衣食住行 – New Innovation in China’s Basic Needs

Globally, China is often portrayed as the bad guy when it comes to environmental degradation and harm. While this is not without substance, and in many areas China is lacking far behind the world leaders, a growing public consciousness and the identification of opportunity is leading innovators to tackle the problems with business solutions. In this post, we outline areas of development and innovation within some of the areas core to many of the Chinese public, 衣食住行.

For those of you who don’t know, the idiom 衣食住行 (yī shí zhù xíng), stems originally from Sun Yat-sen’s “Principles of People’s Livelihood” and describes the Chinese people’s four basic needs and concerns: Clothing, Food, Living, and Transportation.

Clothing ()

The Problem

The textile and fashion industry represented the first wave in the Chinese manufacturing boom and are now fully established. However, a major externality for this industry is the waste that comes not just from the factories, but also at the end of life as the turnover rate of clothing increases with the rise of fast fashion. Recycling clothing can rescue the discarded clothing from landfills and incinerators; therefore, energy, water, and materials are saved. Unfortunately, there is no official systematic organization working on the clothing recycling in China, but some NGOs and profit-driven groups are developing solutions.

The Innovation

In Ningbo, there are eight companies launching clothes’ recycling boxes. Although the lack of government management and policy control is the biggest concern for the public, the local policy offices and administration department have their eyes on these start-up companies by simultaneously supporting and supervising them. The local Renewable Resources Management Office is willing to be involved and is working on better solutions for recycling. A similar innovation scheme in Shanghai from local NGO Green Initiates has also sought to tackle the problem through their Re:form initiative, which has placed bins in regions around Shanghai to encourage individuals to deposit clothing.

Food ()

The Problem

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and China’s State Administration of Grain, every year 35% of the grain produced in China is wasted. A city with 1 million populations will generate about 100 tons of kitchen waste every day. The food waste amounts to about 60 million tons annually, which could feed 200 billion people for a year.

The gutter oil scandal increased the attention towards sustainable management of food waste. In 2010, the government published directions on treatment for gutter oil and management for food waste. Since then, sustainable food waste treatments have been implemented by high-tier cities in eastern and central China.

The Innovation

Food waste treatment and nutrition recovery using the black soldier fly is the concept behind a promising innovation project conducted by Xian Jie Farm, a Xi’an environmental tech company, which was recognized as a 2015/2016 World Wildlife Fund Climate Solver. With this solution, by 2050, annual carbon dioxide emissions will decrease by about 42 million tons.

Organic food, especially vegetables, are welcomed by young professionals. More and more people choose to eat locally and healthier to reduce their eco-footprint. Online organic food platforms such as Yimishiji are directed towards connecting farmers with consumers through fresh ingredients.

Residence ()

The Problem

According to the 2015 China Statistics Yearbook, the average energy consumption of households per capita is around 335 kg coal, which emits 835 kg CO2. Urbanization increases the demand for electricity and other energy resources. How to live a green and sustainable life is becoming a hot topic of concern in major cities. China’s 13th Five-Year-Plan set the target to reduce construction land per GDP unit by 20% in order to prevent urban sprawl, reduce energy use, and create denser cities.

The Innovation

For modern families, the interior finishing, smart home platform, and home automation introduced by home appliance companies play an important role. Functions such as smart light control, smart home software, and solar and energy savers are all designed to bring the consumers an energy-saving, user-friendly, and modern home.

Transportation ()

The Problem

The average transport distance of passengers was 136.22 km in 2014. Every 10,000 families possessed 14,598 civil vehicles, and by 2014, the number of automobile drivers had increased to 24.8 million.

Carbon dioxide emissions from China’s automobile industry make up around 8% – 10% of total emissions; moreover, transport sector emissions are predicted to increase by 3.5% every year from 2008 to 2030.

The Innovation

MotionEco, a China-based company, has found a systemic biodiesel solution to turn gutter oil into biodiesel for the transportation sector. By connecting restaurant chains with the end users of the biodiesel, MotionEco integrates the food waste industry and the energy industry in an effort to solve challenging social problems across both trades. With the used oil recycling system, MotionECO has been able to remove 20,000 L of gutter oil from the food industry in just one year. Moreover, compared to conventional fuel emissions, the technology applied in this business innovation reduces GHG emissions by 85%.

New energy vehicles (NEVs) lead the new fashion trend. Both the central government and local governments contribute to accelerating domestic electric-vehicle technology development through established policy framework and favorable subsidies (for pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles). In March 2016, the stock of new energy vehicles sold in China passed the 500,000 units milestone. Shanghai has sold 46,000 NEVs in 2015, which account for 15% of the total vehicles sold in the year.

The innovation of these four necessities —衣食住行 (Clothing, Food, Living, and Transportation) — show that when well-executed, creative, and convenient processes are developed, then existing, harmful externalities to the individual and the environment can be mitigated with a central business interest. Cost and economics do play a part, and for many, this degree of innovation is a hard sell, particularly in areas of growing development in China. However, if successful, a centralized business model promoting innovation can result in a win-win on all sides. If businesses develop their models around this central core, then greater awareness, understanding, and embracement of China’s myriad business opportunities will likely continue and grow.

This article was researched and written by Emma Lu, Research Analyst at Collective Responsibility.

Featured Image Credit: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

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