China’s largest city, Shanghai, is home to 23 million people and host to 8 million visitors a year. Renowned the world over for overcrowding and smog, it is hard to believe the concept of sustainability has penetrated the civic minds of the city. It has, albeit in a small way, and the future could look a lot brighter for the skies of Shanghai.
The main problem Shanghai faces is that there are just too many people in too little space consuming disproportionate amount of energy. It is experiencing the downside to its enormous economic growth: the pollution and overcrowding are reminiscent of Industrial-era British cities. The advantage they have over 19th Century Britain is the knowledge that something must be done. China’s approach to its natural resources and being more environmentally aware is changing.
Shanghai has been planning a sub-city in nearby Dongtan to relieve overcrowding and become the world’s first truly sustainable city. This was supposed to have been started in 2006 but has yet to really get off the ground. The city, designed by the London-based Arup Group, was to provide sustainable accommodation from rural migrants, coming to work in Shanghai. Utilising only sustainable power, through wind turbines, the new city was supposed to be opened in time to deal with the influx of tourists for 2010’s World Expo.
Indeed, the World Expo, had the tagline “Better City, Better Life” and focussed on the city’s need to change. Local government took the lead and cleaned up the polluted Suzhuo River and imposing more stringent recycling programmes. There is awareness of the need for a change in collective thinking about the environment, and this is becoming evident within the Shanghai travel industry.
Shanghai has a number of environmentally-friendly firsts. For instance, the boutique fitness club, “One Wellness”, is China’s first carbon neutral gym. The Hotel URBN uses energy efficient technologies, reclaimed and recycled goods and offsets carbon emissions by planting trees in Mongolia in order to make itself carbon neutral. More and more travel companies are waking up to foreign visitors’ expectations of them to provide a more sustainable business model.
Eco-tourism is still seen as something of a luxury at the moment, with high-end brands paving the way. Swissôtel Grand Shanghai is one such hotel. As “China’s Leading Business Hotel”, it is championing greener thinking amongst its customers and peers. In 2010 it, along with all Swissôtel properties worldwide, took part in the Earth Hour – with all decorative lights switched off or dimmed. As a global brand it takes sustainability very seriously, with four key areas: environment, guests and partners, staff and local communities.
Context Travel, organises scholar-led walking tours worldwide. Specifically in Shanghai they offer a walk concentrating on the “Accelerated City”. Walking through the city from the oldest neighbourhoods to the newer financial district, it addresses the almost weekly transformation of the city and the economic and environmental issues they face.
China became a member of the UNESCO World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme in 2011, showing promise of its involvement on a global scale to achieve better sustainability within its travel industry. Hopefully this will set a precedent that will trickle down throughout the country and its 1.3 billion inhabitants, who account for 20% of the world’s entire population. It will be a case of actively promoting the civic, social and environmental responsibility of each citizen, as well as allowing for the massive growth that China will no doubt continue to experience in the coming years.
Ben Jacobs is a travelling writer and sustainable business coach, currently residing in Shanghai
Photo License: Creative Commons image source
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