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Assessing Ecological Modernization in China: Stakeholder Demands and Corporate Environmental Management Practices in Guangdong Province*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2013

Wai-Hang Yee
National University of Singapore.
Carlos Wing-Hung Lo*
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Shui-Yan Tang
University of Southern California.
Email: (corresponding author).


This paper compares the key arguments of ecological modernization theory (EMT) with the reality of recent environmental reform in China. Based on data gathered from a survey and in-depth interviews with executives from Hong Kong-based enterprises operating in Guangdong province, we examine the changing roles of government, market, and civil society actors in the reform process, focusing on various types of pressures these actors have exerted on business enterprises. Compatible with Mol's (2006) conjectures, ecological concerns have gradually gained a foothold in existing political, economic, and to a lesser extent, social institutions. Yet, the relevant actors and their patterns of interactions differ from what EMT generalizes from Western European experiences. Specifically, local governments are assuming a more formalized relationship with firms in regulatory enforcement. Among market actors, organizational buyers along the supply chain have exerted more noticeable pressures on manufacturing firms than industrial associations and individual consumers. Civil society, while remaining less of an institutionalized actor in the environmental policy process, appears to pose a perceptible threat to at least some firms.

Copyright © The China Quarterly 2013

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Research for this paper was funded in part by the project “Corporate Environmental Management of Manufacturers in the Pearl River Delta Region” of the Research Grant Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (RGC No.: PolyU 542707) and the US–China Institute at the University of Southern California. The authors thank Julia Strauss and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of the paper.


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