Current Location:Home->Newsroom->CBCSD News
Education a key piece of the puzzle in China

Geneva, 17 August 2004 - How can the principles of sustainable development be ingrained within the Chinese business community? This is one of the questions the WBCSD's Young Managers Team (YMT) challenged themselves with this year. Yvette Go, team leader for the YMT China project tells us about her group's progress on the development of SD education materials - designed specifically to make a stronger sustainability connection with Chinese business leaders.

Yvette Go balances her time between the YMT and her role as account manager, fiber optics materials at DSM in the Netherlands. A Dutch native, Yvette holds a Masters of Science, Chemical Engineering and has studied a number of business management and language courses. She recalls one of her first sustainable development endeavors in 1995 when she was a tutor at Delft University of Technology in the faculty of Chemical Engineering. "I supervised groups of students in project work to create awareness of societal and environmental implications of chemical industrial activity," she says. Since then, she has actively factored in sustainability criteria in her education and with her work at DSM.

DSM manufactures nutritional and life science products and performance materials for the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries. It pursues a consistent and transparent policy with regard to people, planet and profit, referred to as the "Triple P". Yvette feels this commitment to sustainability is evident within the organization. "I get support and positive responses from my CEO and the rest of the team to dedicate my efforts to this YMT initiative," she explains.

Working in collaboration with the newly formed China Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD), Yvette and her colleagues have challenged themselves with a formidable task: to help build capacity around sustainable development in the Chinese business community. In the face of China's strict government legislation, murky bureaucracy and varying enforcement of the regulations, companies have real challenges to deal with when setting up shop, and maintaining a presence, in China.

Since joining the YMT last March, Yvette feels that the work she's accomplished has given her a wider outlook on sustainable development, both within the YMT and beyond. "I consciously look for opportunities to work sustainable development into the marketing and sales area at DSM," she says. "That means challenging myself and others to be more aware about the environmental and social impact of business and asking more questions about how we do things."

The ten-member team will participate in the China BCSD's first event this November. One of the main priorities set earlier this year the launch of the BCSD is building capacity around the issues facing Chinese business. To help fulfill this mandate, the YMT will facilitate a half-day education session on sustainable development with local business leaders and MBA students. "We think it's critical to give participants a simple tool that can be applied within their own organizations," she says. "Our goal is to illustrate appropriate approaches to sustainable development and try to harness the overall interest generated at the meeting". To deliver sustainability concepts in a relevant manner, the team is working on researching national and international case studies to build the business case for convincing companies to incorporate sustainability principles into their operations.

Yvette says the young managers have formed a new professional network where their diverse and international views are harnessed in a way that provides interesting debate when creating action plans. "The YMT is truly a multi-cultural group, and I often emerge from meetings feeling enthusiastic and energized with new ideas," she says.

As part of their capacity building plan, the team is applying this fresh mentality to coach MBA students in a sustainable development session, in partnership with the China Enterprises Confederation. A secondary goal is to reach small and medium enterprises (SMEs), a group often difficult to approach. "Executives of many local Chinese companies are enrolled in these classes," she says, "and as a result, we have a unique opportunity to have close contact with them through the classroom."

China's businesses face major hurdles in implementing more sustainable practices into corporate strategy. Yvette believes one of the keys to promoting sustainable development in China is through educational programming. "Chinese businesses are eager to progress, but progress is often ultimately defined as economic development," she explains. "Environmental implications are not always fully considered." Adhering to sustainable development principles costs money and Yvette feels that many business leaders are unaware of the role sustainable development can play in securing future growth and providing competitive advantages.

Working with some of the barriers of sustainable development is not always easy. "We face challenges in defining what sustainable development means cross-culturally and there are language hurdles to overcome as well," she explains. To keep the momentum going, the group is also devising ways to continue this initiative to encourage stakeholder dialogue. "We're identifying ways to link our audiences so they can continue to exchange their experiences and learn from one another."