China Climate Leader 2019: Shi Wang

Shi Wang, Green Entrepreneur

Shi Wang built a real estate empire on a ‘green construction’ strategy when building luxury was mainstream, anchored environmental protection in government policy, and led China’s businesses to adopt more sustainable business practices. Wang is among China’s foremost environmentalists and entrepreneurs. Former Chairman of the China Vanke Group, he founded the company in 1984 and built it into the largest residential real estate developer in China and a Fortune 500 business. In 2017, he stepped down as Chairman. Today he sits on a number of boards, a.o. the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Governance for Sustainability and the WWF, focusing on forests, biodiversity, and climate change.

An avid mountaineer, Wang scaled the world’s top seven mountains. Reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at the pivotal moment, he turned from entrepreneur to environmentalist: “One of the earliest western stories I read was The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway. But when I had a chance to summit Kilimanjaro in 2002, there was almost no snow left. I then thought ‘we have to do something’. I believe that pollution and other environmental issues are a real problem.” He went on to build awareness for environmental issues and to successfully lobby the Chinese government to add environmental protection into the 12th Five Year Plan, encouraging new standards of architecture and construction. 

Wang was the first Chinese entrepreneur to participate in the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Initial reception of the participating Chinese government officials was uncertain; they could not see what business had to do with climate change policy. He has since been successful in convincing the government of the importance of entrepreneurs in addressing climate change and has led China’s Private Sector Delegation to the UNCCC three times. In 2017, Wang formed the C Team, a nonprofit organization that encourages Chinese entrepreneurs to explore green opportunities and adopt low-carbon processes.

As an entrepreneur, Wang turned his beliefs into action within his own company. Early on, Vanke provided fully-furnished affordable apartments for “the ordinary Chinese”, “for living” not for investment. Wang spearheaded Vanke’s sustainable building strategy by requiring all of its buildings to achieve China’s Green Building Evaluation certification that demands residential buildings conserve water, energy, materials, and other resources. 

By offering fully-furnished apartments and using prefabricated elements in the construction process, Vanke kept control of materials, quality, and processes. Prefab allows for faster construction cycles, the use of eco-friendly materials, and reduced resources and waste. Wang even approached Greenpeace in 2008 for advice on how to combat the use of illegally logged timber. Consequently, Vanke changed to using steel molding and worked with industry to create a labeling system for timber imported into China. In 2016, Vanke and a consortium consisting of various real estate associations initiated a program to green supply chains. By 2018 a total of 18% of the sector had signed up. The consortium has since developed green procurement standards as well as compiled a ‘white list’ of suppliers taking action to reduce their emissions. 

Wang regularly publishes his views in a Weibo Blog. Monographies include “The Vanke Way: Lessons on Driving Turbulent Change from a Global Real Estate Giant” and “The Ladder of the Soul”.


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