China faces many broad and interconnected societal issues today, including massive urbanization, rapidly increasing energy use, and growing rates of diabetes and obesity.
Steering the world’s largest nation in a more sustainable direction is a daunting task. But Peggy Liu has applied her background in management, consulting, venture capital, and software to do just that through her nonprofit organization, the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE).
Liu founded JUCCCE, which has now expanded its focus to a broad range of sustainability issues, after attending the 2007 MIT Forum on the Future of Energy in China. The group has successfully introduced smart-grid technology to China, sparking an initial $7.2 billion investment by the nation’s key electrical grid company. JUCCCE has also driven uptake of energy-efficient lighting and trained more than 1,000 mayors in urban sustainability strategies. More broadly, its China Dream program aims to “reimagine prosperity” and reduce the environmental impact of China’s growing middle class, which is expected to total 800 million people by 2025.
“China Dream is about making a sustainable lifestyle a social norm, because social norms are the key to large-scale societal change,” explains Liu, who lives in Shanghai and serves as a professor at the China Academy of Governance and as a lecturer at two academies that train public officials.
“You have to talk to people’s hearts and not just their heads; it’s not just about technology or implementation or policies,” she continues. “That’s why we’ve increasingly turned to storytellers from a wide range of disciplines—musicians, artists, designers, video-game developers, comedians, faith-based leaders.”
This approach powered JUCCCE’s lighting program, which united General Electric and Philips Lighting with L’Oréal and well-known models and actors to raise awareness and distribute hundreds of thousands of energy-efficient lightbulbs in eight Chinese cities.
Likewise, the New Way to Eat program, which is aimed at establishing healthy and sustainable eating habits in children, involves nutritionists and teachers but also celebrity chefs, food companies, designers, and photographers. “Food choices touch on so many key issues—obesity, diabetes, water and pesticide usage, greenhouse-gas emissions. If we start with young kids whose diets aren’t set, we can address all these,” says Liu. She and her husband, Robert McCormack Jr., have two sons, 11 and 13.
Although she lives more than 7,000 miles from campus, Liu has maintained strong ties to MIT. Her involvement has included service on the Corporation Development Committee and the MIT Technology Review board. She also helped create MIT Charm School, which has provided training in student leadership and etiquette since 1993.