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China’s green maverick

Huo Weiya

Readinch

Zhang Yue, air-conditioning magnate and one of the country’s best-known businesspeople, wants to put the planet before profits.

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Zhang Yue was born in 1960 in Changsha, Hunan province, in southern China. In 1988 he founded Broad Air Conditioning with 30,000 yuan in capital. The private company, of which he is now president, sells a non-electric central air-conditioning system. Broad sells its units to 60 countries, and leads the industrial market in China, Europe and the United States.

In recent years, Broad has developed air-purifying central air-conditioning systems and stand-alone air-purifiers, and has undertaken energy-saving building refurbishments, turnkey central air-conditioning projects, energy-management services for central air-conditioning contracts and renewable fuel services.

Non-electric air-conditioning uses natural gas to heat lithium bromide until it becomes a gas, and then condense the gas back to liquid form, at which point it removes heat from the surrounding environment.

As far as the Chinese media is concerned, Zhang is a maverick. Now in middle-age, he has the long hair of a young artist. As a child he loved art and literature. His company sticks to eight principles: no polluting the environment, no stealing technology, no misleading consumers, no unfair competition, no complex borrowing arrangements, no tax avoidance, no bribery and no immoral practices.

In China’s immature commercial environment, Broad’s ideals, the distance it keeps from government and its commercial ethics, mean growth is bound to be difficult. But Zhang has stubbornly stuck to his own philosophy, focusing on morals, systems, happiness and stability. He admits that he is a perfectionist.

Today, he is applying his philosophy to environmental protection – both in his business operations and in his own personal life. Broad makes its products at facility called “Broad City” in Changsha, which has its own farm that feeds pigs and chickens leftovers from the canteen. Organic fertilisers are used in the fields and there is a fish pond. Zhang believes that only when employees are able to live in an environmentally friendly, energy saving environment that purifies the soul, will they be able to work and live well.

He has also made changes in his life. “My home is pretty big. I didn’t think about it at first, but it needs a lot of air conditioning and heating. So in winter I turn the thermostat down, and in summer I turn it back up. I might make the equipment, but I don’t enjoy it as much as I might like.”

Another interesting part of the story is his love of aeroplanes. Zhang loves to fly: in 1995, he attracted media attention when he bought his first Cessna jet for 70 million yuan, becoming the first Chinese entrepreneur to own his own plane – he later bought another six aircraft. He was also the first businessman to hold a helicopter pilot’s license.

But several years later, Zhang sold three of the planes. The others were leased out or put in hangars, and Zhang ordered that they could only be used for groups of six people or more. On one occasion, the microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus visited Hainan province for a conference, and had planned to visit Broad City. Yunus had hoped to save time by taking a Broad company jet, but Zhang’s rules would not allow it, and the visit was cancelled.

“One day I learned that a tree can absorb 18.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide every year,” says Zhang. “It would take eight trees 60 years to absorb the carbon emitted by my plane during a single return trip between Changsha and Beijing. I was shocked.” Zhang now takes commercial flights, even if means sacrificing something in terms of comfort. “The searches, the waiting, the delays, the hard seats,” he complains.

Besides being president of Broad, Zhang is also vice chair of the United Nations Environment Program Sustainable Buildings & Climate Initiative. Since last October, Broad has been making energy-saving upgrades to 28 office buildings, apartment blocks and hotels at Broad City, with a focus on insulation.

In June, Zhang arranged for the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, to receive a report when he visited Hunan. The document proposed an energy-efficient building programme to combat the financial crisis and address climate change. According to Zhang, the proposal was “entirely for the national interest, not for personal benefit. If anything I would lose out – the air-conditioning market would shrink significantly.”

Zhang often says the future of the planet is more important than his business. “I love air-conditioning,” says Zhang. “But I dream that one day humanity will stop using it. One of my major tasks now is to eliminate it – to eliminate my own business.”

He doesn’t say how he will do this, and many think it is inconceivable or utopian. His actions and ideas have made him a radical even among environmentalists. And his actions are not those that ordinary people can adopt: ordinary Chinese people do not make decisions regarding private jets, large houses or energy-efficient buildings.

However, many entrepreneurs are busy “green washing” their lifestyles and businesses, attracting media exposure for their activities, but not giving up their extravagant and carbon-intensive lifestyles. The majority of businesses still aim to grow at minimum cost; as long as they can get past government checks, they are happy to save money on things like waste-water treatment. This is what makes Zhang something of a beacon in the gloom.


Huo Weiya is operations and development manager at chinadialogue in Beijing.


Homepage image: An aerial view of part of Broad City

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一位圣徒

十分感谢这篇报道。以我们欧洲天主教的观念来看,张跃的所作所为像是一位圣徒。期盼他能够促使中国在曼谷和哥本哈根的环境政策得以改变。
(王蕾译)

a Saint

Thanks very much for this report. According to our catholic ideas in Europe the life of Zhang Yue looks like the life of a "saint". Let's hope he will be able to give a change to the environnemental policy of China in Bangkok and in Copenhague.


有趣

这位老总真是一个有趣的人,的确很有艺术家特立独行的气质,商人里少见啊。不过他这种过着高碳富裕生活的人,减排空间很大,他的行为对普通人恐怕没有多大借鉴意义。

amusing

This chief is really an amusing guy with an unconventional artistic temperament,which is that rarest of all businessmen. Living a marvelously rich, carbon-intensive life, however,he could do much more in emission reduction. I am afraid his behaviours do not have reference significance for the ordinary people.


乌托邦?

相对于普通人有钱后追求奢侈享受的生活而言,张跃的做法非常难得,再加上他的艺术青年的出身背景,在中国的企业家里算的是一个“另类”了。
只是不知道,远大的员工是如何评价自己的老总的?

Utopia?

Compare to the popular luxury life when getting rich,Zhang Yue's deed is extremely valuable.In addition to his art youth background,for me,he is a "different" among Chinese entrepreneurs. I'm wondering,How Yuanda's staff judge their boss?


得了大智慧的人

他后期的所作所为和佛教与《弟子规》教导我们的为人处事相吻合,在这个浑浊的社会里,普通人能做到这点就很不容易了,而他更为难得,如果我是员工我真的很骄傲和求之不得!他的行为怎么会对普通人没有多大借鉴意义呢?是莫大的鼓励和好的教育的例子啊!看到这篇我真是由衷的愉快!

我和我的家人也在迷失在这个社会后重新找到了心灵的力量,重新相信真诚的爱的力量!

--Kiys

Man with high wisdom

What he did in later years is exactly what is preached by Buddhism and in "Standards for Being a Good Student", teaching us how to discipline ourselves and go about our business. In this tainted society, it is not easy for a common person to do this. But he has done more. If I worked for him, I would be very proud and wish for more people like him! How can he not be an example for common people? This is tremendously encouraging and educational! To read this article is truly a pleasure for me! My family and I have once again found the spiritual strength in this lost society and once again believed in the sincerity of love! - Kiys (Translated by Jo)


身体力行的负责任企业

我准备成立一支基金,向那些“绿色项目”提供低成本的成长资金。它将交由一位中国投资者进行透明管理。不知道张跃先生是否愿意支持这个提议?
昨天我打电话给阿尔·戈尔的世代投资管理公司,讨论向一个中国政府担保的土地复垦项目投资。更多地是冷眼旁观的人。企业需要以身作则。那些一线的小企业在有效地应对气候变化,需要资金方面的帮助。
如果你有任何想法,与我联系Twitter--Christine Chung.

Responsible Corporates Walk the Talk

I am trying to start up a Fund to provide low-cost development finance for "Green Projects". It will be transparently managed by a Chinese speaking investment banker. Will Mr Yue support this initiative.
Yesterday I phone Al Gore's Generation Investment LLC to discuss funding for a land reclaimation project already secured from the Chinese Government. More ivory tower dwellers.
Corporates need to start walking the talk. Small businesses that are on the ground and effectively tackling climate change need to be supported by finance.
I'm on Twitter - Christine Chung, if you have suggestions.


重读旧文

现在环保组织正为远大要毁掉大泽湖湿地造“天空城市”而发起一波又一波艰难而执着的呼吁。由此可见,人是复杂的,批判、辩证、从两面来看人比较合适,这种单方面歌功颂德式的文章还是少发。

Rereading an old text

Environmental organisations have launched wave after wave of persistent appeals against the destruction of the Osaka Wetland by Broad Group to create a 'sky city'. This shows that people are complicated, but can respond appropriately to criticism. However, this type of article that unilaterally praises someone is not very useful.


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