Environmental Ambassadors Chinese pupils champion sustainability

Pupils with the YEAAEP environmental bag | Photo: Li Yinjun,
Pupils with the YEAAEP environmental bag | Photo: Li Yinjun, | Photo: Li Yinjun, © Goethe-Institut e.V./China

Reusable chopsticks and cloth shopping bags for environmental protection: A new project by the Goethe-Institut and Volkswagen AG aimed at pupils in China focuses on forest, climate and resource efficiency.

Mao’s favourite dish was braised pork belly. Whether belly rump or ground in dumplings, pork is so popular in China that the price rose by 50 percent last year alone.

This is also a sign of the rapid growth of prosperity in China, where the world's largest middle class is now living. Prosperity, once attained, means eating meat, driving one’s own car, and travelling at least once a year. Not only industry contributes significantly to the consumption of resources in China, but also the members of the middle class.

Teaching materials and postcards with environmental tips. Teaching materials and postcards with environmental tips. | Photo: Li Yinjun, © Goethe-Institut e.V./China Nature’s ambassadors

The consequences of the rise in consumption are experienced daily in China’s cities: smog and mountains of rubbish are part of residents’ everyday lives. “But awareness of the environment is strong in China. Ultimately, the purity of air and water affects everyone, as well as the decision-makers in politics,” says Jochem Heizmann, member of the board of Volkswagen AG and president and CEO of the Volkswagen Group China. “I’m sure that everything will be done in China to further reduce the environmental impact. Volkswagen will also make a decisive contribution to this. And since there is a will to change in politics and society, things will go faster here than in other regions of the world, I am convinced of that.”

Forest, climate and resource efficiency are the core themes of an initiative called the Youth Environment Ambassador Action & Education Program that the Goethe-Institut is conducting together with Volkswagen Investment China at 24 of the approximately 80 partner schools of the Goethe-Institut, as part of Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH). Over the coming months, the project will be held in 14 other Chinese cities with the aim of achieving lasting sensitization for environmental protection and nature conservation.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Karl Fischer (Volkswagen Group China), Prof. Dr. Jochem Heizmann (Volkswagen AG/Volkswagen Group China), Dr. Marla Stukenberg (Goethe-Institut), Johannes Ebert (Secretary-General of the Goethe-Institut), Daniela Clauß (patron of YEAAP), Michael Clauß (Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in China), Dr. Clemens Treter (Goethe-Institut) Prof. Dr. Thomas Karl Fischer (Volkswagen Group China), Prof. Dr. Jochem Heizmann (Volkswagen AG/Volkswagen Group China), Dr. Marla Stukenberg (Goethe-Institut), Johannes Ebert (Secretary-General of the Goethe-Institut), Daniela Clauß (patron of YEAAP), Michael Clauß (Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in China), Dr. Clemens Treter (Goethe-Institut) | Photo: Li Yinjun, © Goethe-Institut e.V./China Children teach their parents

It began with a pilot project by Volkswagen AG with pupils from Urumqi No. 12 Middle School who built an educational hiking trail in the forest as part of the programme. “The most important thing – and this is very well conveyed in the project – is that environmental protection always begins with one’s self,” says Johannes Ebert. The middle school is therefore also sponsoring other schools in the region.

The enthusiasm for the topic is visible in the young people. “’Eat up!’ I say to my parents and relatives when we go out to eat,” explains Liu Wen-Xin. “But if there are leftovers, I have them packed to take home,” the 15-year-old states resolutely. When asked whether she now acts with more environmental awareness than before, she quickly replies, “No, I’ve always thought this way.” Her friend Li Ao interjects, “Use reusable chopsticks!”

Postcards with environmental tips Postcards with environmental tips | Photo: Oliver Müller © Goethe-Institut e.V./China Experience to last a lifetime

At the launch event, the teens were given a whole series of practical environmental tips. They include turning off the tap when brushing teeth, not using plastic shopping bags and sometimes going without meat.

Patronage for the project was taken over by Daniela Clauß, wife of the German Ambassador in Beijing. She emphasizes how important the experience of international exchange is, saying, “For children, such experiences can last a lifetime.”

Ning Wang works as a journalist in China and writes for the Handelsblatt and the Tagesspiegel Berlin.