Ma Jun: The Most Creative Person in Business

Fast Company Magazine recently named Chinese environmental activist Ma Jun to the #1 spot on their list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business. Christina Larson profiles him for the magazine:

An environmental researcher by trade, Ma spent years chronicling China’s ecological catastrophes. Some of what he witnessed was inexorable and slow, like the graying of the Beijing sky; last December, the World Health Organization ranked Beijing 1,035th, out of 1,100 international cities, in air quality. Other results of his country’s unfettered growth were horrific, like the massive flooding of the Yangtze in 1998, after years of deforestation and soil erosion. Eventually, he decided that merely telling the story was not enough. “As a media person, you look to expose the problem,” he says, “but you can’t stop there-—people are looking for answers.”

Ma founded the not-for-profit Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) in 2006. Since then, more than anyone else in China, Ma has channeled the power of the Internet and the optimism of China’s younger generation into a force for environmental change. Working with a devoted national network of young volunteers, Ma and his nine full-time staffers have compiled an open-source online database of water, air, and hazardous-waste pollution records—-in the country that generates the world’s highest emissions. Those records are damning: Over five years, IPE volunteers have helped hunt down some 97,000 records of factories operating in violation of China’s green laws. And those efforts lead to change.

“When I look at China’s environmental problems, the real barrier is not lack of technology or money,” he says. “It’s lack of motivation. The motivation should come from regulatory enforcement, but enforcement is weak and environmental litigation is near to impossible. So there’s an urgent need for extensive public participation to generate another kind of motivation.” Ma has become expert at using his database to create that motivation, especially when it comes to helping global companies police their suppliers.

Read more about Ma Jun and about environmental activism in China, via CDT. See also our special section on the Environment.