45. China Dream
The consuming class in China is exploding from 474 million today to 800 million in 2025 . As incomes rise, use of natural resources will rise. In China, annual per-capita income is projected to rise, on average, from about $4,400 in 2010 to $12,300 in 2020. But natural limits to Earth’s resources mean that consumers need to find new ways of enjoying their prosperity other than hoarding material products.
For this emerging middle class, the "China Dream" provides an alternative to the unsustainable conspicuous consumption lifestyle of the West. The China Dream, 和悦梦想: 新生活规范行动, is translated as “harmonious happy dream” in Chinese. It celebrates personal health and respectful relationships. It realigns personal success with "living more, not just having more".
JUCCCE is simultaneously launching two efforts:
(1) shape social norms by creating and seeding a visual lexicon for the new “China Dream”, and
(2) guide consumer behavior by introducing local policies.
On the soft power side, JUCCCE’s coalition will visualize, brand and activate this new China Dream lifestyle using advertising and social media techniques. Instead of marketers acting individually to sell green products, the China Dream initiative will bring together companies, ad agency creatives and planners, scriptwriters, bloggers, role models, and the press to work in unison to champion a new sustainable lifestyle.
The first step is to create a compelling visual lexicon that defines the China Dream. Through a series of creative brainstorming workshops, drawing from partners in both East and West, JUCCCE is using the art of advertising to blend the best of traditional Chinese values with modern urban realities to reimagine a prosperous yet sustainable life.
This carefully edited imagery will express a better China—in the way that Norman Rockwell’s iconic Saturday Evening Post images evoked the hopes and aspirations of America.
China is ripe for this imagery. The Cultural Revolution broke up much of China’s social fabric, and the Chinese have been soaking in foreign advertising images of luxury for the last two decades. Today the China Dream is a vision that doesn’t yet exist, but it is a matter of pride for China to define its own vision for its future.
Any alternative green lifestyle needs to compellingly compete with the lifestyles presented in the Paris Hilton—and Kardashian-style reality TV shows—those shrines of conspicuous consumption that are the nails in the coffin of environmentalism. In his speech, “Death of Environmentalism and the Birth of the Commons Movement,” Adam Werbach says that the environmental movement has thus far failed because it has forgotten to connect sustainability to the aspirations of everyday people.
Julian Borra, Global Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, believes that to influence consumer behaviour, climate scientists, government, academia and NGOs need to tap into the “irresistable factor.”
The new China Dream must go beyond, and even exclude, “sustainable eco-geek” vocabulary to speak to people in an personally compelling (irresistible) way. It is reframing ideas around health, communities, and cultural identity.
In creating the China Dream, standard “sustainability” vocabulary such as “green”, “low carbon”, “ecofriendy”, “environmentally friendly” is not used. Rather, the word “sustainability 可持续性” is replaced by “harmony和谐”. Harmony is further defined by “balance平衡”, “flow互动”, and “respect尊重”. These word choices are important because they resonate with Chinese culture and tap into deep traditional Chinese values.
Desire alone won’t create sustainable behavior. Studies show that consumers also need institutional guidance in order to make sustainable choices. In parallel with soft tactics, the China Dream initiative also will introduce local government policies actively shape consumer behavior.
Without policy action, a desire-based campaign on its own is in danger of creating a bell-shaped interest level curve. Witness the upswng of interest in the US after the release of Al Gore’s movie “The Inconvenient Truth” in 2006. Without followup in climate policies to send a signal to the public, the US experienced a subsequent downswing of news articles related to climate change in 2010.
Activation needs to happen quickly or the idea will lose momentum.” JUCCCE believes that we have a limited three year window to activate the China Dream meme. Ultimately, the success of the China Dream hinges on mobilizing multistakeholder collaboration to activate consumers within a short time frame to create the culture shift that the China Dream calls for.
China’s government structure is an advantage in that cities can quickly pilot policies, and if they are proven effective they can quickly scale up nationally. Witness China’s banning of free plastic bags at grocery stores, supermarkets, and department stores as well as prohibiting the production and usage of plastic bags thinner than 0.025 millimeters. This was initially tried in a couple of cities before being introduced nationwide in June 2008. In the first four years after that, China reduced usage by 24 billion bags.
The policy research will be published and distributed to mayors across China. JUCCCE is working with an official government training academy to localize our policy research and identify potential pilot cities. JUCCCE has an existing relationship with this academy to develop curriculum to educate Mayors on how to build sustainable cities.
Why it should be recognized:
Whilst our policy work is important, it is the simultaneous soft power approach that is truly innovative and has never before been attempted in the pursuit of sustainability. A cross-section of stakeholders are involved in the China Dream initiative who are drawn because the China Dream turns a fuzzy goal into a set of concrete, actionable steps.
Consumer product companies realize that the increasingly constrained resources from which their products are derived reduces their profit margins. 2011 marked a step-increase in corporate interest to move beyond the supply chain to influencing consumer behavior.
The Chinese government has set numerical ambitious targets for reducing energy use and environmental protection. China Dream policy recommendations offer a set of easily implementable nudges and guides that help meet these target.
Chinese citizens are looking for a different, more Chinese path to harmonious happiness. They are looking for tools to be constructive citizens. The China Dream allows everyone to be a hero on the path to this aspirational harmonious lifestyle.
For the real hope of sustainable consumerism is that all the other developing and developed nations—not just China— will actively choose a different, more sustainable path. Our opensource toolkit is currently in development, and the UK Dream project is starting in March. The China Dream offers a new model of prosperity that can spark sustainable consumerism in countries around the world.