by Megan Jewell

We have all heard about companies taking their plants and moving to lower-cost areas, especially China. We grumble about the effects on our communities and employment rates, and marvel at China ‘s miraculous economic growth. However, we should twist our thinking about China. It has a major problem!

The environmental state of China is in complete disarray. China’s streams, soil and air are among the most polluted in the world. More than 70% of its lakes and rivers are polluted, and one-quarter of its citizens don’t have access to clean drinking water. Also, less than 20% of its solid waste is ever treated. With the continuing growth in China, and the prospective 2008 Olympics coming to Beijing , China is looking to improve.

The World Bank estimates that pollution costs China an excess of $54 billion a year in environmental degradation, disease and loss of life. This number is expected to double by 2010, with 64% of air pollution caused by cars. Many Canadian and U.S. companies are looking to jump into the market, anticipating the country’s Renewable Energy Promotion Utilization Law that takes effect on January 1, 2006 . Some U.S. companies have already generated a market. JWC Environmental out of Costa Mesa, CA , has sold $200,000 worth of clean-up machines to the mainland and expect a sales growth of approximately 50% for next year. Other companies are getting into the game as well. Cummins-Westport, a U.S.-Canadian company, has already sold numerous natural-gas-fueled engines to China for use in its bus system, which Beijing hopes to increase to 8,000 buses by the 2008 Olympics.

Instead of moving company bases there, U.S. companies are simply opening a branch or office to better service the market. Vast improvements still need to be made to the largest energy-consuming country, and China ‘s authorities admit that they are making very little progress: in an environmental assessment report released in May, there was almost no improvement in 2004 from 2003. Companies willing to twist their outlook see China not as a threat, but as an opportunity in a global market economy.