Globalization is touted by some to be a weapon of unfair free trade where grossly underpaid workers on the other side of the world slave to produce trinkets for the West.  Through streamlined international trade, consumers are able to choose cheap, foreign goods produced in environmentally unfriendly factories over homegrown, regulation bound local companies. At least, these are some of the fire and brimstone stories meant to keep environmentalists and humanitarians like myself awake at night.

However, globalization, much like any tool of humanity, can have positive benefits and negative consequences, depending on how it is used. Across the globe there is a consumer-led push for change, and this stems from a myriad of locations.

One such example can be seen coming from the Japanese car industry where new and improved plastics are being researched to replace many heavier metal parts in vehicles. These plastics will make automobiles lighter, improving fuel efficiency, and they are easier to recycle than their metallic counterparts, for when your beloved car does finally pass away.

It is not an undying love for the environment that is the basis for the billions of dollars companies put into research and development, but rather fierce international competition in the courtship of increasingly discerning consumers. “Both Asian and European chemical companies are competing to produce the next highly refined synthetic that can offer a competitive edge.” Writes Louise Cole in the November 5-11 edition of ICIS Chemical Business magazine about these new plastics. Top of the line producers of high end, high technology products are understanding more and more that in order to make a profit, they will need to also protect this earth.

Another sign of hope can be seen not too far away across the Sea of Japan in China (that long time friend to mother earth *cough cough*). The China Daily reported on November 2nd that during an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting, China developed a set of environmental and social standards that businesses would be required to follow when conducting operations abroad. Clearly, China also wants to jump on this environmentally friendly approach to doing business as well.

For example, Chinese businesses, along with the guidance of NGOs such as Global Environmental Institute, would have to survey the social and ecological damage they could potentially cause by their presence, and set up strategies and funds to counteract this negative impact. This practice would actually help developing countries since Chinese businesses have the financial stability to invest in long-term environmental goals while other businesses strapped for cash might rape the land of resources and run to make a short term profit.

Again, what drives this change? “…China is something of a factory for the world, a big proportion of the imported raw materials are transformed into products that are sent to industrialized countries in Europe and America” writes the Xiong Lie. They have customers to keep happy.