Young and Old Community Members in China Inspire Local Action to Save Energy

Young and Old Community Members in China Inspire Local Action to Save Energy

In Doumen Township, not far from Macau in southeastern China, Zhao Jingjing helps her neighbors identify household energy savings opportunities. She explains how low-energy appliances, turning off unneeded lighting, managing thermostats, and calibrating water heaters can lead to lower energy bills. She circles back regularly to answer questions and check on their progress. Each month, she checks her apartment complex's electric meter to compare readings, and runs calculations to convert their energy savings into greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So in addition to helping her neighbors save energy--and money--she tracks how they have helped reduce climate disruption.

Zhao is one of 400 "Green Guardians" in Doumen, a new volunteer force committed to educating their fellow citizens about energy use and the dangers of climate disruption. The Green Guardians have undergone extensive training in the science, economics, ethics and mechanics behind energy efficiency and climate change, and have become respected and sought after experts. Just in the last six months, they helped their community reduce its residential energy use by more than 10 percent.

They also happen to be nine-years old.

The Green Guardian education initiative is one part of the Guangdong Environmental Partnership (GEP) program, a unique public private partnership that targets energy and GHG reductions in Guangdong, China's most industrialized province and "factory to the world." This component of GEP focuses on building the capacity of grassroots stakeholders to collaborate on identifying and implementing priority energy and environmental projects in their communities.

Many environmental initiatives in China focus on identifying a "silver bullet" solution at the macro level--a stronger policy, newer technology, or better business practice that will magically spark a wave of change and result in better environmental performance across the country. While critical, these top-down measures often fail to account for the challenges and barriers to implementing complex new programs at the provincial and local levels. They can also ignore or discount the diversity and richness of local environmental actions already underway in China.

Zhao and her fellow Guardians are demonstrating the power of coordinated grassroots action, and their community is taking note. Part of a pilot initiative at Nanmen Elementary School in Doumen, their efforts have proven so successful that local officials, business leaders, and school administrators have committed to scaling up the program in every primary and middle school in the township in the coming year. Moved in part by Doumen's experience, other townships and urban neighborhoods across Guangdong will soon initiate their own "Green Guardian" pilot programs. All told, their efforts will mobilize close to 3,000 Guardians and reach over 20,000 families and citizens by 2011.

While inspiring, the Green Guardian initiative is just the beginning. "We engage stakeholders from all backgrounds in the target communities in solving their own problems," says Wan Yang, program manager for the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), which designed and is implementing the GEP program. "Government officials, business owners, citizen leaders, educators--all have a role in setting priorities, identifying the most critical energy projects, and managing them through to completion." ISC helps each community establish a "multi-stakeholder committee" with representatives from each constituent group, to oversee local initiatives. By facilitating non-traditional partnerships, the program helps communities discover and draw on a diverse array of local resources and expertise. The committees also help ensure local ownership of the projects and their successes.

While Doumen's multi-stakeholder committee chose to focus initially on public outreach and residential energy efficiency, the impact of the Green Guardian program has kindled a new awareness of what is possible. Local factories and businesses are now planning an initiative to reduce energy use in their manufacturing processes. Public officials are eyeing a solid waste management project that would divert organic waste from landfills to a new composting operation, reducing the cost and emissions associated with chemically produced fertilizers. Schools are reaching out to local businesses to get them directly involved in supporting their new curriculum on sustainable development. These new relationships and activities are producing a critical mass of momentum toward reducing energy use, decreasing GHG emissions, and improving environmental health.

Other GEP demonstration communities include Sanjiao, which is training factory managers to increase energy efficiency and has already secured commitments from several local manufacturers to reduce energy use by 20percent in the coming year. Urban Guanlan, near Hong Kong, is installing green roofs on more than 1,000 residential apartment buildings, mitigating their "heat island" effect and reducing demand for air conditioning in the summer months. The three demonstration communities also benefit from each other. As noted above, Sanjiao and Guanlan will soon replicate Doumen's Green Guardian program in their own schools. Meanwhile, Doumen's factories are learning from the successes of Sanjiao's industrial efficiency initiative.

The communities are also demonstrating that, while government policies and new business practices are critical, people from all walks of life have something to contribute in driving positive change. They are finding that the power of this collective achievement is transformative--when people witness their neighbors taking action and achieving a real impact, it produces a ripple effect that inspires everyone to get involved. Together, these communities are creating new models for locally driven energy and climate actions in China that can be replicated across Guangdong and eventually, the entire country.

The author, Matthew A. DeGroot is Senior Program Manager for China at the Institute for Sustainable Communities. Email him at

The article is from Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars_China Environment Series, Issue 11, 2010/1011 at

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