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Women and sustainability- lessons from China

21 March 2013 07:24 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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China has grown into a dynamic powerhouse of business. Among the men, there are women who have displayed the traditional Chinese knack for good business sense.

Zhang Yin, who founded and chairs the Nine Dragon Paper (Holdings) Ltd, believes in sustaining forests and keeping the checks and balances in keeping the environment alive. This is more so relevant given the fact that China’s cities are under attack from excessive pollution and environmental damage.
Women in business  

Under the aegis of a former academic Jaclyn Shi, a global network of professional women engaged in sustainability, set up a group known as Women in Sustainability Action (WISA). WISA stays on top of issues that involve women in sustainability, making a connection that is both real and relevant in today’s world of increased environmental concern.

Sustainability is more than a buzz-word for women engaged in sustainability-related businesses. Maybe it has something to do with women as mothers and care givers, who get concerned and involved with environmental issues at various levels.

The agro chemicals found in our fresh produce, the safety of drinking water and city pollution that can trigger asthma attacks concern women as mothers. Women connect better with sustainability as a real life issue rather than a concept that can be tackled along with a host of others, according to the experts.

Professor Kellie McElhaney, founder of the Centre for Responsible Business at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says that companies that empower women are more likely to be companies that practice sound environmental practices.

That’s not all. A research paper authored by experts McElhaney and Mobasseri found that companies that had women on their boards were committed to energy efficiency, were likely to measure and deduce their carbon emissions, reduce the impact of their packaging, invest in renewable power sources, improve access to healthcare in developing countries, form strong partnerships with local communities, offer products with nutritional benefits and the list goes on.

Queen of sustainability  

The study also found that such companies typically have anti-corruption mechanisms in place and seek to maintain transparency in all endeavours. They are also likely to avoid fraud and criminal activities, price fixing and other malpractices frequently found in the corporate world.

Does testosterone fuel the exploitation of the planet and its resources, asks one woman involved in sustainability-related work. Are women better equipped and able to introduce and manage sustainability as an everyday thing that can be put to work in homes and communities, companies and societies?

Elle Carberry, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the China Greentech Initiative says that most women consider sustainability from a social perspective. Having been in business for over 20 years, she says she has met more women engaged in sustainable business ventures than men, be they in China, the US or elsewhere.
Going back to our story on the Nine Dragons Paper started by Zhang Yin, one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world, the company purchases scrap paper from the US and imports it into China where it is recycled into cardboard and is used to export Chinese goods back to the US and elsewhere.  

Yin is the queen of sustainability – in 2006, she was at the top of the list of the richest in China. Fortune placed her alongside Oprah and JK Rowling in 2010.  
Yin says her business is based on the philosophy of “Waste paper is like a forest – paper recycles itself, generation after generation.”

Role models

The 2012 Ernst & Young ranking of country attractiveness for renewable energy investments shows China leading the way in the world, ahead of the US and Germany.
Yin and Carberry represent the faces of the pioneers among women who support sustainability in China. There are others such as Jin Jia Man, Director of the Global Environmental Institute, Chen Zhili, Chairperson of the China Women’s Federation, Li Chun Mei, Founder and General Manager of Wealth Environment Engineering Co and Anne Myong, CEO of Walmart.

With such strong role models, women in China should be leading the way for others to follow. Yet, Kaying Lau, Country Director of the Global Reporting Initiative in China says that millions of women are still under represented in a region where women are engaged in thousands of ventures.

What lessons can we in Sri Lanka learn from our Chinese sisters? Where are the sustainable ventures that we too can initiate to not only empower women but also introduce sustainability and a concern for the environment to our society?

How can we as mothers, sisters, wives, caregivers, CEOs and corporate leaders device ways of making our businesses better in terms of delivering sustainability and can we make sustainability a key topic of relevance for us here in Sri Lanka?

(Nayomini, a senior journalist, writer and a PR Professional, can be contacted at nayominiweerasooriya@gmail.com)
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