2012 Student-Faculty Fellows Program Report: Vassar College

Applications and Practices of Beijing Residents Regarding Sustainability In Their Choice of Foods, Transportation and Home Appliances

Mentor: Professor Yu Zhou
Students: Jiayi Bao, Emily Denn, Zachary Kent, Gaelin Monkman, Michael Norton

Applications and Practices of Beijing Residents Regarding Sustainability In Their Choice of Foods, Transportation and Home Appliances

Tea picking in Hangzhou

Project Abstract

Our research assesses the attitudes and behaviors of the Chinese public toward sustainability in Beijing. We investigated three target areas: the nascent movements favoring ecological agricultural practices and food consumption, the establishment of green forms of transportation, and consumers’ decisions to choose energy efficient household appliances. Our research was undertaken through participatory observation, interviews and focus group discussion with leaders in local government, planners, experts, sales people, farmers and Beijing residents. When considering whether Chinese will abandon unsustainable practices, one can be somewhat optimistic, yet change will require innovative thinking and strenuous work on the part of government, NGOs and the public.

Jiayi Bao
The objective of my research is to understand the current status of markets for energy-saving appliances in China and what the main incentives are that promote the use of energy-saving appliances. As we studied what motivates Chinese consumers to purchase energy-saving appliances, we discovered that environmental awareness plays a minor role. Consumers seem to be driven more by brand building and marketing especially in larger cities like Hangzhou and Beijing. They are also driven by economic factors knowing that energy efficient appliances will reduce their high energy bills. The government has also developed a program that increases subsidies to those buying energy efficient appliances which also shapes buying patterns.

Emily Denn
This study suggests that the rising number of scandals linked to the production and distribution of foods in China has led Chinese consumers to become more and more focused on who produces the foods they consume as China moves from a country provisioned by small farmers into one where food is produced by large agribusinesses which are often poorly monitored by government agencies. Clearly, average Beijing residents are seeking to discover trustworthy providers of food and many are turning to community-supported agricultural systems, farmers markets, or relying upon long term relationships with individual vendors to gain greater assurance of food quality.

Zachary Kent
In Beijing, the transition during the last couple of decades from reliance on bicycles as a chief mode of transportation to automobiles has been truly dramatic with the number of cars in Beijing increasing from one to five million. As automobiles have jostled with bikes for lanes to drive in and places to park, the bicyclist has generally lost out. Yet, as congestion and pollution has grown due to the increased number of cars on the roadways, Beijing’s government has begun a number of policies considered in our research to encourage bicyclists to bike once again and to better insure their safety. Still, the plans are often poorly coordinated and the resistance to implementing them by motorists and others has also been an impediment.

Gaelin Monkman
My research explores the increasing reliance of Beijing residents on sustainable and safe food production when faced by their growing awareness of the unreliability of food sources provided to them by scandal ridden companies who seem over reliant upon chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and who are too little monitored by government regulatory agencies. This has created a growth in interest for community-supported agriculture that provides plots of ground upon which urban residents can grow their own food, and it fosters the development of one-on-one ties between consumers and local farmers in outdoor markets, or vendors who work directly with local farmers to insure a better quality of food. It is clear that it is not environmental concerns that shape these purchasing and production patterns, but rather health and safety concerns.

Michael Norton
My work was conducted with Zachary Kent to study the rapid transformation in transportation patterns that have recently occurred in Beijing. Our study was informed by conducting intercept surveys with commuters and city residents, interviewing government representatives and leaders of NGOs, and holding focus group discussions. Our research suggests the challenges faced by those in this rapidly growing city to address transportation issues are immense and are often poorly coordinated. On the one hand, the government seeks to improve public transportation but the subway system seems too frequently overwhelmed, while on the other hand, it seeks to regulate the flow of automobile traffic into the center of the cities through high parking fees and traffic congestion charges. Although the city of Hangzhou has established an effective bike sharing system, Beijing has not.