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May 17, 2011

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Working for a better tomorrow

AS a co-founder and partner at Spark Creative, Susan Evans introduces sustainable living concepts in Shanghai. She sees a great deal of progress toward greener lifestyles in the city, writes Yao Minji.

Susan Evans doesn't just preach a green living. She lives it. As the co-founder and a partner at Spark Creative, a sustainable design company, Evans' goal is to help others reduce their carbon footprint. The company's office is hidden in a longtang (lane) in a quiet and green area on Yuyuan Road, Jing'an District.

On this particular day, even though it was more than 30 degrees Celsius and most other companies and restaurants had switched on air conditioners, Spark Creative's office only had a ceiling fan to circulate the air. They use bamboo containers to plant vegetables indoors, which helps keep the office cool in the summer.

Evans, now in her 40s, just returned from a vacation in France, where she and her husband own an eco-house near Toulouse. Evans says she spent nearly three years to design and build the home and other family members live there year round.

The house is equipped with local environmentally friendly materials and a renewable water system with rainwater collection. The home also takes great advantage of shade from trees. Evans is interested in promoting these ideas in Shanghai.

"I see a lot of progress in the right direction here, especially with the increasing number of low-carbon zones. Many regulations and policies supporting sustainable living are all in place, yet it needs further enforcement and implementation details," Evans tells Shanghai Daily.

Evans has always worked as a brand and advertising strategist, later obtaining a post graduate degree in environment strategies.

She and her husband moved to Shanghai in September 2008. She says they were excited about living here, especially after China made a lasting impression on the world stage by hosting the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Once deciding to move to China, they settled in Shanghai because it's more entrepreneurial than Beijing.

"I was really excited, not only because of the new life and the completely different environment, but also the idea of trying the methods and strategies in this new place to see how they work for China," says the mother of two children.

Evans adds that sustainable living strategies greatly depend on the local environment since one of the most important concepts is to buy locally and work with materials available so that it saves on transportation, hence reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is her main focus. She promotes the idea mainly through three aspects - organizing bike rides, urban farming and sustainable housing.

To realize such ideas, Evans co-founded Spark Creative, and also became founder and CEO of Kplunk, a sustainable research and strategy company, and GoodtoChina, an NGO that applies environmental research to help local communities and consumers accelerate the move toward sustainable living. She also gives lectures on sustainable design challenges to postgraduate students at Tongji University.

Only a few months after arriving in Shanghai, she says she organized a Kplunk survey concerning sustainability perceptions and behavior. The company interviewed people from about 400 households. They found about 95 percent of respondents are concerned with food security. Most also said organic food is too expensive and difficult to find. Later, she surveyed another 120 residents and found 60 percent of them expressed a strong interest in growing their own vegetables.

Evans has also organized six bike rides around the city in the past two years. The biggest one had more than 300 people turn up on April 16, when the group rode from Xujiahui Park to the annual Eco Fair at Cool Dock. She says she was glad to see 80 percent of the participants were Chinese.

"Getting local people to come out and bike has been the most difficult among all what I've been doing," she says. "While many Westerners consider biking contemporary, eco-friendly and cool, it has an association with poverty in China."

"So it is great to see many expatriates ride their bikes around the city, which greatly helps reduce this image, and makes it look healthy and cool to local people."

Susan Evans

Nationality: United Kingdom

Age: over 40

Profession: Sustainability strategist/founder and partner of Spark Creative


Self-description: I like to inspire sustainable living. I'm self-motivated, boundless, energetic and generally very happy.

Favorite place:

It has to be the balcony of my apartment on Anfu Road, filled with a variety of plants and it is especially great right now.

Strangest sight:

Seeing people washing their hair on the street.

Worst experience:

My diving accident in the Philippines in 1991.

Motto for life:

Be Happy! Be Conscious!

How to improve Shanghai:

? Make biking and walking more a priority

? Allow bikes into the underground, at least during off-peak hours

? Reduce number of cars downtown

? Create green roofs on more buildings in the city

? Set up community farms

? Make farming desirable

? Insulate all offices

? Move toward safe and healthy food by promoting local produce to bring farming into the city

Advice to newcomers:

Absorb and adapt and you will enjoy!


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