This is the first of a series of top of the week posts on what I am going to call Sustainability Monday.
I wrote it in the Lovemarks book and I’ll repeat it anytime I’m asked, “I’m a huge China fan”. This love affair started way back in 1990. I was COO of Lion Nathan and we built the most advanced brewing operation in China at Suzhou. I got an amazing master class in making stuff happen when it seems impossible. China is such a moving target that even back then one hundred days seemed a lifetime. You simply had to be bold, fast and imaginative. To fail fast and fail cheap, then to learn fast and fix fast. There was no other option. Little did we know that China was on the fastest acceleration track the world has ever known. My China connections grew even deeper when I joined Saatchi & Saatchi. By then the agency had been in China for more than 20 years, and we’ve kept our leading edge.
I love China’s restlessness and energy, ambition and mystery. The Olympic Games marked an amazing moment in the history of China and the Olympics itself. Yes, there was the extraordinary architecture with the iconic names (will anyone ever call the Bird’s Nest the National Stadium?), the drama of competition and victory, and the sheer joy of the people of China. Under the intense spotlight we also saw controversy, protests and pressure. I believe that 2008 was the right Olympics for China to host. I’m for inclusion. Opening doors, not closing them. Inspiring people to do better, not berating them for their efforts. China has come such a long way.
I guess when you attract the eyes of the world through an event like the Olympics you can expect criticism, but I don’t think you have to take the blame for the world’s environmental problems. There seems to be a strange blindness abroad, bred, I think, by fear. Many commentators seem to be less concerned about the impact of private vehicles today than about what happens when more Chinese get on the roads. Today, California alone consumes more fuel than China does and has increased its consumption by a massive 50 percent over the last 20 years. While it looks as though China’s 1.3 billion people will equal the consumption of California’s 37 million by the end of this year, they are still way down the list.
Anyone who flies as much as I do is conscious of the looming banks of brown air that spill off the coast of China. To fly across this vast country is to face a visual reminder of the challenges ahead. But we are in this together. All of us are better than some of us. It is time to stop the blame game with China as well as other fast emerging economies like Russia, Brazil and India. Telling people what they are doing wrong never gets the same results as encouraging them in what they are doing right. It’s time we started taking that approach with China.