China’s State Council, arguablyChina’s most powerful government entity, ordered all major industrial projectsprepare social risk evaluations. The decision was prompted by popular protests associated with negative environmental impacts by large-scale industrial and infrastructure projects. It seems under the immense public pressure, the Chinese government is finally doing something about actually enforcing their sustainable development goals.
The State Council did not make clear how this is enforced or what is
included in these “social risk evaluations,” however, it is suggested that
government transparency and public accountability will be part of that process.
While I congratulate China on taking a right step forced to reconcile
environmental problems with human rights issues in a profit driven context (inadvertently
stumbling on the sustainable development requirements), I worry that China’s
efforts miss the mark by focusing on avoiding potential instability problems,
as resulted from their environmental and social degradations, as opposed to
focusing on more productive and preventive measure of engaging with the people,
thus actualizing real solutions that can balance economic growth with
environmental and social safeguards.
Think of it this way. China now has an unhealthy obsession with GDP growth,
production, and economic development; all of which are at the cost of social and
environmental integrity. It’s much like an obese patient facing heart disease,
high blood pressure, and other related illnesses due to overconsumption by the
body. When the patent went to the doctor, the State Council in China’s case,
the remedy is to simply patch and stop bleeding. Where the arterial is blocked,
there is no real incentive to fix the cause of these symptoms. Rather, China’s
new “social risk evaluations” sounds more like a warning: do not proceed if you
think this will cause eventual death.
What about the path to recovery?
China is not getting to the issue of what caused the illness—that its people
are unaware of eating too much can result in health consequences. So the
prescription of “social risk evaluations” are just mere window dressing to the
deeper rooted problems of increasing market demand and decreasing individual
consideration of the whole. Everyone is out to get rich and the policies still
favors cadres who can generate the most production for riches sake.
There is a silver lining in this new initiative, however; companies doing
business with China can now leverage this State Council order to engage the
local population in China and actualize real solutions to benefit the people,
the land, and ultimately the company’s bottom line. So where the physician
prescribed to China a “Surgeon General’s warning,” those companies with the
expertise in sustainable development and concerns for the people and their
backing in their own well-being, can act as real doctors in this developing
landscape of compliance. Really making China sustainable never sounded so real
and so grassroots. Just as Chinese medicine have traditionally been forward
looking and sought to cure the root of problems, innovative companies can be
forward looking in the totality of their presence in the world’s fastest
growing market place and help cure the root of our common sustainability problems.