The road to green growth

Updated: 2011-06-03 11:22

By Dennis Pamlin (China Daily European Weekly)

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China, Eu need to overcome five communication challenges to build a low-carbon future

China and the European Union (EU) are in many ways the perfect global team to develop low-carbon solutions.

The EU is the only grouping of developed countries where serious discussion about a low/zero carbon society by 2050 is being held. Furthermore, the EU is in urgent need to refurbish much of the infrastructure that was built after World War II and needs new low-carbon solutions to do so.

 The road to green growth

Among the emerging economies, China is arguably the most important, not only because of its size and economic development, but also because of a long-term vision and innovation-based approach to low-carbon development. The 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) is ambitious and China has two very important roles to play in the global economy.

First, it will be seen as a provider of high quality low-cost low-carbon solutions to the rest of the world. Second, China will be seen as the place where a new urbanization is born, an urbanization that is resource efficient and low-carbon. Such urbanization would not only help China move up the value chain but also drive global low-carbon innovation.

Below are five key communication challenges for low-carbon companies that should be addressed to unleash a joint low-carbon leadership of China and the EU built on their respective strengths.

1. Image of aggressive dragon

One of the most difficult communication problems is that many people in the EU have been influenced by the image of China as an "aggressive dragon". This image is a big obstacle as many entrepreneurs and important stakeholders hesitate to contact Chinese companies. So even before there is a communication challenge, the image of the aggressive dragon has resulted in many missed opportunities.

Chinese and EU companies must be more visible together to show the gains that result from collaboration. Media and policymakers in the EU have a significant responsibility as the language and images they use influence the image of Chinese companies in the EU.

2. Unbalanced knowledge

The average Chinese businessperson in the EU is knowledgeable about Europe's history, politics, food and literature. But the average European knows almost nothing about China. This is slowly improving, but only recently did most universities in the EU start to include China in the curriculum in a more comprehensive way.

In the case of larger companies from the EU, they often state that they have been in China for decades, or make similar statements, to highlight their Chinese experience. These companies tell the truth, but they forget to tell that it is equally true that 99 percent of the staff in these companies often don't know who even top leaders are, or can name more than four Chinese cities.

Chinese companies must start by treating Western people initially as if they have no knowledge of China. Today, many Western people are just nodding without understanding what the conversion is about, and sometimes that can result in a situation where people from the EU feel that Chinese businesspeople are difficult to understand. Similar things happen the other way around where EU companies must remember that while Chinese companies know many things about the EU, they are often unaware of ethical rules and what is required to become a trusted partner in the EU.

3. Two-hand business card

Simple cultural differences - such as food, greetings, gift exchanges and the way to sit during negotiations - are hiding the more significant differences. Today, too many companies spend a lot of resources to learn basic culture behavior, just to ensure short-time business success. Understanding simple cultural differences can help communicate, but much deeper cultural understanding is needed, than that you hand over a business card with two hands in China.

The poor cultural understanding results in simplistic approaches also by Chinese companies. Some Chinese solar companies, for example, hear that they should communicate on environment and think that they only need to communicate that they pollute on the same level or less than Europeans to be environmentally credible. Again, this communication is too simplistic and more is needed.

Companies are expected to also present their positive contribution in the EU. Chinese companies must know and communicate how much CO2 they have helped reduce in the EU in collaboration with EU companies and how many new jobs they have helped create by providing parts of smart low-carbon solutions. They must learn to communicate much more than the technical data, they must explain their positive role in the EU.

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