Zhang Yue: Business leaders have “same importance as politicians” in tackling climate change

Reading time: 5 minutes
3 September 2015

NEW YORK: Following China’s military Victory Day parade which showcased a country rising above its market troubles, as part of the #CWNYC countdown The Climate Group interviews Zhang Yue, Chairman and Founder of BROAD Group, to discuss what the Government of China's recent climate efforts mean for the private sector. We also get the Chinese entrepreneur's thoughts on how business leaders – many of which he says have the "same importance as politicians" – can have an impact on the global COP21 climate talks this December.

BROAD is one of China’s biggest companies and a world-leading manufacturer of air-conditioning systems, which prides itself on its environmental efforts. The company's non-electric air conditioning units are 200% more energy efficient than traditional models, and through the cumulative effect of all products sold to date, BROAD has saved around 90 million tons of CO2 emissions.   

Outside of the low carbon success of the multi-million dollar company he founded, BROAD’s Chairman Zhang Yue has become a leading voice on environmental issues in China, and was one of five winners of United Nations Environment Programme's Champions of Earth awards.

The entrepreneur is also revolutionizing the wider sustainable buildings sector. Having been inspired to design safer, more energy efficient buildings following an earthquake in China in 2008, BROAD has established itself as a leading manufacturer of prefabricated buildings which slash manufacturing waste by 99%.

Thinking far beyond the product to the speed with which these buildings are created though, Zhang Yue has invented an innovative technique to build the sustainable structures in record-breaking time too; it only took BROAD 19 days to build a 57-storey tower earlier this year. Now Zhang Yue is aiming to build the world’s tallest skyscraper – and of course it is going to be fully sustainable.


But as Zhang Yue’s low carbon leadership reaches new heights, he continues to come up against outdated government policy and has continued to call for tighter government regulations on energy efficient buildings to support his growing business.

Thankfully climate policies have progressed in recent years, and crucially in 2014, China’s annual parliamentary sessions presented its pioneering low carbon ‘eco-civilization’ concept. This was the first time environmental policy had been elevated to such a high-level, not only in parallel with, but also cutting across economic, political, cultural and social systems.

But what does eco-civilisation mean to business leaders like Zhang Yue? When asked what role business has in supporting the government’s eco-civilisation strategy, particularly in terms of innovation and investment in energy, technology and infrastructure, Zhang Yue explained there is first a need to revisit what the concept really means. "Many people think of 'eco-civilisation' in a narrow sense, as if eco-civilisation means growing forests, or doing basic 'green' initiatives.

“That is not right. Eco-civilisation means reducing various emissions in either solid, liquid or gas form; it means saving. In a word, eco-civilisation means to restore our ancient values."

However, the Chairman pointed out that while BROAD has long played a key role in leading sustainable urbanization in China, there is a fast-growing and urgent need for other businesses to join the company in driving the global transition to a more sustainable economy. "Most businesses are not playing positive roles, but companies like BROAD are playing a very important part in promoting sustainable urbanization. We put environmental consequences and concerns as a priority, rather than reckless economic development."


Zhang Yue agrees these new low carbon business strategies can be supported by government incentives but better standardization is needed: “What is more important than whether or not the government encourages low carbon investment, is what the official definition of what ‘low carbon investment’ is. Now there are some projects which are not low carbon and have received awards and government support, while some projects truly are low carbon and bring great benefit to the environment and sustainable development – while others have not been recognized at all. We need a clear global evaluation standard to avoid mistakes.”

The global COP21 climate conference taking place in Paris later this year is a key moment for such standardization and Zhang Yue yearns to see international climate leadership from a handful of key economies: “My first hope for COP21 is to establish a clear official evaluation standard of which behaviors are harmful to the climate and human health, which are more beneficial than harmful, and which are downright good.

“Secondly, I have heard that some governments are planning to sign a voluntary emission reduction commitment in Paris. We need to see two or three of the most radical and influential countries show strong willingness to protect the environment at COP21 and commit to play a leading role.”

sustainable future

Zhang Yue urges other business leaders to support political efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because he believes non-state actors have the opportunity to influence the outcome of international climate negotiations, which brings benefits that far outweigh any economic cost.

“Now financial tools have produced many monopoly-capitalist groups, or monopolists working for those groups. If those leaders with highly centralized capital can use part of their authority in business or capital to mitigate climate change and energy saving, they will see positive benefits in their life and the world – even though short term business benefits are not as positive.”

Many business leaders have the same importance as politicians, if those business leaders with true global impact can make their voice and commitment, we will have a greater chance for change.”

Positive about China’s ability to spearhead the global transition to a prosperous, low carbon economy, Zhang Yue says: “I believe China will have a very bright sustainable future. Politicians in China have a very high level of authority, and their decisions can be carried out 100%. The key is whether these politicians can realize that. We should put energy saving and sustainable development as a top priority, with the cost being a short period of economic development.

“Some people would say that our country would not be stable in that way. But the stabilization of a country has nothing to do with it. Our society would be stable if we solve these three problems: aggravating poverty; widening the gap between the rich and the poor; and public security, including terrorism, food, air and epidemic diseases. These all have nothing to do with economy or GDP.”


Our digital countdown to Climate Week NYC 2015 runs from September 1-20.

Each day The Climate Group is releasing exclusive conversations with key figures from the worlds of business and politics and beyond – through video, social media and blogs – as well as expert briefings. Follow @ClimateGroup for the latest.

See the full gallery of #CWNYC graphics and tweets to join the countdown.

#CWNYC 2015

Climate Week NYC is a key event in the international calendar that brings together leading governments, investors, businesses, innovators and opinion formers. The Climate Group launched Climate Week NYC in 2009, and has acted as the secretariat since its inception.

Host to more than 100 affiliate events from September 21-28, Climate Week NYC 2015 is the collaborative space for climate events in support of the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda. 

ClimateWeekNYC.org | @ClimateWeekNYC | #CWNYC

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