Student sees a green future in Beijing

Anne Aaker

When Lawrence senior Van Yang took the symposium on environmental topics offered last term, he was not aware of the opportunity it would provide him.
Judy Corbett, an important figure in sustainable development, gave a presentation on the importance of the green movement during class one day. Yang met with Corbett, speaking with her about the issue.
“She was really interesting to talk to, and she gave me a lot of Internet resources to look at regarding the green movement,” Yang said. That was how he found out about the International Green Building Conference. Yang worked with professor Marcia Bjornerud and Provost David Burrows to attain the funds to visit the conference.
Yang said that everything was set until “we found out that the website I’d gotten all the information about when and where the conference was going to be was from last year!” It all got worked out in the end, though. Fortunately, this year’s conference was at nearly the same time of year as the 2005 conference.
Yang was able to attend the International Green Building Conference in Beijing, and, as he said, it was an eye-opener for several reasons. “There were a lot of important people there,” Yang said.
Prince Andrew, Duke of York was in attendance, as well as China’s Vice Premier Wen Jiabao. Yet there were no government representatives from the United States.
“There was no American government interest at all,” Yang said, adding that it was interesting to note the lack of U.S. involvement, since so many government officials from several other countries-such as the Netherlands, India, Japan and Sweden-were at the conference.
Also in attendance were 60 experts and about 500 people, only six of who were American and Yang the only student.
The basis for the conference was partly the immense growth in China’s economy and partly the growing rates of pollution, affecting national health and resources. “The building industry uses 30 percent of the country’s resources and 40 percent of the energy,” Yang explained.
Yang says that the big companies are now interested in becoming “green,” or environmentally responsible. Half the conference was dedicated to company booths, some of which were not necessarily green, and some of which were interested in becoming green, such as large engineering firms from the U.K. and Singapore’s Ministry of Construction.
The other half of the conference was a plenary session at which invited speakers gave presentations. The members of the U.S. Green Building Council, who set the standards for green buildings around the world, were one of the presenting organizations.
Yang got the chance to meet the founder of the USGBC and the World Green Building Council, David Gottfried, who is now the president of WorldBuild, a low-ecological impact developer based in California.
After the presentation, Yang said he worked up the courage to introduce himself to Gottfried. “I reminded myself I couldn’t, shouldn’t pass up this momentous opportunity, then made the long, long walk from the back of the room where us lowly delegates were seated to the front where VIPs were seated,” Yang said. “Then I just introduced myself.”
There were twelve mini-sessions at the conference, Yang said, and the ones he attended covered global networking and real estate, which are Yang’s primary interests. However, what he learned most about were solutions for the environmental problems that are surfacing.
One such solution was the $10 billion that the Chinese government has invested into 50 green demonstration projects that will be scattered throughout the country.
Yet the most eye-opening element of the conference for Yang was the lack of U.S. governmental involvement. “It’s not that the United States isn’t aware of the issues,” Yang said. “If resources are not used efficiently, the earth will soon be stripped completely.”
Yang remains optimistic about the future of green building. “The amount of government involvement was encouraging,” he said. “China is putting so much money into it. I really think that they will lead the world in sustainable development, because they have to.”
Yet the low level of involvement coming from the U.S. government dulls Yang’s optimism. “From my research, the U.S. has the most potential-the most resources and expertise. But since there’s no interest coming from the government, the education of citizens is a problem,” Yang said. “A lot of people have no idea.”
But, as Yang notes, there are companies doing their part. Wal-Mart, General Electric and BP are all trying out new green campaigns.
“The message to get across,” Yang said, “is that ‘green’ movement is at a tipping point. It’s something everyone should look into-from peasant skirts to business suits.