A Golden Opportunity Takes Shape in China

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A Golden Opportunity Takes Shape in China

Cummins employees and local farmers store excess straw in shelters designed to grow and harvest mushrooms. The project was one of three receiving special recognition in the 2013 Environmental Challenge. 
Posted: October 2014

It sounded like the beginning of a recipe, but when Cummins employees added straw to mushrooms, the result was success. And for farmers in China, that success translates into more money and less pollution.
Due to rapid economic development, air pollution has become a significant concern for the more than 1.3 billion people who call China home. A common farming practice often contributes to this environmental problem.

Cummins employees in Shanghai came up with a unique solution and submitted their work as part of Cummins’ 2013 Environmental Challenge.

Their Golden Straw project was named one of 15 winners from around the world and earned a special recognition award for Best Environmental Impact.

In provinces throughout China, farmers are struggling with how to dispose of agricultural waste following a harvest. The cost and extra manpower required to recycle the waste often leads farmers to burn their excess straw instead.

This results in significant health hazards and environmental dangers. China produces 700 million tons of waste straw each year, 97 percent of which is burned, releasing 380 million tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

In Shanghai, air pollution is an urgent quality-of life issue. Knowing this, the project team used the business-problem solving tool Six Sigma to narrow its initial focus to air pollution and ecological issues. Eighty-three employees from five Cummins entities then devised a way to help farmers reuse excess straw in a cost-efficient manner that ultimately results in increased income.

MARKET FOR MUSHROOMS

Partnering with a non-governmental organization (NGO), they helped local farmers collect and store excess straw from harvests in makeshift shelters they helped build. The straw was then reused as fertilizer to cultivate mushrooms, which in turn were sold by the farmers to supplement their income. This cycle time lasted six months.

The NGO, Enactus China, creates global sustainability through the positive power of business. Enactus says it works with 1,600 universities in 39 countries, involving more than 60,000 students a year, and is supported by hundreds of leading companies.

The five Cummins entities joined forces in 2012 as a way to combine resources in Shanghai in the hopes of delivering measurable impact and sustainable project results. The Shanghai sites involved are Cummins Filtration Co. Ltd., Cummins Engine Trading and Service Co. Ltd., Cummins China Investment Co. Ltd. Shanghai branch, Shanghai Fleetguard Filter Co. Ltd., and Cummins Inc. U.S.A. Shanghai Rep. China.

One year and more than 340 employee volunteer hours later, the results are impressive. Six thousand tons of straw have been collected from local farms. Three hundred tons of mushrooms have been harvested and sold for a total of $120,000 U.S. dollars, all going to improve the farmers’ standard of living. And perhaps most importantly, 10,800 tons of carbon emissions have been reduced.

“This was a rewarding project for everyone involved and helped turn waste into treasure,” said project leader and Community Involvement Team leader Chunyan Wu.

GROWING RESULTS

Part of their success stems from the initial groundwork laid by Cummins employees. After selecting this project, they visited an established model in a different district of Shanghai to learn more. Involving university students from the NGO ensured there would be a group with an understanding of the process that can help spread their knowledge.

Sustainability is key. Now that the farmers have learned the skills and steps required, they can carry on the progress and hopefully continue making a profit each year.

Plans are in place to implement this project in four other areas of the city over the next eight years. The project team intends to work closely with farmers and the NGO to continue teaching the skills required to cultivate the mushrooms, thereby further reducing the carbon footprint

“Partnering with Cummins on this project was a great experience,” said Claire Hu, Corporate Development Manager at Enactus China. “It was a win-win project in that it established a creative and sustainable way to reduce air pollution and increased the annual income for our local farming communities.”

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