12 students, 2 alumni, and 3 faculty from BGI have embarked on a two-week study abroad experience in China. The course is BGI Global Perspectives in Sustainability which introduces global perspectives and approaches regarding environmental and social sustainability, sustainable business, and specific environmental and social impacts, i.e., supply chain, labor, lifecycle analysis, and waste, etc. The intent of the course is to develop both awareness and understanding in approaches and methods that other cultures are developing to achieve social, environmental, and economic sustainability in business, both victories and challenges. Here is one student’s reflection on what he’s experienced so far.
The damp heat wrap Chongqing in the shroud of a possible Chinese future. The constant moisture hangs in the air making it hard to distinguish between where the humidity ends and the pollution begins creating a blur at the horizon. Heavy air blocks out the blue sky for most of the day, which combines to create stunning man-made sunsets in the evening.
At night, the temperatures begin to cool and people come out to enjoy some time walking the streets. Unlike Beijing with its large thoroughfares and deep building set backs, Chongqing is alive with urban life – the streets bustle with activity. Women spend time doing Tai Chi and dancing in the square while shoppers take a short break to look on.
The built environment is exploding here with towering high rise buildings as far as the eye can see. It is not possible to look across the horizon without seeing dozens of construction cranes raising new buildings up to the sky. As with many of the buildings in China, the new has been built upon the ruin of the old. Signs of progress encircle demolition sites with walls plastered with posters of the bright new future the construction will bring.
The central government has invested heavily in Chongqing and neighboring Cheng Do to increase fixed assets and infrastructure. By increasing rail and road access the central government has been able to entice foreign investment and draw companies away from the coast of China and into the interior. This has and continues to be a successful endeavor. Chongqing has grown into a high tech hub with HP and Acer both locating major manufacturing facilities here. We were also told that the largest Ford assembly plant outside of Detroit is within the boundaries of Chongqing. Heavy machinery along with aviation suppliers also thrive here. Industries are drawn by an abundance of land and a lower cost of skilled labor compared to the coast. Clean energy and clean technology is the next industry to be targeted by the Two Rivers New Development Zone that flows across the land between Yangtze and Jialing Rivers. With large primary manufacturing and assembly plants located here, many of the suppliers follow their customers here further building up the industrial opportunities.
At 32,000 sq miles and with a mix of urban and rural environments Chongqing embodies many of the challenges facing China as a whole: a booming economy struggle to keep control of a deteriorating environment; a diverse rural and urban setting that is struggle to define how the groups integrate as more and more people move into the urban environment within the confines of the hukou system; maintaining a balance between growth, environmental impact, and social stability in a society where people are not truly free to express their views publicly. The city has become a testing ground for the central government to find solutions to address these national challenges. For me, Chongqing will continue to be an interesting inland city to watch to see how successful strategies will play out across the country.
Bungane Mehlomakulu is in his second year at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. He’s exploring how the integrated systems approach he learned as an engineer can the expanded to the business world. He’s advancing his understanding and application of systems thinking to make the business case for a sustainable approach to engineering design and operations.