Alex Whitebrook shares key takeaways from his recent trips for the World Youth Parliament for Water. See what’s on their minds
  • Are You A Responsible Consumer? – With waste levels already sky high and set to grow China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor mulls over the challenges of being a responsible consumer from fashion to food to plastic. Be it as an individual or corporate, see what action you can take
  • Water: Habits & Actions – What are your water habits? Even giving up chocolate for one week can positively impact our waters as Patricia Dwyer, Founder & Director of The Purpose Business Group, tells us. See what other changes you can make
  • FreshWater Watch: Citizen Science At Work – Earthwatch Institute’s Benita Chick explores how the public can work with scientists to fast-track 11 years worth of water research. Find out what local and global impacts such programmes can make
  • China’s Increasing Use Of Public Environmental Data – China is trying to develop a green credit rating system. Dr Guo Peiyuan, a member of China Financial Association’s Green Finance Expert Committee, expands on publicly available environmental data & how it can help
  • MyH2O – Test Your Water – To improve transparency, Charlene Ren set-up MyH2O, one of China’s first online crowdsourcing networks on drinking water quality. We sat down with Ren to learn more about their testing, interactive mapping platform and what’s next
Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads CWR’s work to help corporates navigate increasingly disruptive & material risks from water & climate threats, as well as transitional risks in the supply chain arising from new regulations in China. Here, Dawn engages extensively with the global fashion industry delivering on-ground workshops in China to keynotes and strategic input at European HQs. She has written at length on the end of dirty and thirsty fast fashion and her report to overcome gaps between brands and manufacturers for a clean and circular future inspired the industry to create a new wastewater tool. Dawn also works closely with the property and tourism sectors where she not only conducts strategic assessments of their exposure but builds collective action toward resilience via closed door working groups and invite-only events. Having helped build CWR, Dawn is a frequent keynote, panellist & moderator at events, including being twice selected as the lead-rapporteur at World Water Week. Her articles are cited in various industry publications including the UN’s ‘World Without Water’. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank assessing geo-political risk, crisis management and business resiliency. She was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England, Singapore and Beijing.
Read more from Dawn McGregor →
Yuanchao Xu
Author: Yuanchao Xu
Yuanchao uses his analytical proficiencies towards the assessment and visualization of water risks for China Water Risk. Prior to joining, Yuanchao was based in Europe completing the Erasmus Mundus Master Program where he specialsed in hydro-informatics and water management. He applied his skills in climate forecasting and water resource modelling to the EUPORIAS project with DHI (Danish Hydraulic Institute) which resulted in a conference paper on seasonal climate forecasting. Building on this work, he went on to develop hyfo, an open-source R programme for climate scientists and modellers to analyse and visualize data. Yuanchao’s bachelor degree was from the China Agricultural University where he specialized in heat energy and power engineering. During his time there, he also patented a testing instrument for hydraulic machinery. He has studied and worked in Beijing, Nice, Newcastle and Copenhagen.
Read more from Yuanchao Xu →