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Shan Jiang: 'For me, sustainability is a philosophical concept'

Name: Shan Jiang
Lives in: Zurich, Switzerland
Country of origin: China
Period in Germany: 2007 to 2010 and 2013 to 2014
Educational institution: Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH))
Occupation: Consultant for sustainable management

Shan Jiang studied for an MBA in Information and Media Technologies at the Hamburg University of Technology, and now lives as a business consultant in Zurich. In 2013 he was awarded an International Climate Protection Fellowship by the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation and conducted research into the sustainability strategies of Chinese and European enterprises. He is contributing to the Alumniportal’s Hands-on Project on ‘Sustainable living’ as a jury member.

Sustainability provides the basis for a healthy life in harmony with nature. Shan Jiang sees it in such philosophical terms. In this interview, he explains what that means, both for himself and for his country, China.

Mr Jiang, in your own words, how would you define sustainability?

Shan Jiang: To me, sustainability is a philosophical concept that has been present throughout history – even though today it’s primarily a question about economics, social policy and the environment. Personally, I am attempting to understand myself better through sustainability, in as harmonic a relationship possible with nature and society. As Socrates said: ‘Know thyself!’

How did you develop your understanding of sustainability?

Shan Jiang: For one thing, I wrote my master thesis about a management tool for corporate sustainability. For another, I once worked as the sustainability officer for a Chinese mining company, which gave me a lot of experience. Also, I lived for a long time in Beijing where they often have smog. That’s why I know from personal experience how important it is for organisations to improve their sustainability strategies.

Health as the basis for sustainable living

How do you try to live sustainably, from day to day?

Shan Jiang: As a service provider to global corporations in the field of corporate sustainability, I already spend more than eight hours a day working on sustainability issues. After that I do some sport, or I meet my friends. At the weekend I go to church if I have time. Only with physical and mental health can one attain real sustainability. I also find positive thinking is very important.

But more specifically?

Shan Jiang: I buy more organic food than I used to in the supermarket. And I use public transport much more often. In addition, I have firm plans to soon rent – or perhaps even buy – a passive house.

Was sustainability also an issue for you during the time you spent in Germany?

Shan Jiang: Yes, of course. With my fellow students I spent a lot of time talking about recycling, renewable energies and climate change. It was always a big topic.

Sustainable development as an opportunity for China

In this respect, are there any differences between Germany and your own country?

Shan Jiang: It seems to me right now that the demand for recycling, renewable energies and clean technology has grown sharply in China. Sustainable infrastructure is in high demand, perhaps more so than in Germany.

Over the last 30 years China has developed rapidly. Now this development needs to become significantly more sustainable, especially since the social and ecological pressure is enormous.

You work as an advisor on sustainable corporate management. What experiences have you gained through this?

Shan Jiang: Being able to speak to companies about sustainability is a great opportunity. I’ve been able to benefit from that opportunity in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Suzhou and Wenzhou. It often emerges that sustainable strategies help meet customer needs. But it takes more than just a good idea; it also takes a flexible mentality.

A lot of internationally successful firms from Germany are already well known abroad for their sustainable management and activities. This is something that Chinese companies, most of which are still state-owned, can learn a lot from.

Sustainability is more than a flattering accessory

What needs to change in the future with respect to sustainability?

Shan Jiang: In future, sustainability should cease to be merely a flattering accessory and should become a fundamental matter of course for global corporations. However, governments and banks need to integrate ecological and social factors into their work. ‘Green investment’ and ‘sustainable financing’ are key matters.

 See Shan Jiang’s profile in the Community

Interview: Thomas Köster

September 2015

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