Greennovate's Mihela Hladin talks green China travel and hotels, going green during a financial crisis, and shares eco-friendly travel tips.
On April 22, Shanghai's star green team, Greennovate, is hosting their second annual Earth Day event. Greennovate has made a name for itself in fashion-forward Shanghai by bringing a sense of style to being green — no Birkenstocks-n-socks in this bunch.
Instead, they've teamed up with emerging young Shanghai designers to re-imagine environmentally conscious fashion as just one way of bringing green education to consumers and businesses in Shanghai and throughout China.
Beginning with last year's launch of compact-yet-roomy reusable shopping bags designed by Jooi and continuing with a line of sweet Green Tees designed by Eno (Jackie Chan sports one to the left), Greennovate makes being eco-conscious attractive.
It's a great way to raise funds for their ambitious educational initiative, GECKO (Greennovate Environmental Challenge for Kids Outreach), which brings environmental education to kids throughout China.
Here, Mihela shares her thoughts on what travelers can do to help make China — and the world — a cleaner, healthier place.
As an environmentally conscious business woman who travels frequently around China, what are some tips for travelers in this country who want to make a difference?
First of all, with all the mileage from flying, I'm unfortunately not the most carbon friendly person, but I do try to offset this by riding my bike most of the time in Shanghai. Secondly, I strongly believe that everyone can make a difference.
Tips for travelers? Well, garbage bothers most of us, so make an effort from time to time and pick it up on the street. As you are never alone in China there is a great chance that couple of people around you at that time will remember your gesture.
Go to the foreign book store and buy couple of 5 RMB environmental books they have in English and Chinese. Leave it in the hotel for ayi’s kids or arrange with concierge to send it to the local schools.
Take some time and go to the local markets. You'll be surprised how many "green" products you'll find and how creative they are. If you come across something inspirational, send it to us and we'll share it with other people.
Recommend some of your favorite destinations in China for a green, outdoors experience.
I keep promising myself that one day I will take a train and travel around China for at least a month. There are two reasons that I would like to do this — my Chinese would improve and I would see more China then just airports, hotels, meeting rooms and schools.
I always liked the places that are off the beaten track. I would definitely recommend the Himalaya’s surroundings, from the Sichuan or Tibet side — for blue skies, hiking adventures and the feeling of being closer to heaven then ever before.
I like southern parts of China especially in spring time. Guizhou and Guanxi provinces are sometimes forgotten to be mentioned beyond Guilin and Yangshuo, but they have so many beautiful and old places to go. Xinjiang is on my priority list for my next time off.
Last month Shanghai Daily published Moganshan. Can you tell me briefly about what Greennovate is doing there?
We met the Naked team in December and after discussing their sustainable tourism model and their involvement in the Moganshan community we agreed that we will start working together on couple of initiatives, the first one is our GECKO project in the local school.
We started in February and even for our first visit, the whole experience was beyond our expectations. It's not only about how Naked minimizes their environmental impact with the ways they build and maintain the houses while keeping the visitors’ comfort high.
It's about how they are integrating the local people and their wisdom in what they do and how they are gradually improving the whole community. So now we work in the village schools with the group of kids every month on environmental topics and hopefully getting new generation on board to keep Moganshan beautiful.
Besides Naked Retreats and trendy big names like URBN (who've built a name for themselves for being China's first carbon neutral hotel), can you recommend other green hotels or guesthouses in China for green-consious travelers?
Off the top of my head, I know there is a mountain retreat in Yangshuo that a friend told me about, but I have never been there.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), China is on track to become the world's number one travel and tourism economy in the next decade. Already China is at the top of emerging tourism markets in terms of annual growth. With this in mind,what are some green initiatives of the travel and tourism industry in China and what initiatives are required in the future?
In China there are lots of initiatives inside the tourism industry that go beyond carbon and are, in my opinion, more important for environmental awareness. Ctrip, for example, offers a green rewards program and I think being involved with the two projects they support encourages customers to learn and contribute to the cause rather than to simply offset carbon on flights.
Naked Retreats had a good project this spring where guests were invited to help clean the mountain and last year they installed bamboo litter bins everywhere.
There are lots of good environmental programs running in China and more and more travelers are interested in finding out how they can contribute to environmental change. So I think the end this is how a marketing budget is used in a good way to contribute to community and at the same time build a brand that stand for caring.
Do you think the Shanghai 2010 World Expo will contribute significantly to environmental improvements in Shanghai? They're using that catch phrase all over the place "Better City Better Life." Do you feel that they are incorporating "green" into Shanghai's city planning enough?
I do think Shanghai is becoming greener and cleaner. I expect that major changes will start happening now during the summer. I would like to see Expo have the same impact on Shanghai people as Beijing's Olympic Games had on Beijingers last year. Now we are seeing that "better life" is communicated through hanging out with friends, enjoying outdoors or being in love. I think this is a major step in reaching people about the potential for a better quality of life that goes beyond the usual messages of economic growth and financial stability.
How important a role do corporations play in solving environmental problems? Do you think corporate social responsibility is a reality, or is it all just "green washing"?
CSR is for sure reality and most of the corporate world is making an effort. How big is this effort and does it have a measurable impact is another story.
I believe that the crisis is the time for companies to use CSR as a tool to raise consumer awareness and benefit from being a global citizen.
Unfortunately most of the CSR budgets were significantly scaled down and are during these times of crisis perceived as a cost rather than an investment in people.
How is the world financial crisis affecting environmentalism in China?
I would hope that the crisis will become an opportunity specially for SMEs. I’m referring to the supply chain sector and their competitive drive and need to differentiate. I believe that there will be more open dialogs on improving the manufacturing practices not only for the sake of price.
More and more people are starting to rethink their purchasing decisions and that should drive the environmental movement further. Down times are good for all of us to experience how little we actually need and to focus on what really adds to the quality of life.
You were recently one of the guest speakers at Spark 09, presenting on how "doubling contributes to a greener China." What do you mean by "doubling"? Can you give me the short version of your presentation?
We use doubling when we are presenting how populations grow and what impact that has on our resources.
We have a very visual presentation of what happens if a family has more then two kids and I used it to show what happens when someone decided to make a positive change towards greener China.
Most people get so easily overwhelmed with the size of the country and the size of the environmental challenges that they're convinced that they can't make a difference.
I showed some of our initiatives and how many people we impacted directly as a small group. I can safely say that our work has impacted more then 10,000 people so far—not bad for a team of five staff.
Greennovate is proud of its green office (see image) designed by the team of DesignLi3. Aside from your green office checklist, do you have any practical tips for creating a better green life in your home, office and for life in the city?
The most practical tip is: use common sense. What makes you feel good? What is healthy? Where can you be productive? What makes you happy?
Most people enjoy places with lots of daylight (saves energy), having greenery around (filters the air), drinking out of glassware (reduces waste).
If you are buying new furniture or refurbishing your apartment, look for low VOC paints, minimize glue, use local materials, look for Energy Star labels on appliances and try to find ways to minimize waste.
Green rooftops have big potential in Shanghai and could be a great place to work, hang out or plant a small herb garden.
We are just finishing the green rooftop at our office. It doesn’t take a lot to make small changes and even these small changes can make a big difference for every day living.
Tell me a little about BEAT (Business Environmental Awareness Training).
We set up a program for companies that would like to get their employees involved in understanding the environment beyond check lists and standard environmental procedures.
Companies have programs for team building skills and English skills and there is no reason why not to add environmental topics to the trainings. BEAT covers the most relevant topics of our environmental footprint, sustainability, population and energy and green innovations.
This is a real opportunity to impact behaviors inside and outside of a company, to reduce operational costs and to encourage long term green innovations in the company.
How is GECKO doing? What's the latest and how do you see it growing in the future? Was their talk of a contract with the Chinese government for environmental education?
Our GECKO is yet another victim of the financial crisis but we are not going to give up the ambitious plan to educate 5,000 kids this year.
We have optimized the content so we can do two-day programs now per school and we standardized the followup to keep schools interested after we are gone.
We have received initial governmental support for our efforts in raising environmental awareness and we now have unlimited access to schools around China. The challenge is funding, but I am sure we will find our way.
Jackie Chan recently showed his support of Greennovate and Eno's partnership on Green Tees by being photographed wearing "Green is the New Gold." How do you feel about that?
Hats off to Jackie for that! We sent out the whole package of Tees to various celebrities and Jackie was the first one that made an effort sending his pic back.
I think this has a big impact on young Chinese and their green perception. Chinese green role models play a significant part in changing habits and making environmental issues popular among future decision makers.
This Earth Day, Wednesday April 22, Greennovate is hosting its second annual Earth Day event in partnership with a number of companies in Shanghai. Do you have any inside tips about the party?
Come and see. We promise no one will be left out and everyone will find something that they are interested it. We will be showcasing our projects and new arrivals with our partners and we hope that everyone will walk away with at least one idea to make this world a better place for all of us.
Celebrate Earth Day with Mihela and her enthusiastic green team this April 22nd at Creative Spaces, 528 Kanding Lu (6-10pm). Greennovate will be offering a first look at unique green concepts for green living, green office, green fashion and green sounds that they've developed in partnership with some of Shanghai’s most creative companies like Eno, DesignLi3, and Naked Retreats. Lots of prizes and surprises are promised as well as concert from Lions of Puxi (rumor has it that Lions of Puxi will perform a "green" song especially for the event). The party starts at 6PM, the band starts playing at 7:30PM. Entrance is 50RMB, free for students with ID. For more information about the event contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to earthdayshanghai.cn.