Riddle me this, Batman…

Here’s a hint: it’s the same country that ranks 42nd in the per capita emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) with emissions less than half of those of the U.S.

Would you believe that the right answer is none other than China?

Panda solar PV array
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) array designed to look like a giant panda. Source: China Merchants New Energy/Panda Green EnergyCHINA MERCHANTS NEW ENERGY/PANDA GREEN ENERGY

As surprising as it may seem to you – it certainly was to me – discussions with a Chicago-based sustainability expert, Todd Fein, has convinced me that national and regional leaders in China are acutely conscious of how environmental issues impact the well-being of their society and of the larger world. The focus is sharpened because national policy makers are mandating sustainability considerations in long-term development plans.

Fein acknowledges that, while China is still the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), the political class there is increasingly focused on balancing an imperative for economic growth with one of sustainability.

There is a good reason to trust Fein’s impressions on this point. He has an impressive background in the private and public sectors and has built a distinguished career on the forefront of sustainability. From being the inventor of a database application used by numerous states and thousands of contractors to helping to establish the State Departments Greening Diplomacy Initiative, he literally has so many feathers in his cap I cannot numerate them all here.

Fein’s most recent venture is called Green Diamond, a consultancy whose practice focuses on providing sustainable performance solutions to large companies and U.S. government agencies. Take a look at his bio on the Green Diamond website if you want to be impressed.

Through a series of connections and happy accidents, Fein’s company is now pursuing several projects that have the potential to bring together the political will of China with the expertise and next-generation technology of Western Green Tech firms.

China EV team
Jon Du (center) and Todd Fein (blue shirt right of center) sit with executives from Kreisel Electric, the Austrian battery technology company supported by the Schwarzenegger family. Markus Kreisel, CEO sits on Fein’s right.GREEN DIAMOND

Between Western know-how and Chinese policy mandates, Fein believes that opportunities abound for insightful investors to do well financially, while also doing good for the planet. Fein has made several trips to China and is in contact with several far-sighted government and business leaders about state-of-the-art projects there. These projects are enormous in scale and involve building smart cities and sustainable manufacturing hubs from the ground up.

While building a smart city might seem like a moonshot, Axios recently reported that China is in the planning process for 500 smart cities – half of the global total and 10 times the number of smart city projects in all of North America combined.

Fein says that based on his experience in China, that statistic does not come as a surprise. One of Fein’s contacts, Chow Kong Shan Kwan, is President of the US-China Economic Trade and Investment General Chamber of Commerce and has been pulling together smart city plans related to China’s huge infrastructure project termed the Belt and Road Initiative. Another, Chairman Mai, President of the China Smart City Invest Union is also pulling together cross-border teams to collaborate in building Chinese smart cities.

Another of Fein’s contacts, Du Hao, the Founder and CEO of the Zhongzhi Guoyu Fund Management Co., has pulled together a multibillion-dollar joint venture to import Western battery technology to China. He is also raising funds to provide capital to transform one of China’s most polluted industrial regions into a smart sustainable manufacturing hub. The smart factories will be highly automated and eco-friendly, whose workforce training will be supported by a US academic institution.

Fein says that the Chinese interest in sustainability goes way beyond an infatuation with the bells-and-whistles of IoT gadgetry to improving the people’s quality of life. The technology, in other words, is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

According to Fein,

Beyond the mandates and money, what has impressed me about [the project sponsors] is their mission. They talk about the positive human and social impacts of smart, sustainable cities, not just the technical aspects. We all have roles to play – policy-makers, regulators corporations, citizens, and so on – but achieving lasting prosperity is all that sustainable performance should really be about to anyone anywhere.Todd Fein, CEO, Green Diamond…Insert Text Above

A series of conversations with Fein has convinced me that the topic of sustainability in China is large, and deserves a series of articles, rather than just one.

Because so much of Chinese pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are generated during the production of consumer goods for Europe and the U.S., widespread supply chain sustainability management holds enormous potential in the field of climate change mitigation efforts.

As such, in my next China article, I will look at the case of one of Fein’s clients, Masco Corp MAS, an $11 billion maker of home improvement and building products that manufactures its wares internationally, including in China. Masco, under the supervision of its head of corporate sustainability, Sara Osterman, is driving an ecological focus throughout its entire international value chain, including its Chinese operations.

I also want to look at sustainability in the Belt & Road projects as China pushes into Central Asia, Europe, and Africa. And one day soon, I’m looking forward to reporting about groundbreaking ceremonies for some of Fein’s partners’ Chinese smart city projects.

As those of you reading stories of burning peat in the Arctic and European temperature records being broken every month will know, human civilization must simply find a new paradigm if it is to continue to thrive now and in the future. The only way to build and maintain intergenerational wealth in this century is by investing in this new paradigm. Intelligent investors take note.