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Beijing: Beyond the short term

BSR’s Beijing debate recognized the paradox of a country seeking massive levels of economic growth while also understanding that China's high-growth model is likely to be unsustainable. How China manages this paradox will affect the entire world.  Highlights show the importance of tailoring sustainability approaches to the Chinese context:

A focus on short-termism: Steven Sitao Xu, director for Advisory Services -- China at the Economist Intelligence Unit, described economics as a trade-off between efficiency and fairness -- and argued that China must adopt a growth model that incorporates fairness. China has been able to grow by keeping immediate costs low, without considering a longer return on investment. This short-termism has exacerbated problems such as environmental degradation and pollution.

The role of government: Ray Bracy, Walmart China Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs,suggested that the Chinese government provide incentives to encourage short-term-minded companies to make longer-term sustainability investments.

The role of business: At the same time, the speakers agreed that the Chinese government cannot act alone. Collaboration among government, business, and civil society will be vital to advance social and environmental issues. Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations argued that business can demonstrate leadership now, without government policy support. In the general discussion in the room, however, many agreed that without a platform for collaboration on sustainability, such action is challenging.

The Chinese consumer: It was widely recognized that the behavior of the Chinese consumer is a crucially important variable. Many at the dinner recognized the central fact that extending Western consumption patterns to China requires natural resources that are not available, and equally, that Chinese citizens have the same human aspirations to meet their needs.

Resolution of this dilemma will play a key role in determining whether a sustainable world economy is achieved.

This meeting was hosted in September 2012 by BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer. 

Photo of Beijing skyline provided by zhu difeng via Shutterstock

Slideshow written content by Eva Dienel and Julia Robinson, BSR
Photo of Hong Kong skyline provided by leungchopan via Shutterstock