By Chu Daye
Over a dozen scholars, leaders of green technology firms and NGOs from home and abroad gathered and brainstormed at the Tsinghua-Cornell 2011 International Conference on Innovative Strategies for Sustainable Enterprise on Monday, April 25, 2011.[Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]
Innovation is the key for Chinese sustainable enterprises in gaining a strong foothold in tomorrow's green economy, experts said at a forum held in Beijing.
Over a dozen scholars, leaders of green technology firms and NGOs from home and abroad gathered and brainstormed at the Tsinghua-Cornell 2011 International Conference on Innovative Strategies for Sustainable Enterprise on Monday.
Sustainable enterprises, or Green enterprise, are those companies that try to achieve a right balance between people, planet and profit.
How to achieve sustainable development is perhaps the most tantalizing question in economics, however, natural resources depletion and environment pollution caused by today's energy-intensive industries are constant remainders of just how far we are from that dream.
Professor Gao Xudong, Director of Tsinghua MBA programs and a researcher of innovative technology, emphasized the importance of acquiring sustainable development through self-innovation.
"They (Chinese companies) should be much more innovative." Professor Gao Xudong said, "innovative in the sense that they could develop their own leading technologies, they need to change their strategy of relying mainly on buying technology. Buying technology itself will not make them sustainable, nor make them successful."
Luckily, some Chinese clean-tech firms have initiated the field of pollution reduction by adopting self-developed cutting-edge technologies.
Tsinghua Solar Co., Ltd is a solar water heater producer. It pioneered the domestic market more than two decades ago with its proprietary evacuated tube collectors.
Today the company is one of the leading players in the market. Wu Zhenyi, President of Tsinghua Solar Co., Ltd, shed some light on the benefits of using renewable energy.
"Over the past ten years, the total installed capacity of solar water heaters in China has saved as much energy as burning 100 million tons of coal," Wu Zhenyi said, "or saved about the same amount of electricity that's equal to five years of energy output of the Three Gorges Dam, and cut CO2 emissions by 240 million tons."
Using renewable as an alternative energy source is but one of the many attempts by domestic companies to explore the possibilities of sustainable development. Discovering new raw materials also seems to be promising.
Jiangsu Redbud Textures Co., Ltd, a textile producer, has utilized jute as a new raw material alternative to cotton.
Jute is a kind of cheap and abundant natural vegetable fiber, but due to its rough nature it is traditionally only used as gunnysacks .
After 8 years of research, the company made a breakthrough in applying natural jute into the textile industry.
"First, jute is second only to cotton in the amount produced among all the natural vegetable fibers. It is renewable, degradable, and green." Liu Guozhong, Chairman of Jiangsu Redbud Textures Co., Ltd. said, "Second, with our bio-engineering technologies we could plant jute in waste land, such as marshes and infertile land. Planting jute could even convert waste land into arable land."
The company is the first company in the world that has used jute in the high-end textile industry.
Using jute could reduce the demand for cotton and alleviate the pressure cotton fields have over agricultural land, and planting jute could absorb a certain amount of CO2 from the air, Liu Guozhong added.
Besides these proven business approaches, innovative thinking on sustainable development was also heard at the forum.
Li Ping, Professor of Chinese Business Studies at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, suggested reducing the size and scale of hardware industries and shifting more resources into developing software industries, because after all, "the human brain really doesn't cost much energy."
"A notable change in the business model is the trend for using software to replace hardware," Professor Li Ping said, "With this being realized, the pollution caused by manufacturing hardware could be greatly reduced. One example is using Voice over Internet Protocol technologies to replace traditional telephone."
Talking about the future, Mark Milstein, Director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, Cornell University, U.S., advised Chinese firms to look further down the road to achieve innovation.
"I think what Chinese companies should do is invest in the technologies and businesses that will meet the demands a decade from now," Dr. Milstein said, "Not just meeting short-term needs but investing in cutting-edge technologies today, because the operations and maintenance will be much cheaper down the road and it will position China as a low consumer of energy in the future."
Tong Yunhuan, Director of the Center for Green Leap Research, Tsinghua University, pointed out that China has become the world's leading player in certain clean technologies. While this can be attributed to the unique development stages China is experiencing at present, such timing could also mean great opportunity.
"Most of the energy facilities in the U.S. and Europe were built a long time ago, they are now out of date yet a complete update could be very complicated." Professor Tong Yunhuan said, "China, as a latecomer, could however base its energy strategy on newer, greener technologies. China could turn herself into a leader in green technology."
The Chinese government has promulgated a CO2 intensity target of 40-45 percent reduction by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, a plan that integrates domestic sustainable development and addresses global climate change.
The future of clean technology is bright but the stakes are also high. How to maintain core-competitiveness with cutting-edge technology and to what extent consumers will buy the "Green concept" will remain a big challenge for Chinese sustainable enterprises.