» Ask designers and manufacturers working in China today—or just visiting, for that matter—what their overriding impression of the country is and they’ll tell you “construction.” China’s 1.3 billion inhabitants are experiencing an unprecedented economic and building growth. According to an October 2005 New York Times article, “China Builds Its Dreams, and Some Fear a Bubble,” Shanghai, a city that already boasts 4,000 skyscrapers (defined by the Chinese as a structure over 18 stories high), plans to build 1,000 more high-rise buildings by the end of this decade. The country is racing to create new housing and office space to make up for an absence of construction that occurred during China’s communist rule that began in 1949.

It is not only the amount of new construction that is astonishing, but rather the pac. Development is on a scale beyond even the largest master plans familiar to most U.S. architects and designers. China’s current rate of new construction is akin to building multiple Manhattans by 2010. The upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing is helping to fuel this construction frenzy, along with the investment of foreign capital in the Chinese real estate market. This building boom will not come without a price. New construction requires materials and resources. China is currently the largest producer and consumer of steel, cement, and coal, and owing to its heavy reliance on th\ latter, the country is the second largest producer of greenhouse gases after the United States. Th\ excessive demand on these resources has both short- and long-term effects: it drives prices up globally, depletes natural reserves, and otherwise stresses the environment.

It is expected that 75 million farmers will move to cities over the next five years. This loss of farmland to make way for new cities, and the migration of rural residents to urban locations, is another critical problem that goes well beyond infrastructure issues: It speaks to a major shift in the social and cultural structure of the country, the loss of a local agrarian base, and the end of a way of life for a majority of China’s population. Further complicating this situation is the destruction of the historic fabric and architectural legacy of major cities like Beijing and Shanghai to make way for new high-rise towers. How China manages its growth will not only impact its internal economic, social, and political infrastructures, but the global community as well.

Embracing sustainability and green design is one way in which China is addressing its rapid growth and management of resources. It is also a method of communicating and promoting China as a “modern” forward-thinking country to an international audience. These issues of market growth and environmental sustainability equally impact the Chinese lighting industry. According to a paper presented at last year’s Right Light 6, a collaborative, not-for-profit conference organized by an international group of environmental agencies, the country’s move to privatization has introduced new manufacturing relationships, joint ventures, and foreign-owned companies to the Chinese economy. Italian lighting manufacturer Targetti is but one recent example. It opened its first Asian facility, an 86,000-square-foot factory with 150 employees, in June 2005, just outside the city of Guangzhou in an emerging manufacturing district in Guangdong Province. The new facility produces the Targetti collection for Asian consumers, and the company has developed a Mandarin catalog to support this business. Targetti has also established Heshan Targetti, a joint venture betwµen the Italian parent company and Neo Neon, a leading Chinese LED manufacturer with over 15,000 employees.

These types of manufacturing relationships have led to more rapid product development, and along with this growth, an understanding of a systematic approach in how resources are managed. “There is a reasonable understanding among government officials,” says Adam Hinge, managing director of Sustainable Energy Partnerships, a company specializing in energy-issue consulting, and one of the co-organizers of the May 2005 Right Light 6 conference, “that the economy can’t keep growing at this rate. A number of initiatives are underway to figure out how to create a green GNP, to not just create through depletion.”

To this end, China has implemented several international programs for its lighting industry, such as the Green Lights project, which works toward improving the efficiency and quality of lighting products. The country is also stepping forward as a conference and venue host for the international community, with the hope that discussing these pressing issues on its own turf will initiate real change that much faster.

One of the most significant projects afoot in the Chinese lighting industry is China Green Lights, a joint initiative of the Chinese government and the United Nations Development Program/Global Environment Facility (UNDP/GEF). The project’s purpose is three-fold: to improve the quality of efficient lighting products produced and sold in China, to stimulate demand for these lighting products both nationally and internationally, and to reduce lighting energy use in China by 10 percent by 2010. Planning for the program began in 1996, although it was not implemented until September 2001, and was just completed in December 2005. The final evaluation report states that the program’s four immediate aims—to increase the supply of high-quality lighting products; to create demand for energy-efficient lighting products by raising awareness and understanding among key categories of consumers; to provide sustainable financing options for efficient lighting and make quality lighting more affordable; and to evaluate and disseminate widely the project results achiîved—were successfully met. During this approximate four-year span, the total lighting energy savings in China was 15.78 billion kW—the equivalent of $986 million in electricity cost savings. Estimated emissions related to lighting were reduced by 4.3 million tons of carbon. The summary encourages the Chinese government to find funding to continue the program, and ?repare a detailed action plan for the remainder of 2006 and 2007.

For the first time in its 14-year history, the Right Light conferences program was held outside of Western Europe, in Shanghai. Leading experts presented over 100 papers discussing energy-efficient lighting technologies, applications, policies, and program design topics. The conferenc7 was held concurrently with one of China’s largest lighting fairs, the China Association for the Lighting Industry (CALI) annual exposition and trade show. The move across the continent was no surprise. As the agenda stated, “The change in venue recognizes the fact that Asia has taken on a leading position in driving the world lighting markets. Further, lighting energy use (and resulting emissions) is growing most rapidly in East Asia, so the conference is being held where the biggest impacts of energy-efficient lighting can be made.” Holding the conference in China also allowed energy-efficient lighting specialists to meet Chinese manufacturers, regulators, and policymakers.

Today, China has the largest lighting industry in the world. In a presentation at Right Light 6 by Chen Yansheng, president of CALI, figures indicate that there are 5,000 lighting product manufacturers, and 1,000 light source manufacturers in China. At the close of 2004, China’s gross lighting exports of products neared $7 billion, with more than half being sent to the United States. Chinese manufacturers mainly produce ballasts, luminaires, and electrical accessories. In addition to the proliferation of compact fluorescents, metal halide is the second largest lamp type coming out of China.

Given its abundant exportation, the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) featured heavily in the Right Light 6 conference, namely CFL standards for the United States, China, Australia, and Europe. CFL production in China increased by 26 percent from 1997 to 2003, making this sector and the code regulations attached to it of particular interest to the importing countries. Specifically, the sessions covered recent revisions and pending new changes to the U.S. DOE and EPA Energy Star Specifications for CFLs and fixtures; draft revisions to the European Union’s Green Light Regulations; draft proposals for the coordination of Chinese Certification and Efficient Lighting Initiative CFL standards; and draft proposals for the coordination of Australian and Chinese CFL standards.

Despite Chinese manufacturers’ best efforts to enter the international market with their products, the world’s perceptions of Chinese quality is proving a major roadblock. Coupled with this concern is the prevalence of cheap imitations. With billions of dollars on the line, manufacturers are aggressively protecting their intellectual and design property, making many still wary of doing business in the Asian market.

Efforts by both Chinese and international companies are now being made to change the negative perception of Chinese-produced products in the minds of international consumers. According to Mike Bauer, president and CEO of Super Vision International, who opened a Hong Kong office in 2003, U.S. and European architects and lighting designers want to know that they are specifying products from brand-name companies, and that the product is produced in a contracted facility with quality assurance. In fact, many of the global companies with production facilities in China, such as Philips and Osram, have separate factories for local and international production. This makes it easier to ensure and enforce quality beyond just marking products with a quality-inspection check. The irony, as Bauer relates, is that Chinese architects and lighting designers prefer to specify U.S. and European manufacturers for the same reasons their western peers do: perceptions of quality.

No doubt China has a way to go, but efforts like Green Lights and Right Light 6 are a step in the right direction. An influx of western design firms, along with a new generation of internationally trained Chinese design professionals, accustomed to U.S. and European methods and returning to practice in China, will surely play a role in the country’s transformation and help facilitate the changes that are necessary. elizabeth donoff