Dec. 02, 2023
"Eco-Warrior" Ma Jun’s Green Dream: To Break Down the Barriers Preventing Environmental Protection

Source Xinhuanet, March 18, 2011

Chinese “Eco-Warrior” Ma Jun and his Green Dream: To Cooperate with the Public and Break Down the Barriers Preventing Environmental Protection
       Sun Weili reports for Xinhuanet, Beijing on March 18, 2011:Ma Jun is widely known as an “eco-warrior”,since for the last five years he has produced maps showing water pollution, air pollution and solid waste pollution in China. This year he has linked the names of 29 well-known IT companies, including Apple, with heavy metal pollution.
       However Ma, a scholarly, softly-spoken middle-aged man with open and honest eyes, stresses that he does not advocate confrontation.
       “It's safe to say that if you put Ma Jun's face on a billboard in Beijing next to basketball star Yao Ming or screen beauty Ziyi Zhang, your average passerby wouldn't have a clue who Ma is. But those who know might argue that China needs heroes like him much more urgently than it does a sports giant or a movie star.”
        This is how America’s weekly Time magazine described Ma Jun in 2006, when he was included on its annual list of “the world’s 100 most influential people”.
        Ma Jun is now the head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, based in Beijing’s Guangqumen district on the sixth floor of a residential-commercial complex. With a nominal three bedrooms and one living room, it is not especially spacious.
        “When you hear the centre’s name you might imagine it to be a public service unit, but actually we are an NGO”, smiles Ma Jun. “We only have 10 staff, including four foreigners who help us to translate documents from Chinese into English so that foreign organisations and consumers can also understand our environmental reports.”
        Ma Jun first came into contact with China’s major rivers during his first job in the media. In 1994 and 1995 Ma witnessed dried-up riverbeds throughout the north-west of the country, and his brow began to knit in consternation.
In 2004, whilst he was a visiting scholar at Yale University, he discovered that certain cases of environmental damage in western countries, once considered very serious, had eventually been brought under control and solved, and that the key to major breakthroughs in these cases was widespread public involvement. Ma saw this as a possible avenue for China to explore.
After returning home, in 2006 Ma founded the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, and rapidly created China’s first ever water pollution database aimed at improving public welfare – the China Water Pollution Map. Since April 2010, the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, together with 34 other Chinese NGOs in the environmental field, has published a succession of “reports of investigations into heavy metal pollution in the supply chains of IT companies”, which point the finger at 29 Chinese and foreign IT companies, including Apple.
"Behind the outstanding sales records boasted by these international companies lies a supply chain that spreads pollution and poison. This was the main reason why we chose place our scrutiny on Apple and other IT companies" says Ma candidly, whilst admitting that the discussion process with these big firms was riddled with complications and often left environmental organisations feeling powerless.
        Ma led the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in collecting large samples of official data, first drawing up maps of China’s water pollution, then of its air pollution and finally of its solid waste pollution, using them to illustrate the problem to the public at large. “But we found that all this dry data couldn’t make the sky more blue or the rivers clearer”, he explains. In his eyes, only public participation could provide the necessary impetus to eliminate pollution.
        In 2007 Ma, along many other environmental organisations, came up with a proposal known as the “Green Choice”, which would empower consumers to say “No” to companies causing pollution. They also called for large retailers and enterprises to strengthen environmental management procedures in their supply chains, suggesting they refer to a list of enterprises failing to reach the required environmental standards and use this to screen their suppliers. This would allow the public to exercise their consumer rights and force companies to actively improve their environmental practices.
 Evidence shows that public scrutiny, as well as consumers voting with their wallets, has severely shaken companies that have been put on “blacklists” because of their polluting. By February 2011, over 350 companies that had been contravening environmental regulations had already actively sought out environmental organisations to suggest corrective measures and to disclose data on their practices to the public. Of these 350 companies, 60 have now passed the third stage of examinations and been completely removed from the “blacklist”, meaning they can start afresh as part of the green supply chain.
         Ma Jun is full of hope for the next five years. He says he will continue to inform the public of companies’ environmental practices; not just in the IT sector, but also in other areas such as publicly listed companies and those dealing in fast moving consumer goods.
        "So far we have held on to the resources given to us by nature, and perhaps we will keep them forever. If we destroy them now, they may not last that long", Ma explains with feeling. “We must cooperate with the public and break down the barriers preventing environmental protection.”
Translation: Andrew Christie
Proofreader: Samuel Harding