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UPDATED: February 15, 2012 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 9, 2012
Green Capitalists
Entrepreneurs work to curb environmental degradation through a civil society organization
By Li Li

GREEN RECOGNITION: Feng Lun (left), SEE Chairman, and Ren Zhiqiang (center), Director of SEE's Constitution Committee at the "China Dream" awards ceremony on December 10, 2011 (CFP)

Chinese business leaders are playing a leading role in the country's environmental conservation efforts, according to China's Southern Media Group, the publisher of popular Southern Weekend newspaper.

On December 10, 2011, the media group based in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, presented its "China Dream" award to the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE), a 7-year-old non-governmental organization (NGO) founded by nearly 100 like-minded entrepreneurs, committed to reducing the frequency of sandstorms in China's arid north.

Receiving the trophy on the stage of the presentation ceremony were Feng Lun, current Chairman of SEE and Chairman of Vantone Holdings Co. Ltd., and Ren Zhiqiang, Director of SEE's Constitution Committee and former Chairman of Huayuan Group.

Founded in 2004, SEE was initially criticized for being little more than a show put on by the country's nouveau rich. However, over time SEE's success in slowing desertification in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has become clear and the organization's transparency and democratic structure have won widespread praise from the local NGO community. Currently, the membership-based society has 185 members.

"SEE is a school where Chinese entrepreneurs learn how to participate in environmental and charitable causes. I have learned so much from its development process," said Wang Shi, SEE's Chairman from 2007 to 2009 and Chairman of Vanke Co. Ltd., one of China's largest residential real estate developers.

Total devotion

Liu Xiaoguang, the founding Chairman of SEE (CFP)

In October 2003, Liu Xiaoguang, who manages one of the largest real estate development companies on the Chinese mainland, the Beijing Capital Group, visited a holiday resort deep in the desert in Alxa League, which comprises the western part of Inner Mongolia. Alxa is home to several large deserts, including the Badain Jaran Desert, the fourth largest desert in the world.

As a result of extensive deforestation, particularly the felling of saksaul trees, one of only a few tree species able to survive in the region's sandy desert soils, and overgrazing, the deserts in Alxa were growing by over 1,000 square km a year. Sand from these deserts frequently traveled more than 1,000 km covering the skies of Beijing and other East Asian cities.

Awed by the view of endless dunes, Liu decided to use his resources to put a stop to desertification and increasingly frequent sandstorms.

On June 5, 2004, World Environment Day, the 100 Chinese entrepreneurs who initially agreed to join Liu on his mission to stop spreading sands gathered at Alxa's Moon Lake to officially establish SEE. Liu was elected first chairman of the organization.

The participants committed themselves to containing sandstorms and rehabilitating the environment in Alxa and promised to each donate 100,000 yuan ($15,866) to the campaign every year for 10 successive years.

While focusing primarily on preventing or reducing sandstorms originating in Alxa, SEE has also worked to promote community-based integrated development solutions to the problem of desertification. Part of the organization's strategy involves improving local farmers' living standards by integrating conservation strategies with ecological, social, and economic benefits.

Crucially, SEE has prompted Chinese entrepreneurs to assume more social and environmental responsibility and play a direct role in sustainable development.

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