Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORYMarch 7, 2022

Creating a Sustainable Tomorrow in China: Huan Ni

Huan Ni, Founder of a Chinese environmental organization called Green Light-Year

For International Women’s Day 2022, we’re talking with women leaders across East Asia and the Pacific who are advancing gender equality today to help create a more sustainable future for all. Huan Ni is the founder of a Chinese environmental organization called Green Light-Year which advocates environmental initiatives from promoting green lifestyles in communities, schools, and businesses in Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shandong provinces, to practicing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in eastern China.
What inspired you to start working in environmental protection?               

My first experience of getting to understand and practice environmental knowledge and skills was when I was working for a UK-Aid state-owned enterprise reform project in Sichuan province from 2000-2004. There I picked up the concepts of “Sustainable Development” and “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)” from the expert team from the UK.

Building on that, while I was working with a local auto part producer in Chengdu in 2002, I learned first-hand the benefits of applying HSE (Health, Security, Environment) standards and witnessed how the company achieved an increase in profit, improved its reputation, and reduced staff turnover. From this experience I learned that the triple bottom-lines of “People, Profit, and Planet” CAN be achieved all at the same time. This was a real business case that inspired me a lot.

If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?              

Committed, creative, empathetic.

This year's theme is “Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” In your eyes, what is the intersection between climate change and gender equality?                         

Empathy and care appear to be inherent in women of all ages and across any culture in the world. As climate change increasingly causes catastrophic incidents, there is no woman who could be indifferent to what they see. If women could be empowered with more access to policymaking and resource-mobilizing interventions, they would be enabled to better hold up “half the sky” and help mitigate the disaster risks imposed on our next generations.

As an environmental leader in China, how do you feel about climate change and what needs to change?

China has demonstrated a strong sense of responsibility by introducing and enforcing powerful climate policies with commitments to curtail climate change. For example, more than seven years ago, I became China’s first civil user of CIGS thin-film solar plant. Even now, I still get income from national subsidies and sales of surplus power to the State Grid.

Endless pursuit for profit without thinking or acting sustainably is the main cause of the unintended negative consequences that we see negatively impacting the world, including climate change. We need to switch our consumer habits to favor sustainable production and consumption and introduce more “cradle to cradle” product design and knowledge transfer to reduce our environmental and carbon footprints. China has over 5,000 years of history, and being unwasteful was once a precious value in our culture. We need to pick it up again and integrate more traditional values of sustainability into our schools, communities, and businesses.

What can we do better to improve gender equality?     

To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality), enabling institutional changes and gender-friendly policymaking process with women’s participation is needed. I noticed China’s NGO sector has nearly 80% women employees. I think by simply empowering the NGO sector and engaging NGO professionals in a range of policymaking processes could have better impact of improving gender equality.

What does good leadership mean to you?                        

From my experience, strategic insights, empathetic perspective to team members and outstanding time management skills are basic elements of being a leader. However, a leader should have a strong sense of “doing well by doing good.”

What have been the biggest lessons you have learned as a leader?                      

As a leader, we cannot change and please EVERYONE, especially to realize the fact that we cannot wake up a person who is pretending to sleep. We need to use our limited energy and resources with the right groups. Empowering the right target audience and working with the right partners are the most rewarding and inspiring experience. In fact, children and youth always have the best intentions toward this world, and their potential of creating a better world is amazing and powerful.

What do you think needs to be done to ensure more women end up in leadership positions in China?                

Green Light-Year is an organization focusing on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). I discovered that we don’t have many original children’s books that promote gender equality in China. This is a problem. When girls grow up, they should be supplied with “spiritual nutrients” of girls’ self-esteem, self-awareness, and gender equality. Our schools have limited resources and capacity of providing such skills and training to children and teenagers. We have had more than 300 university student volunteers working with us at Green Light-Year in the past five years, and 80% of them are women. The career support and mental health support for women students in universities and career-driven women should be improved.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy meeting the students (of all ages) who have transformed their thinking and learning patterns by working and playing with us through our educational projects. It is such a rewarding experience to see how ESD can change a person’s mindset and life – and the broader impact it brings to others.

Do you have any advice for women?                   

Be strong, and read more to be stronger.

What has been the biggest challenge you faced as a leader? What are your hopes and plans for the future?                                               

I have very limited time for my daughter and other family members. How to achieve work-life balance is the biggest challenge I am facing now.

I hope my two-year old daughter can grow up with joy, without fear and discrimination.

I plan to raise funds to form a non-profit taskforce to develop a series of children’s books introducing “rebel girl” role models to Chinese children, inspiring girls to make their lives fulfilled and meaningful.

**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group.


    loader image


    loader image