Updated: 2012-04-06 11:20
By Zhang Lei (China Daily)
Briton uses Beijing to spread sustainable lifestyles, businesses
For social entrepreneur Joe Oliver, showing the world you are environmentally conscious is not just about symbolic gestures like saving trees. When it comes to a sustainable lifestyle, "people always talk the talk, but do not always walk the walk", Oliver says. Oliver, 28, can fall neatly into the category of young idealist trying to save the world. He believes he can help individuals and companies to "walk the walk" - and he is trying to do that from East and West.
The Briton is the co-director of We Impact, a social enterprise based in Beijing and London. Its mission is to "develop and promote opportunities to realize sustainable lifestyles around the world through the dissemination of knowledge, cultural engagement and responsible business" - much like a business and social consultancy offering green solutions.
Its goal in some parts correlates with the general concept of most environmental NGOs, but Oliver says that being environmentally conscious does not mean you can only work as a volunteer in environmental organizations.
And with the Chinese government pushing ahead with its environmental policies, there are a growing number of Chinese companies either willingly or inadvertently wanting to go "green".
Oliver says this is where his team comes in. We Impact is more like the upgraded version of his former UK-based Bash Creations, touted as the world's first eco-entertainment company that he launched in 2006 to offer services to companies that want to become carbon-neutral by making the entertainment business environmentally friendly.
This time, China is the center stage for all that to happen, Oliver says.
"I am not here to tell people how I think. I am here to show what is to be done. And also help people to facilitate their means to create their own stuff," he says.
"At a certain level, people know what's right for them. Also in terms of traditional culture, it is embedded in there".
Oliver has already won a string of accolades to that effect. Having worked with more than 50 household brands, he has received an array of industry awards and appeared on CNN, BBC and in numerous national publications.
He organized green events and nationwide campaigns for the Royal Society of Arts, the Department for Culture, Media and Sports, Vodafone and other prominent government agencies and corporations.
In 2008, he was selected by the Mayor of London as a London Leader, a position awarded to those who have shown excellence in their fields.
During a stint at an advertising company in China a few years ago, he met his current business partner Ann Wang. They talked about what they had done previously and what they were interested in doing, and decided it would be great to set up something similar to what he had been working on in Britain.
"We worked out how to change people's perspectives on environmental issues through good communication and ways to approach the challenges we will face", he says.
Oliver subsequently found many people in China who were interested in sustainability issues and social enterprise, but the support needed for them to learn more about these were inadequate here.
He is now trying to equip them with the tools to "start their own adventures" in these areas.
These "green models" need to be built, refined and owned by Chinese people themselves, he says.
"Some people call it the localization process. It is really about parenting people to understand what the content of their life is within the global situation."
In China, there are specific cultural connotations of what that means, he says. So in terms of social enterprise, elements of sustainability lifestyle are very different from how they would be for the rest of the world.
His team is currently working with the Chinese social networking site P1.CN to help it integrate sustainability and good social habits into its business and branding models.
P1.CN is considered to be China's largest invitation-only social network for affluent Chinese, with more than 1 million members.
"This ongoing project involves conducting a rebranding process of P1.CN that integrates sustainability and social good into the very core of the company's identity and culture, while simultaneously designing engagement strategies for sustainability and social good to be embedded into the company's products and services and the operations themselves," Oliver says.
His own workplace is touted as a 588-square-meter, multi-function space that includes a Knowledge Center, Organic Kitchen, Green Bar, Wellness Center and Events Space. In December, his team also hosted the "GtB Sustainable Product Design Showcase" at which 12 sustainable products designed by students from the 3D department of Raffles-BIFT International College were displayed for a real living and working environment.
Oliver believes such practices should be incorporated into the Chinese economy.
"With China's huge economic rise onto the global stage, GDP and other economic indicators must not be the only benchmark for progress - we have other things to address, like happiness.
"I am here to help unlock the potential within Chinese society, to allow people to see what they already have inside."