BEIJING - Ma Jun and his group for environmental protection have compiled an open-source online database of water, air and hazardous waste pollution records dating back seven years in order to encourage more public participation, and with it, change.
The database includes information from 31 provincial-level regions, with over 90,000 records from enterprises that have violated environmental protection laws.
Ma Jun talks to media in this March 27, 2012 file photo. [Photo by Wang Jing/Asianewsphoto]
"Public participation is of great importance in protecting our environment," said Ma, a former journalist, author and founder of the non-profit Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE).
Ma founded IPE in 2006, the same year that he started working on the database.
China's environmental problems have largely been blamed on local governments, which often pursue economic development at the cost of environmental damage. Poor enforcement of environmental protection laws has also been an obstacle.
Ma said extensive public participation will help turn the tide, especially when it comes to helping international companies police their suppliers.
Ma kicked off a related campaign in 2007, calling on major international companies to work with their suppliers to improve their practices.
Fifty major enterprises that rely on Chinese manufacturers joined the campaign, identifying suppliers that were violating environmental regulations and working with them to make positive changes, Ma said.
"But it has proven to be a difficult task to push particularly large corporations to confront the problems created by their Chinese suppliers," Ma said, citing Apple as an example of such a company.
Ma said Apple at first refused to even confirm that it had any relationship with factories that had been blamed for polluting the environment. But one-and-a-half years later, the company changed its mind and started auditing its suppliers.
Ma's efforts, as well as those of his group, earned him a nomination as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2006 by Time magazine. In 2012, he received the Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the world's biggest awards for local environmental activists.
"We can only have an impact on a fraction of firms in the database," Ma said, adding that the overall situation is still severe and some areas are experiencing degrading environmental conditions.
Ma said the improvement of the public's awareness of environmental protection and the expansion of government transparency will help create a cleaner China.
"An early step is always helpful," Ma said.