Last week, we stopped in on JUCCCE’s Green Idealab event at Three on the Bund to check out what we figured would be an informative take on the current environmental problems plaguing China and what to do about them. JUCCCE stands for the Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy and their Green Idealabs are a mix between a lecture series, a networking events and a workshopping opportunity.
Three speakers were given eight minutes to explain the problem they were tackling that day and then the crowd was allowed to choose which speaker they’d want to workshop with for the rest of the hour. On the podium were Bert van der Berg from Philips’ lighting division talking about the importance of energy efficient lighting and the complexities of implementation; Charlie McElwee of China Environmental Law blog on the failures of Copenhagen and what we can do now; and Rich Brubaker of… well, a whole bunch of projects, but this time he was representing a new mandatory sustainability course at CEIBS, speaking about the massive waste generated by the Expo and how to green it.
So how did it go down?
The audience, mostly comprised of business people, seemed engaged and willing to throw down hard questions at the speakers. Bert van der Berg’s lecture was mostly focused on why Philips is the best and what Philips is doing, which made it seem a little more like a sales pitch than a workshop.
Charles McElwee’s group focused on “how to craft the green message in China.” Out of all of them, it felt like his people came up with the most actual solutions – or at least solutions that could possibly be implemented. For instance, they tackled the problem of how messages of “stewardship” and “going green because it’s the righteous thing to do” don’t resonate well with Chinese audiences. Rather, they’re more concerned with the here and now – pollution in the water, sky, land that’s directly harming them and their children… also, profit.
While Brubaker’s group (which actually was more CEIBS students tackling various issues) had a heady and promising pitch (Recycling the Expo), it seemed to run into that pesky problem you get when you don’t prepare enough for people who aren’t experts on the issue. The resulting answers for everything from how to take apart the steel structures to what the glass can be used for were… well, just very shallow. Sure, you could (in the case of glass) ask a bottle manufacturer what they do with their waste, but how does that address the most pressing problem – how to find the will and manpower to take things apart (or find someone else to find the manpower) before it can be brought to a recycling plant? That’s not an answer, it’s a pretty obvious step.
Of course, asking any group of people to solve the convoluted and endlessly complicated paradoxes surrounding cleaning up modern China in the span of three hours is a pipe dream. And, from what we can tell, that’s not really what JUCCCE is about. It’s more – and their follow up (a website filled with the contacts you met and notes from all the lecture series) really emphasizes this – to get industry leaders and business representatives to start thinking of the issues of the day. Maybe, if something sparks, they’ll take it home with them and really dig deep into it – and then who knows what will happen?