Sustainable China: 8 Behavioural Guidelines

By Dawn McGregor 22 March, 2015

China is moving to more sustainable development including how she behaves. CWR's top 8 beahviour guides below

Big push to cut down on air pollution means walking or cycling instead of driving and limiting BBQs & firecrackers
Less, less & less; less stuff, less meat & less golf all for more water and food; speaking of food, potato anyone?
These guides make for a less resource demanding future, which means more water; so why not try some yourself!

China’s economy grew at 7.4% in 2014, its slowest rate in 24 years. Director of the NDRC’s Department of Planning, Yu Lin, was quoted on 14 February 2015 at the “50 Forum Annual Meeting” – a gathering of Chinese economists – as saying that China needs to guarantee a “bottom line” of 6.5% annual GDP growth during China’s13th Five Year Plan. This lower GDP growth rate signals a shift to a more sustainable pace of growth in China, which is good news for the country’s limited water resources and overall environment.

China’s lower GDP growth target signals a shift to a more sustainble pace of growth

In China the situation is dire with 92.7% of power generated on a daily basis is water-reliant. Moreover, water scarce provinces in China (annual renewable water resources below the World Bank Water Poverty Mark of 1000m³) accounted for 44% of GDP and 38% of agricultural output in 2013.

To support this ‘new normal’ growth, China is promoting more sustainable behaviours for its people

But it’s not all doom and gloom with the Chinese government guiding its people on a more sustainable path. In August 2014, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a list of eight ‘behavioural standards’ in the “同呼吸 共奋斗公民行为准则” (“Breathe Together & Work Together – Citizen Code of Conduct”) to combat pollution and reduce environmental damage. Whilst these standards grabbed the headlines China has also released other guidelines.
Below is a summary of China Water Risks’ 8 favourite behavioural guidelines to drive walk the path of sustainability from the government:

1.  Use your legs – ride a bike or walk instead of driving

Walk & BicycleOne of the eight standards released in the “Breathe Together & Work Together – Code of conduct” guide in August 2014 urged people to walk and ride bikes instead of driving. The push behind this was to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, with many roads in China’s big cities already clogged with vehicles.

2.  Barbeques & firecrackers are a faux pas

Also part of the “Breathe Together & Work Together – Code of conduct” guide released in August 2014 was to limit the use of firecrackers and barbeques due to their contribution to air pollution.

Firecrackers & barbeques blamed for contributing to air pollution so, limited use only

Firecrackers have a strong place in traditional Chinese celebrations but in recent years they have been blamed for sulphur dioxide in the air and lingering smog. But it may not be the end of the line for firecrackers as a man in Henan province has invented a ‘green’ firecracker.  The environmentally firecracker uses a closed cavity which can be injected with air. Users then just need to press a button and the closed cavity will immediately open a small hole, through which, compressed air will discharge and produce an explosive sound.
As for barbeques, towards the end of 2013 in a three month campaign Beijing confiscated and destroyed more than 500 open-air barbeques to cut the emission of particulate matter in the air. It may be better to stick with hotpots.

3.  Love your potato

In January 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) suggested to make the potato China’s fourth-biggest staple crop after rice, wheat and corn.
Love your potato
Why the push? Because China needs to adjust its agriculture structure to safeguard its grain supply, according to the MoA; and apparently the potato can do that as it is a less water-intensive and a more resilient crop. “Potato can survive in cold, drought and barren environment. It has great potential to be planted in large vacant fields in the south during winter,” said Vice Minister of Agriculture, Yu Xinrong.

The MoA is planning to double the current 5 million hectares of potato by 2020.

Kung Pao potato anyone?

To garner support for the potato following the MoA’s suggestion the country’s state-run China Central Television aired a series of nine potato recipes, including potato pancakes and Kung Pao potato.

4.  Live by the spirit of minimalism – less stuff and better quality

In October 2014 the People’s Daily recommended Chinese people live a minimalist lifestyle – “spirit of minimalist”, “information minimalist”, “minimalist substance” and “minimalist living”. Amongst the recommendations under “minimalist substance” was to buy only necessary items and when purchasing items to buy the best quality; “Clarify their desires and needs, do not buy unnecessary items” and “Really necessary items, buy the best, make full use of it”.

Live by “minimalist substance” – buy only necessary & high quality items

These recommendations allow for a transition from fast & cheap products to better made products, which have the potential to impact the environmental less (resource use & pollution). But e-commerce platforms in China like Taobao mean products are easily available and usually at low prices. This is particularly true for the fashion industry where new trends and fast-fashion are pushing people to buy more often and so price remains key (more here).

5.  Less meat and more grains

Food security is of paramount importance to China, which maintains 95% grain self-sufficiency. But with its population increasing as is food demand.  Moreover, increasing urbanisation and increasing affluence among the nation’s population, demand is shifting towards more meat.

Increasing urbanisation means a rising demand for meat
But meat is very water intensive

Meat, especially beef, is very water & resource intensive as well as polluting. Given these environmental implications and wary of an increasing population the government released last year “New Guidelines on China’s Food and Nutrition Development (2014-20). It suggests people should not only reduce their daily calorie intake by 26% to 2,200-2,300 kcal/person but the food mix should favour grains at >50%, fats <30% and 78g of proteins. Grains are less water intense than meat (see chart).
Key Meats Virtual Water Content

 6.  Say bye bye to golf

It is time to find a new pastime as Chinese authorities crackdown on illegal golf courses across the country. China prohibited building golf courses on arable land in May 1997 and has published various regulations since then. One of which in 2004 outright banned the development of golf courses.

Getting tough on golf to protect food secutiy and water secutiry

The crackdown is part of government efforts to get tough on unauthorized construction and protect China’s farmland to ensure food security, which as mentioned before is of paramount importance to China. And they are serious. In the outskirts of Beijing an 18-hole golf course along with its clubhouse facilities was torn down and the owners fined heavily.  This isn’t surprising given in September 2014 the Beijing city government issued a circular that all relevant departments need to crack the whip on golf courses as they are illegal and that the government would “unswervingly close down any newly built golf course”.
Another reason for the crackdown is to hold the ‘water use’ Red Line of the “Three Red Lines” policy which China is using to manage its water resources. Golf courses are heavy water users using around 400,000-500,000 tonnes of water every year and yield no contribution to core domestic sectors like agriculture, energy or industry. Therefore they are not a priority for China’s limited water resources.
To limit the number of golf courses and combat illegal ones Chinese authorities in May 2014 decided that water use by golf courses would be placed in a special category, which meant being billed at a higher price. The same unit of water that cost RMB4 is RMB160 if used on a golf course. This means that a golf course that used to pay RMB1.4 million now has to pay RMB56 million.

7.  Conserve water – that’s what the Beijing authorities are saying

Beijing authorities have been promoting water-saving practices among major commercial consumers. Golf courses, bath houses and car washes since 12 January 2015 must use recycled water. In car washes the water-saving practices can reduce the amount of water used to clean a sedan car from 70L to only 10L, according to the Beijing Water Authority.

Beijing is employing multiple strategies to conserve water

It’s not just commercial consumers that are saving water. Following a water price hike in Beijing in May 2014 household consumption declined by an average of 2L per person, according to the Beijing Waterworks Group. If this trend continues as much as 10million m3 of water could be saved in a year – equivalent to 4,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Savings all round!

8.  Do your civic duty and report environmental-damaging activities

The environment is becoming more and more enshrined in all aspects of life in China. It’s clear why when according to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, official dereliction of duty and malpractice in ecological and environmental protection caused 25 deaths, 12 injuries and RMB3.1 billion in economic losses in 2013.

The amended environmental protection law makes it an obligation for all Chinese citizens to protect the environment

But the environment is not just the responsibility of officials. China’s amended Environmental Protection Law that came into effect 1 January 2015 makes it an obligation for all Chinese citizens to protect the environment. Even before this Zhou Shengxian, now former Minister of Environmental Protection, called for the public to expose environment-damaging activities in March 2014. In fact, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has a hotline (“12369”) where environmental complaints can be lodged. In the first of half of 2014 the hotline received 696 complaints.

Why not take a leaf out of these guides
Happy World Water Day!

Some of these “behavioural guidelines” may not sound too fun but they make for a less resource demanding future, which is a key to sustainable development – the theme of this year’s World Water Day. So, even if you’re not in China why not take some of these on board or let them inspire you to do your own. The time to act is now with not just China’s but global water resources under pressure and what could be easier than making small changes to your behaviour. There are many ways to make potato yummy! Happy World Water Day!

Further Reading

  • China Water Risk’s 5 Trends for 2015 – As China moves to re-balance its economy and environment, Beijing will shepherd the nation towards water, food & security. For the Year of the Goat, it is better to be the surefooted goat than the sacrificial lamb so check out our top 5 trends in water for 2015
  • 8 Game-Changing Policy Paths – There has been a fundamental shift in planning China’s future growth with changes in regulatory landscape due to multiple polices set & changes in law. Many come into full effect in 2015. Get on top of these
  • The War on Water Pollution – Premier Li Keqiang has just declared war on pollution. Tan expands on the government’s stratagems & offensives and fundamental changes required to shore up the MEP’s arsenal in order to wage a successful war

UN World Water Day

  • 2015 – Water & Sustainable Development
  • 2014 – Thirsty Clouds & Smartphones – Thought you were being more environmentally friendly by accessing emails online rather than printing them, think again! Check out how water thirsty & energy hungry our cloud addiction is
  • 2013 – Water Water Everywhere; Only If You Share – Water is a shared, “must-have” resource with no substitute. Stand alone action is not enough to address a looming liquidity crisis. Find out how sharing is caring from CEOs to grassroots action=
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 →