Skip to main content

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

  • Wai-Hang Yee (a1), Carlos Wing-Hung Lo (a2) and Shui-Yan Tang (a3)

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.

Corresponding author
Email: (corresponding author).
Hide All

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.

Hide All
Beyer, Stephanie. 2006. “Environmental law and policy in the People's Republic of China.” China Journal of International Law 5 (1), 185211.
Buttel, F. H. 2000. “Ecological modernization as social theory.” Geoforum 31 (1), 5765.
Clarke, Donald C. 2007. “Legislating for a market economy in China.” The China Quarterly 191, 567585.
Davis, Deborah. 2005. “Urban consumer culture.” The China Quarterly 183, 692709.
Dryzek, John S. 1987. Rational Ecology: Environment and Political Economy. Oxford and New York: Blackwell.
Economy, Elizabeth. 2006. “Environmental governance: the emerging economic dimension.” Environmental Politics 15 (2), 171189.
Economy, Elizabeth, and Lieberthal, Kenneth. 2007. “Scorched earth: will environmental risks in China overwhelm its opportunities?Harvard Business Review June, 8896.
Fisher, Dana R., Fritsch, Oliver and Andersen, Mikael Skou. 2009. “Transformation in environmental governance and participation.” In Mol, Arthur P. J., Sonnenfeld, David A. and Spaargaren, Gert (eds.), The Ecological Modernisation Reader: Environmental Reform in Theory and Practice. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 141155.
Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2006. “Five misunderstandings about case-study research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (2), 219245.
Francesch-Huidobro, Maria, Lo, Carlos Wing-Hung and Tang, Shui-Yan. 2012. “The local environmental regulatory regime in China: changes in pro-environment orientation, institutional capacity, and political support.” Environment and Planning A 44 (10), 24932511.
Ho, Peter. 2006. “Trajectories for greening in China: theory and practice.” Development and Change 37 (1), 328.
Ho, Peter, and Edmonds, Richard Louis. 2007. “Perspectives of time and change: rethinking embedded environmental activism in China.” China Information 21 (2), 331344.
Li, Vic, and Lang, Graeme. 2010. “China's ‘Green GDP’ experiment and the struggle for ecological modernization.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 40 (1), 4462.
Lin, Fen. 2010. “A survey report on Chinese Journalists in China.” The China Quarterly 202, 421434.
Lo, Carlos Wing-Hung, Fryxell, Gerald E. and van Rooij, Benjamin. 2009. “Changes in enforcement style among environmental enforcement officials in China.” Environment and Planning A 41 (11), 2706–723.
Lo, Carlos Wing-Hung, and Tang, Shui-Yan. 2006. “Institutional reform, economic changes, and local environmental management in China: the case of Guangdong province.” Environmental Politics 15 (2), 190210.
Ma, Xiaoying, and Ortolano, Leonard. 2000. Environmental Regulation in China: Institutions, Enforcement, and Compliance. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.
Martens, Susan. 2006. “Public participation with Chinese characteristics: citizen consumers in China's environmental management.” Environmental Politics 15 (2), 211230.
Mazmanian, Daniel A., and Kraft, Michael E. (eds.). 2009. Toward Sustainable Communities: Transition and Transformations in Environmental Policy (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 341.
Mol, Arthur P. J. 2006. “Environment and modernity in transitional China: frontiers of ecological modernization.” Development and Change 37 (1), 2956.
Mol, Arthur P. J., and Carter, Neil T.. 2006. Special Issue: “Environmental governance in China.” Environmental Politics 15 (2).
Mol, Arthur P. J., and Jänicke, Martin. 2009. “The origins and theoretical foundations of ecological modernisation theory.” In Mol, Arthur P. J., Sonnenfeld, David A. and Spaargaren, Gert (eds.), The Ecological Modernisation Reader: Environmental Reform in Theory and Practice. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 1727.
Mol, Arthur P. J., and Sonnenfeld, David A. (eds.). 2000. Ecological Modernisation Around the World: Perspectives and Critical Debates. London: Frank Cass.
Mol, Arthur P. J., Sonnenfeld, David A. and Spaargaren, Gert (eds.). 2009. The Ecological Modernisation Reader: Environmental Reform in Theory and Practice. Oxford and New York: Routledge.
O'Brien, Kevin J. (ed.). 2008. Popular Protest in China. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.
Ohshita, Stephanie B., and Ortolano, Leonard. 2006. “Effects of economic and environmental reform on the diffusion of cleaner coal technology in China.” Development and Change 37 (1), 7598.
Oliver, Christine. 1991. “Strategic responses to institutional processes.” The Academy of Management Review 16 (1), 145179.
Ortolano, Leonard, Cushing, Katherine K. and Warren, Kimberley A.. 1999. “Cleaner production to China.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 19 (5), 431–36.
Shi, Han, and Zhang, Lei. 2006. “China's environmental governance of rapid industrialization.” Environmental Politics 15 (2), 271292.
Stalley, Phillip. 2010. Foreign Firms, Investment, and Environmental Regulation in the People's Republic of China. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Studenmund, A. H. 2006. Using Econometrics: A Practical Guide (5th ed.). London: Pearson Education.
Tang, Shui-Yan, and Zhan, Xueyong. 2008. “Civic environmental NGOs, civil society, and democratization in China.” Journal of Development Studies 44 (3), 425448.
Tilt, Bryan. 2007. “The political ecology of pollution enforcement in China: a case from Sichuan's rural industrial sector.” The China Quarterly 192, 915932.
van Rooij, Benjamin. 2006. “Implementation of Chinese environmental law: regular enforcement and political campaigns.” Development and Change 37 (1), 5774.
van Tatenhove, Jan P. M., and Leroy, Pieter. 2009. “Environment and participation in a context of political modernisation.” In Mol, Arthur P. J., Sonnenfeld, David A. and Spaargaren, Gert (eds.), The Ecological Modernisation Reader: Environmental Reform in Theory and Practice. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 190206.
Vogel, David. 2005. The Market for Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press.
Warren, Kimberley, Ortolano, Leonard and Rozelle, Scott. 1999. “Pollution prevention incentive and responses in Chinese firms.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 19 (5–6), 521540.
Warwick, Mara, and Ortolano, Leonard. 2007. “Benefits and costs of Shanghai's environmental citizen complaints system.” China Information 21 (2), 237268.
Yang, Guobin. 2005. “Environmental NGOs and institutional dynamics in China.” The China Quarterly 181, 4666.
Zhang, Lei, Mol, Arthur P. J. and Sonnenfeld, David A.. 2007. “The interpretation of ecological modernisation in China.” Environmental Politics 16 (4), 659668.
Zhao, Jimin, and Ortolano, Leonard. 1999. “Implementing the Montreal Protocol in China: use of cleaner technology in two industrial sectors.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 19 (5–6), 499519.
Zhou, Xueguang. 2010. “The institutional logic of collusion among local governments in China.” Modern China 36 (1), 4778.
Zhu, Qinghua, Sarkis, Joseph and Geng, Yong. 2005. “Green supply chain management in China: pressures, practices and performance.” International Journal of Operations & Production Management 25 (5), 449468.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed