Cyber Monday you’ve met your match. What China’s consumerism means for our planet.

Happy Cyber Monday everyone.

For those of us who didn’t break the bank on Black Friday, we’re filling up our online shopping carts with Cyber Monday sales – seeing if we can break new records of consumerism. I know I am.

Last year’s Cyber Monday was the biggest day in the history of U.S. e-commerce, totaling $3.45 billion in online purchases. That’s an enormous amount of money. But it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $25 billion spent on China’s Singles Day – a recording-breaking day for sales.

What started as an anti-Valentine’s day holiday for single Chinese people, Singles Day makes our Black Friday and Cyber Monday look like any ordinary day of shopping. Singles Day has become the world’s largest online shopping holiday. When you look at China’s population, it’s no surprise they out-shopped us. The economy will be made up of 500 million middle class consumers in the next five years – an exploding population – all of which are embracing the convenience and material abundance of consumerism.

Are we killing the planet with our holiday shopping?

With this demand for consumerism comes a rise in manufacturing, packaging and distribution. Every product purchased comes from a long journey. It’s been designed, sourced, manufactured, packaged and delivered to you at home or to your favorite store. Every step along this journey comes with steep environmental costs. Now multiply that product – and its costs – to every item purchased by hundreds of millions of consumers.

The good news is that the Chinese government is taking action.

If the country wants to continue driving economic growth, the conventional patterns of manufacturing have to be changed. So what’s the plan? China is creating policies promoting sustainable supply chains, manufacturing and consumerism – and they’re finding innovative ways to make this possible.

Xixi Chen, Manager, EDF+Business

China’s Made in China 2025 plan, an initiative introduced in 2015, has been a major driver in the country’s success. The goal is aimed at upgrading manufacturing industries towards an innovation-driven and information technology-based, low-carbon economy. Roughly 1,000 pilot facilities have popped up in an effort to redefine manufacturing, reducing impacts through the entire product life cycle. And the degree of technological advancement is equally as impressive. Artificial intelligence, smart energy management – it’s all helping China bridge the gap to become a cleaner manufacturing economy.

Even more encouraging is how the government has inspired others to take action, especially business. Companies play a big role in championing sustainable industries. They can leverage their size to drive change at scale, accelerating the revolution to a clean energy future. Here’s how they are switching up china’s manufacturing game:

  1. Focus on the supply chain. Companies based in China, or those with local Chinese suppliers, are reducing their carbon footprint by looking outside their own operations – driving change and saving money at scale Kingfisher was looking for strategies to better help its top 100 suppliers reduce both CO2 emissions and energy use. EDF Climate Corps fellows Yuan Yang and Zheyang Chen conducted a supplier carbon emission survey and identified product categories with high emission intensity, as well as factories with strong energy saving potential, that should be prioritized for advanced supply chain carbon management. Thanks to this updated process, Kingfisher can better understand and manage its supply chain carbon emissions, target high-use suppliers and strong energy saving potentials and access more high-quality data.
  2. Invest in renewables. China has been the world’s biggest solar market since 2013, and is on pace to hit record solar installations this year. To give you some perspective, Chinese workers install an array of solar panels at least the size of a soccer field every hour. Take global retail giant, Walmart. The company wanted to increase the use of solar power throughout its supply chain, and do so by providing suppliers with practical training materials on renewable energy program implementation. EDF Climate Corps fellows Junli Li and Xinyuan Wen identified 70% of Walmart’s 500 key supplier factories eligible for rooftop solar projects through the use of energy management contracts. Taking action, the fellows developed a rollout plan for implementation and a training session for the supplier factories. If all factories follow through with the implementation, 1.15 gigawatts of solar could be installed, generating 1.63 billion kWh of electricity per year.
  3. Lead on technological innovation. Scaling energy efficiency is an easy and cost-effective way of reducing corporate carbon footprints. But companies are using innovation to go beyond the low-hanging fruit. Coca-Cola wanted to provide its utility with an estimate of predicted electricity use prior to each purchase cycle, to take advantage of utility incentives. EDF Climate Corps fellow Yiping Shao created a prediction model that estimates daily total electricity use of a Coca-Cola plant for a one-month period. In addition to identifying big energy and financial savings, the model can be used at other Coca-Cola facilities and at other companies in the beverage industry, helping better align businesses and utility companies in their efforts to match supply and demand, and reduce wasted energy.

Finding the intersection of prosperity and sustainability

It’s an exciting time for China. They are at the intersection of prosperity and sustainability. A parallel made possible thanks to a drive for innovation backed by smart policies – something the U.S. is currently lacking. But they’re not there yet. It’s a long way to go before this rise in consumerism can be balanced. Fortunately, the businesses behind the products we buy are moving forward. They’re taking the reins, committing to making their operations cleaner.

That way the next time you go online or in-store to buy something, you can feel better about your purchase.


Follow Xixi on Twitter, @Talk2Xixi


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