Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs

China’s open government information regulations give environmentalists a new set of tools for combating pollution. The Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) is making this publicly disclosed information the cornerstone of its Green Choice Alliance, an innovative program to green the supply chain of major corporations.

Founded by environmentalist Ma Jun, IPE has already gained renown for its China Water Pollution Map and China Air Pollution Map. These online maps, linked to databases of government-sourced information on pollution, give citizens, corporations, media, and other interested parties access to details related to water and air quality across the country. The air and water pollution Web site lists 80,000 records of violations by noncompliant enterprises. “China’s environmental problem is so big that it can’t be resolved without engaging the public,” said Ma, “and access to information is the pre-condition for any meaningful public participation.”

Ma Jun was awarded the prestigious 2009 Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered the equivalent of Asia’s Nobel Prize, in recognition of his pioneering work in “harnessing the technology and power of information to address China’s pollution crisis.”

Major consumer brands are sensitive about their sourcing in China, aware that China’s role as “factory to the world” has come with high environmental and public health costs. Through the Green Choice Alliance these companies can view the lists IPE has compiled of suppliers charged with violating environmental laws and regulations. Multinational corporations Wal-Mart, GE, Nike, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Esquel, and others are active users of the management system, reviewing their supply chain lists against the IPE database of polluters and encouraging their noncompliant suppliers to undergo an independent third-party audit.

“Multinational corporations see the risk to their reputation of being associated with pollution,” said Wang Jingjing, chief administrator at IPE, “but small or medium-sized companies may not care.” With their core business at risk, the violators become more receptive to making improvements. Nearly 40 third-party audits have taken place to date, and about three-quarters of the companies have been removed from the list of violators after installing new pollution control facilities, repairing failed equipment, improving environmental management systems, or taking other corrective actions. IPE enhances the transparency and accountability associated with the audits by including local nongovernmental organizations as observers in the process and by posting the audit reports on its website. “The Green Choice Alliance is a way to transfer the pressure from [business owners] who care to those who don’t,” Wang said.