Michigan can profit from China’s growth

Jul 5, 2012 by

Tom Watkins – U.S. knowledge and technology can help not only our country, but the world, meet sensible, sustainable goals

It’s hard to utter the word “sustainability” without following it with “China.” Because it has 1.3 billion people, or one-fifth of the world’s population, most building projects are done on a grand scale — everything from skyscrapers to factories and bullet trains, sea- and air ports. Considering China as one big construction site, it has been said the Chinese national bird is the building crane.

Over the next two decades, nearly 300 million people, roughly the population of the United States, will move from the countryside into Chinese cities — many of which have yet to be built.

In 2011, for the first time in Chinese history, more people lived in cities and towns than in the countryside. It is estimated nearly 700 million urban dwellers now account for 51.3 per cent of China’s total population.

This rural/urban transition will be the main force shaping the world in the 21st century, according to Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz.

Further, Brookings Institution analyst Homi Kharas has forecast that China’s middle class will surge to 670 million in 2021 from about 150 million in 2010, a leap of about 520 million in a span of slightly more than a decade.

Anna Stupnytska, a Goldman Sachs macro-economist, captured the essence of this trend this way: “The rise of the Chinese consumer will be the most important trend in the coming decade.”

Sometimes referred to as the “Middle Kingdom,” China, these days, is in the center of any conversation about sustainable development.

Twenty years ago, the United Nations convened an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Rio+20 summit once again took place there from June 20-22 this year.

The summit brought together governments, international institutions and major business and environmental groups to discuss a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty and promote decent jobs, clean energy and more sustainable and fair use of resources.

China has made progress on sustainable development in the intervening years despite difficulties along its development path. It has much work to do to balance economic growth with environmental degradation.

Anyone who has traveled to or read about China knows that the air and water quality is poor.

“Sustainable development is an important issue relating to the future generations of all countries, while strengthening international cooperation and seeking common prosperity is the only way to achieve it,” Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said.

China will face many difficulties and obstacles. American knowledge and technology can help not only our country, but also the world, meet sensible sustainable goals.

Sustainability is no longer an issue solely for the 1960s “tree-hugger” crowd. The American Sustainable Business Council and its member organizations represent more than 150,000 businesses nationwide. More than 300,000 entrepreneurs, executives, managers and investors know we need not trade off economic growth for environmental sensibility.

The ASBC informs and engages policymakers and the public about the need and opportunities for building a vibrant and sustainable economy.

“We’re at an historic point, with the business experience, the policy framework and the necessity to begin transforming our whole economy to one that is sustainable — socially, environmentally and economically,” said David Levine, co-founder and CEO of ASBC.

“We in the business community are committed to making this vision a reality, for creating jobs and putting the economy on the right track.”

Ford Motor Co., under the leadership of Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and CEO Alan Mulally, is a corporate leader in the sustainability movement. Recently, they announced a one-fifth cut in energy used to make cars since 2006 and pledged to reduce consumption in their factories an additional 25 percent by 2016.

Putting knowledge to work

I recently spoke at the fourth China Entrepreneur Forum in Chengdu, where local government and Southwest Jiaotong University leaders were seeking expertise to “take the green leap” to create innovative development models in building a sustainable new city. The desire to build healthy, sustainable and green cities was quite evident.

Xiaojian You, chair of the China Social Innovative Foundation, the China Entrepreneur Network and the China Social Innovation Foundation and senior manager of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University, organized the conference.

Xiaojian and Stuart L. Hart, the SC Johnson chair in sustainable global enterprise and professor of management, Cornell University, and president of Enterprise for a Sustainable World, both formerly with the University of Michigan, and current Michigan residents see opportunities galore for Michigan to capitalize on and assist China with sustainable development.

Hart pointed out, “We need to devise a way to grow the innovations of the future organically, right here in Michigan and the U.S., drawing upon our world class universities and corporations for the technologies of tomorrow. We do not lack for clean technology; what we lack is the imagination and capability to design the strategies and business models of tomorrow.”

Homegrown innovations

“There is a huge global market for our knowledge,” Hart added.

Detroit put the world on wheels in the last century — with imagination and leadership we can drive sustainable development in the 21st century.

“The leadership of Gov. Snyder to engage China in meaningful ways to develop win-win, mutually beneficial practices will pay dividends for the people of Michigan and China,” an enthusiastic Xiaojian said.

It is a big world, and Michigan is two beautiful peninsulas — not an island. With forward thinking and leadership from government, university and business leaders, China’s rise need not come at our demise. We can make green off China’s growth and dirt.

via Commentary: Michigan can profit from China’s growth | The Detroit News | detroitnews.com.

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