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Program 2
thumb_lorraine_rob_jim_shanghai_2007.jpg  Watch Video - Sustainability  
 Above: Earth Factor show producers in Shanghai   Above right: Click to view episode 2 in low resolution  

In this Episode, we go to Changshu, China - where government and industry are working together to clean up polluting factories and where European standards of water treatment are being applied.  We visit the island of Dongtan and profile a sustainable city of the future .  And we visit a unique youth project at a Shanghai High School where young people are investing in a greener future.

This program was first aired by California Public Broadcasting in 2008.  In the years since the Shanghai government has failed to live up to the promises made at Dongtan and the environmental vision of that island has been modified, the project has been scaled back.   Updates on the Dongtan - Arup story may be found on our Educational Resources page.

A full transcript of this show is printed below.
[While a low resolution streaming of Program 2 is available above, high resolution copies of the programme may be obtained by contacting This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ]


VO:  Earth Factor Asia

         With Lorraine Hahn

 China: cities of the present, Cities of the future. 

(effects wipe)

Lorraine Hahn on camera 

Welcome to Earth Factor Asia.  We’re in here Shanghai at the heart of China’s economic miracle.  The question we ask is whether this nation can sustain its remarkable economic growth and clean up its environment.  We’ll see a city struggling to make green decisions on its development and we’ll take you to an island off the coast of Shanghai that’s the site of a city of the future – which may hold lessons for the world.

(effects wipe)


Lorraine Hahn VO

The Pudong District of Shanghai today bristling with skyscrapers where just twenty years ago, they were open fields. This booming metropolis, the powerhouse of China’s economy, is a brash declaration of its growing importance. But Shanghai has also come to symbolize the unrestrained urbanization which is sweeping the country. A seemingly unstoppable force which is emptying many villages and burdening the cities with millions of migrants looking for their share of the good times.

So it’s fitting this part of China should be the location for unique experiment in urban planning which holds promise for much of the country.

I’m on a field trip as a guest of Arup, a global design firm that’s behind what’s hailed as the World’s First Eco-city. Our destination is the island of Dongtan.

Towering above us the chimneys of one of China’s notorious coal-fired power stations.

But we are heading for greener pastures. New highways but without the traffic. Much of the infrastructure to this new city has already been put in place.

What’s still lacking is the city itself. Until now it’s just a green field site. One of the few buildings here is the administration block containing the architect’s model of what this development will eventually look like.

 What makes it a sustainable city? What differentiates a clean suburb from a sustainable city?

Gary Lawrence,

Project Director, Arup

The sustainable city idea, the ecological idea is grounded in trying to maximize the ability of the resources provided by nature to operate and maintain the quality of life in this site. As you notice along here, we have wind turbines and there will be another wind turbine farm off this grid. 

Wind will provide much of the energy for this new community and Dongtan is already the location of an experimental wind project. But the energy mix will also consist of recycled city waste and solar power as well as employing local biofields such as the husks from local rice production. It’s all aimed at making the city as carbon-neutral as possible.


Raymond Yau,

Buildung Engineer Arup

It will be a major form of energy for Dongtan. It could be close to 40 percent of power coming from the rice’s waste while another 20 percent could be harvesting the wind. 

The proximity to valuable wetlands on an important bird migration root has raised environmental concerns. But the designers insist the natural habitat will be protected.

 This is the wetlands that will be preserved forever because of the importance of this as part of the Siberian-Australasian flyway. 

As an experiment it’s hoped that success here can be scaled up to provide answers for the bigger challenge of Chinese urbanization.

 Dongtan is just one of a number of urban developments. There are sister planning efforts going on all over the place. Dongtan has unique characteristics of being ahead of many of these new designs and intending to show a new way so that this development that is necessary for the future economic and social progress of China actually serves its ecological function as well.  

Agriculture is the main activity in this area and that will be preserved despite the influx of city dwellers.

Certainly, there seemed little objection from local people we spoke to about the changes about to take place.


“I think it’s good” this woman told us.

 Right now it’s just a few buildings and farmland but by 2010 this will be the centre of a community numbering 10.000. And by the middle of the century half a million.  Part of the goal of the developer and of the Chinese Central Government is to demonstrate that you can have urban development on this site in ways that have the highest ecological principals in order to achieve some sort of correct balance between man and nature. I think that’s the key to Dongtan.  The obvious question that comes about is you can control water, you control the solar energy or the turbines but how do you control air? You can’t put up barricades. You’re exactly right. The air pollution from the municipal area of Shanghai will come into this site and there is little or nothing that can be done about that except demonstrating the viability of this new model so that as subsequent development takes place in Shanghai. There is a dogged attempt to reduce the amount of pollutants that get created as new development or redevelopment takes place. It’s probably a 100 year-strategy but in our experience like no other place on the earth the Chinese people are able and capable of carrying out 100 year-strategies if they know what the goal is. (effects wipe) Cities of the future. But what about the present? Given the pressures on China’s cities from rapid growth many are looking for solutions right now. Changshu on China’s east coast is one community that’s trying to strike a balance between prosperity for itself and a better life for its citizens.

Rob McBride Voice Over
Early morning on the Yangtze River. Through the clouds of mist and pollution that hang over it the sun trying to break through. As one of China’s most important arteries the river is an essential resource for people and businesses. For industries like paper its proximity is essential.  This is the paper mill operated by UPM of Finland. In the main plant the massive rollers that produce paper run around the clock requiring a constant water supply. And in its paper making process here in China the company has brought with it the same standards it applies at home.

Effectively it’s importing European environmental controls.

Timo Johannsen,

China Manager, UPM

Of course, we are fulfilling the Chinese national and local standards as well. Very well, actually. But in our case we would like to be better and that’s the reason why we want to follow the European standards.  Why? Presumably, you only have to fulfill the Chinese standards. Well, we want to carry our responsibility related to social responsibilities as well, that’s part of our policies. 

In the large treatment tanks next to the production plant one of the stages needed to treat the waste water. In the past the paper industry had a poor environmental record. But in recent decades technological improvements have been introduced. Technologies that are employed here as well.

 We have to carry that responsibility what the paper industry has done in the past. That was the case in Finland also, a couple of decades ago. But nowadays the technology is totally different. And more and more companies are carrying the social responsibility. Environmental aspects are playing a more and more important role in the business.  

Eventually, the water taken from the Yangtze is clean enough to be recycled for use or returned to the river.

A big investor, mindful of its environmental responsibilities, UPM is the kind of newcomer that finds itself very welcome in this part of China.

 And this is the water after the final stage of treatment just before it goes back into the Yangtze. Apparently now cleaner than when it came out.  

This is Changshu, a city that is seen as one of the most progressive industrial areas of the country.

About two hours drive from Shanghai and home to nearly 2 million people the city is ringed by industrial parks hosting new factories and enterprises. The authorities have been eager to create the right conditions for sustainable development while providing a clean environment for its citizens.

And at this chemical plant, another example of that enlightened approach. Here the construction of a unit to dispose of HFC23, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas produced as a byproduct in the making of refrigerant chemicals.


Cai Hui,

Zhonghao New Chemicals

HFC23 is extremely powerful as a greenhouse gas. It is nearly 12.000 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

In recent times city officials have rejected building plans by companies they regarded as being bad polluters. For foreign companies increasingly governed by strict social responsibility rules the standards adopted by the city have made it an easy place to invest in. The result: benefits all around.

 We are as a benchmark company here so many officials and many representatives are coming here and we are introducing our facilities to them. And they are very proud to introduce us to other companies here in China as well.  

By moving industries and businesses out from the centre of town to the new parks the city has been reclaimed for its citizens. New apartment blocks have been springing up around town. And a new pedestrianized area at its heart gives it the appearance of any other modern, developed city.

 There have been big changes here. Factories have been moved away from the town, there are more severe controls on pollution. And the place is a lot greener.  

As the shape of possible things to come for developing China, Changshu would appear to be the model community. Sir Crispin Tickell is a former diplomat and an expert on policy-making who now advises the Chinese Government.

 Sir Crispin Tickell, Government Advisor
 They would like to increase the production of things and they want people to get richer, all very understandable. At the same time they are perhaps more aware than most of the vulnerability of any human civilization to environmental change.  

As evening falls in Chanshu so the residents come out to enjoy the cool green space provided by new parkland on the edge of town. Among them friends Wang Ying and Jang Ming, newly arrived from the hinterland province of Sichuan in search of work.

Wang Ying,

new resident of Changshu

It seems to be a very environmentally friendly place. It’s a lot cleaner than many other cities. I like it here.

Both are convinced they’ve made the right move just as Changshu is confident it, too, is moving in the right direction.

Sir Crispin Tickell 

One of the things I think most important is that we should begin to measure things differently. We measure wealth as if it’s only in terms of human production. So GNP and GDP are the words that get banded around. But we really ought to try and give that up. And give us something much more intelligent which is human welfare - how societies actually work so it has got contented people in them. There the Chinese have a good deal to contribute. They’ve done a lot of thinking about this. Hence the Chinese interest in what they call clean green growth.  Lorraine Hahn on camera In designing buildings more and more architects are moving towards designs that use less and less energy. The ideal would be to have a skyscraper that produces more energy than it consumes. Jim Laurie reports on a new building in China that’s hoping to achieve just that.  

It will rise out of the ground and take its place on Gouangzhou’s fast-changing skyline as a building like no other. In charge of the project and expected to deliver - it’s director Ye Zhiming. He knows all about the pressures of overseeing one of the most complex building projects ever undertaken in China.


Ye Zhiming,

Director Construction Office, Pearl River Tower

 The most important thing is the environment. And it will be one of the most technologically advanced buildings anywhere in the world.   

This is what it will eventually look like. The futuristic curves of the Pearl River Tower, a 70 story building embracing the very latest green technologies. One that will actually produce more energy than it consumes. Shaped to harness the prevailing winds, air will be directed over its surface to internally located wind turbines. The building will take full advantage of the passing sun to create the solar energy needed to power, to heat and to cool it. A range of green innovations are incorporated into the design making this one of the costliest buildings in China to date.

 In this building we’ll use a total of eleven energy innovations such as solar energy and wind as well as a very advanced cooling system. It will mean, for example, electricity savings of fifty percent on air conditioning.  

As soon as it was announced the building began creating its own share of headlines attracting intense interest at international gatherings like this one.

Eric Lam,

Colliers International, Guangzhou

This is the first international event and we have been receiving a lot of interest.

With so much construction already on the way and being planned for China’s cities introducing greater environmental efficiency is seen as vital.

 The amount of constructions and the amount of buildings that going to be completed in the next few years will be enormous. And we receive a good feedback from the market. It will be an encouraging force for all the rest of the developers in China to do it.  

It’s in rapidly expanding cities like Guangzhou where this environmental challenge will be played out. The old industrial facades are quickly giving way to gleaming modern blocks.

But just how green will all these new buildings be? The answer to that question will affect not only the environment for China’s citizens but also have a global impact.

Clearly a lot rests on the success of Mr Ye and his team.

 What we’re doing here is creating a new type of building that will be pioneering in many ways. I believe it will be meaningful for the whole of mankind.  (effects wipe) 

Helping to promote green building technology cities like Hong Kong have been incorporating new innovations into more recent construction projects.

Like this government building which has become a testing ground for greater energy efficiency. Its large roof space is completely turned over to solar power generation while so-called sun pipes capture light and deliver it to corridors below.

To save on air conditioning coasts external tanks use off-peak electricity to make ice which is then used for cooling during peak daylight hours.

And on external walls shades deflect a lot of the sun’s heat.

Another green building in Hong Kong: This one is home to an organization promoting best environmental practice here. With many green building technologies still expensive the hope is they’ll become more viable the more they’re supported by government and business.

Kevin Edmunds,

Business Environment Council

We’re very pleased with the design. We have a lot of external and natural day lighting in the building which really does help us to reduce the artificial electrical lighting that we need to use inside. People respond a lot better to natural day lighting rather than artificial electric lighting. 

The ultimate goal is getting China to heed the message.

 We hope that standards we’ve developed here in Hong Kong, to encourage environmental sustainability in buildings, can help inform the designers and the constructors and the operational managers in China about more environmentally sensitive buildings. A lot of it comes down to consumers  choice and we think if consumers and home buyers express the preference for more environmentally sound or more energy efficient or more healthy building in which to live or work then the market place, of course, would provide them.  Given the amount of construction in Asia’s expanding cities reducing the impact of those buildings is essential. On Earth Factor You we meet an architect whose job it is to make sure her buildings are kind to the environment. 

(music up)

 My name is Juliet Landler. I work for RMJM and I’m the leader of the Environmental Design Group. What we do is try to integrate the whole idea of environmental design into all projects in the office. The exciting thing about working in Asia is that there are these massive projects being built at an incredible speed and we have to be very quick to get it in at the beginning of the design or else we’ve missed that opportunity. Our primary goal is to make the buildings as low-impact on the environment as possible. We look at energy usage, we look at water consumption, at material and resources. Buildings are responsible for over half of the carbon emissions and therefore architects have some of the greatest responsibility in trying to solve the problem of global warming.  This is environmental art exhibit that our company sponsored. And actually ten people from the office went out and worked with students for a day to build these pieces of environmental art that you see on the walls around us. It was a great exercise to teach students more about the environment and also how to build low-impact designs.  A lot of people might paint the picture that China doesn’t care but, of course, in making a building that is having a lower environmental impact it generally is much less expensive to operate. So actually our clients all see that as being good business once they understand it. It’s just the balance of getting the project built fast versus built well. And that’s always a struggle anywhere in the world. Today no one’s working because today is the annual Dragon Boat Festival.   I would say the spirit of competition among the corporations does certainly enhance the working climate here. And it’s very much also a part of the architectural world here and green building is becoming a part of it.  I’m Juliette Landler. It starts with us.  

(effects wipe)

 So far on this show we’ve looked at the challenges posed by Asia’s expanding cities. But rural sustainability is just as important. Especially in places like India where the village is still a vital part of the society.  

I’ve come to the Tara Centre at the outskirts of Delhi to see Rakesh Khanna, an expert in rural sustainable development. This organization develops low-tech innovations that can be used in the humblest of village. Like this brick-maker using the fly ash waste from power stations.

Rakesh Khanna,

Village Sustainability Consultant

This brick is made of fly ash. So you have real work for many years in converting waste materials into useful products. We’re firm believers in the philosophy which the five kingdoms of nature do: The waste of one kingdom is normally the food of another kingdom. And if man can understand this a huge amount of our pollution problems can be sorted out.  Ultimately the goal is to make rural life sustainable, isn’t it?  If you create sustainable livelihood then you are creating dollapen. Dollapen happens automatically. For example, you’re taking away a pollutant from the environment. You are having a machine which allows people to set up an industry which is a dignity as well. So we do a lot of work connected to sustainable livelihood.  You’re looking basically at different types of technology that make bricks. Also technology that makes roofing tiles. You are also making the machines that make this stuff and you export to all parts of India? We export to all parts of India. We also look at international markets.  Afghanistan has been buying stuff from us. At the lowest common usage level it should be simple to use. So it’s machines like this which look at using the best science but a person that is not that technically educated can easily run it without a problem. To a large extent the villages are fairly clear on what they would like. It’s a combination of understanding technology and being able to mobilize and understand it. Work technology that meets their requirements, that makes the difference.   In a way by making the villages more sustainable, more attractive places to stay, you’re taking some of that pressure off the cities.  Yes we should think so. A lot of large villages are becoming smaller cities. A lot of the smaller cities that wouldn’t grow to become big cities. Now I think that’s an area that we want to get involved very strongly in. That some of the technologies developed for the village could be scaled up to the small towns, even cities.  That’s right, absolutely.   The cities learning from the villages.  Yes and I think that’s what India has been doing for so many years. It’s time to start again now.  Terrific. Thank you.  (music up and out) With the need to achieve a sustainable future expert advice is crucial. Chandran Nair is a consultant who is in demand more and more from leaders in government and business throughout Asia.

Chandran Nair, Development Consultant

I think if you take climate change as an example and all the debate about what China and India needs to be, I think there’s a very naïve view that somehow China can control economic growth and therefore contribute to the challenge. I don’t think this is going to be possible. So in terms of the answers going forward there are some very difficult decisions we need to make. And that’s as a global community, not just China and India. That future has yet to be invented.  From his extensive experience of working in China he believes the leadership there is aware of the magnitude of the problem.  I have no doubt that at least the people I’ve met and clearly if you look at the committees that are chaired by the Premier etc. they understand. The question is: Is it possible for any government to reign in what has been promised? And particularly the nature of the links in an interconnected world. And wait till India joins.  And he believes when it comes to enforcing laws to limit the impact of development China rather than India stands a better chance at success.  I think in China-  my understanding is that they’re trying to enforce. But anyone who has been in China will know that it’s a vast country and anyone who has worked in China will understand that the government in Beijing does not necessarily have control right across. So I think what we’re seeing in China is a really serious attempt at the provincial level which we haven’t seen for many years to try and enforce. So I think enforcement is going to be part of it. But when I look at China and India I think China is going to have a better chance of controlling this. Partly because it has a better ability to put in place draconian measures. Frankly, my view on the way Asia is going is that if we have to curb some of the trends and some of these things that we’re saying we are going to need draconian enforcement, draconian laws. A lot of things that will essentially start to impinge on what people think are their rights.  (effects wipe) What’s apparent is the Chinese realize that they can’t have unbridled economic growth and protect their environment. In fact, the struggle to maintain a balance is being joined not only by companies and organizations but individuals as well. All stepping up with a real sense of urgency.  And that’s this edition of Earth Factor Asia. I’m Lorraine Hahn in Shanghai. We’ll see you next time.



Rob McBride


Additional camera

S. Nallamuthu



Chris Dobson



Shi Qiulei

Li Xiaoli

Jian Yin

Akanksha Sood

Melaine Chan



Rob McBride


Online Editor

Cheuk Yan Kwok


Executive Producer

Jim Laurie


Production Facilities and Technical Support

Salon Films Hong Kong Ltd.


This Program made possible in part through a generous contribution from the NOBLE TRUST of Hong Kong



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