Shanghai - Milan: A race for sustainability

As members of the Bocconi student association Green Light for Business, we want to give you a broad understanding of the initiatives implemented to limit the environmental impact of the two cities.

These global cities host high-tech industries and are key players in their home country's economy, yet are they competitive in decreasing their environmental impact as well? Are their respective efforts to behave in a more eco-friendly manner perceived and supported by the population? Those are questions we discussed with students from both Shanghai and Milan, while also considering factors such as the gap in dimensions, the historical difference and the means made available.


Let's compare the policies and overall green initiatives taking place both in Milan and Shanghai.

One of the main green issue that affects cities all around the world is waste management.
First, we would like to recall the waste sorting policies that have been implemented. Milan is imposing different bins for plastic and metal, glass, organic, paper, undifferentiated products. As we have tap into the lack of solution for "non-disposable" waste such as batteries and canned-food oil, our association has collaborated with the Municipality of Milan to organize a monthly CAM. A CAM is a point of collection made available on campus for students and professors to bring their non-disposable products, hence minimizing the harm that these type of trash might cause.

There are 731, 091 households whose trash must be collected in Shanghai.

In Shanghai waste disposing policies has started to be implemented as well last summer. Despite some initial transition costs and technical issues, they seem to be well performing although there are no reliable data available up this date. Both the Italian and Chinese systems have fines for people that do not sort their waste properly.

Few numbers

Sources: Shanghai Statistic Yearbook, ISTAT, Commune di Milano Unità Statistica.

Nonetheless, the sector of eco-friendly transportation is experiencing bulk growth in both scale and scope.
You can now find various start-ups supplying electrical vehicles all around Milan. They combine digital and sharing economy: apps permit consumers to rent electric cars or scooters and drive in any district of the city at an affordable cost. This market analysis cannot be applied to bike sharing. The municipality system with its own drop-off stations and prices is competing with MoBike, whose bikes are well-performing and can be parked almost anywhere. Of course you can move through the city using our subway, which is currently being updated with a brand new line, this is the most feasible option for longer distance, especially to avoid Milan's traffic jam.
This boom in the mobility market is not only enhancing tourists, students and regular workers to move across the city but also reducing the overall amount of air pollution produced by regular cars. The Chinese government has proved to be effective regarding this issue. It even outpaced its original aims: between 2014 and 2018, air concentration of PMS (harmful microparticles that damage people's health) dropped by 32% on average, allowing life expectancy to gain 3 years.

And what about real life experience?

How inhabitants feel the difference? We interviewed Iris and Kee who were born and raised in China and came to Milan for an exchange program. After few months studying in Bocconi, they give us their resentment on environmental policy in both cities.

Iris and Kee posing next to our promotion campaign for a plastic free campus.

Do you prefer Shanghai' or Milan' urban life?
I: "Tough question. We grow up in China, we are used to Chinese life, including its food and the wide use of e-commerce. Milan is totally different. It is challenging to adapt to a new culture, its food, people and weather, and try to find a balance between travel and study - they are traveling a lot across Europe. Lucky them! - Milan is modern."

K: "I prefer the life in Milan, regarding what I can experience, especially with regards to accommodation. Our students' accommodations in China are way different, we have premium facilities for international students, but for Chinese ones, the facilities are very poor (from 2 or 8 people per room). Here, you have your own space where you can express easily your style. Moreover, back in Beijing, when I wanted to go somewhere, I had to take into consideration an additional commuting time of at least 40 to 60 minutes to reach any place. Chinese cities are huge, and it means you easily change your mind when thinking to go downtown, while here in Milan I travel everywhere freely. Overall, it is obvious that Chinese cities are better for us, due to our cultural habits, but experiencing another city is something that I suggest everybody."

To sum up, you believe that both the number of inhabitants and dimensions of Shanghai somehow influence its level of sustainability? What about transportation and mobility?
I: "If you want to talk about transportation, cities must have an advanced transportation system, especially in Shanghai. Metro is very modern and allows to easily reach any corner of the city. From a sustainable point of view, Shanghai is full of bike sharing, especially if you want to go not too far away. It is also very easy for people to learn how to use the app and start using the sharing service. Here in Milan, I saw some Ofo and Mobike, but not many other alternatives. Here, we mostly take the tram or metro. So, you have less choice here."

K: "In terms of transportation, both cities are well developed. Bikes here are not as necessary as they are in Shanghai. The most tricky point is the fear of spending a lot of money for a Uber or a Taxi, while in China it is so cheap and the low pricing is not an incentive at all to take public transportation, because it is so cheap you don't even have to think about it."

What about waste management? I remember Shanghai started to introduce a recycling system last summer, do you believe this system will grow faster in China than in other countries like Italy, where it has been introduced a lot of year ago?
K: "In my opinion none of them are sustainable cities despite their rules for garbage classification. In Shanghai it has been just launched and it is very strict, while in Milan it has a long history, but it does not seem to be strict enough. In China, this kind of methods are developed with formal rules, and they allocate important resources and workforce to make it work. The implementation will probably be faster than what it was in Milan. In Italy, you need a very long process, you need to get people used to it and you need them to accept it. But in China, if it is a rule, it is carried out strictly."

Shanghai invested more than 13,000,000,000$
on environmental protection in 2018.


Are there some specific national policies?
K: "There is an environmental law which puts minimum standards, but the major parts are local rules. For instance, Shanghai is far more advanced than other regions and districts."

Kee, I see you are holding a plastic bottle, but I remember than in Shanghai you only used your reusable bottle.
K: "Yeah, you see that. You just remind me one important thing. In China, we are quite keen on drinking hot water, so we need to carry our bottles with us. Here it is not necessary. But I have recently read an article, which says Italy has one of the highest consumption of plastic. I found out online that tap water can be drunk in Italy, but Italian people do not trust their government and buy plastic bottles. Is this true? Here, in Europe, you can get drinking water easily (fountains etc.), hence you could easily sustain a durable bottle usage. In China, this is very difficult. However, Italy has the plastic bottles problem and it is quite weird though."

I: "Also I observed many people drinking coffee bought from the machine, and thus use several plastic cups per day, it is crazy, very curious to me."

K: Bocconi is introducing water Dispensers to be more sustainable but seeing the bins always full of plastic cup just beside that is quite interesting."

What about green areas in China?
K: "Europe is way better from this matter."

I: "We should remember China is still in a developing stage. Not only from green areas point of view, but also from an education point of view."

What about the Environmental consciousness of the Chinese people?
K: "Oh, it is a disaster! There is just a very limited education on garbage and related topics."

Do you believe Chinese people need more training?
I: "The entire world needs a lot of training. All countries should learn to be sustainable, and it is not only for the future, but also for the society's efficiency and profit itself. Many companies are introducing sustainable programs which is a sort of example of what is going on. Obviously, you need to sacrifice something, like plastic bottles. This for sure will cause a sort of inconvenience to individuals, but everybody needs to overcome it."


"Bosco Verticale", a vertical garden in Milan modern district.

Another common feature of Shanghai and Milan is their central place in the national economic growth. They host high-tech industries that develop green innovations. For instance, their streets are full of new buildings that show unprecedented techniques. Energy consumption coming from heat systems gave real headaches to architect and engineers worldwide.
Both cities have skyscrapers that not only became city landmarks but constitute a great environmental achievements per se. Shanghai Tower is the second highest building in the world and displays many sustainable features such as pipe-like wind turbines that exploits the wind coming from the coast, or a rainwater collecting system that permits the re-usage of waste water. The double-layer glass coverage that reduces energy consumption for either cooling or heating the inner spaces is startling. Shanghai Tower is the only skyscraper awarded the Platinum LEED Certification, a peculiar assessment that is devoted to evaluate the environmental impact of buildings.

Similarly, you can visit the Milanese "Bosco Verticale", a skyscraper that tackles the issue of green spaces in urban areas by bringing the trees to citizens instead of making citizens go to where the trees are. Its structure is such that an actual forest grows on balconies and other exterior parts of the building, reducing air pollution and improving air temperature during summer. It is located in "Porta Nuova" the new financial district. One more architectural achievement that we must highlight is the new Bocconi campus that opened on November 25th. It has been projected in order to be as sustainable as possible and it will be surrounded by a green area the whole city will be delighted to stroll in.


Sophie Béquet, Giacomo Levoni and Nicola Trentadue
Thank you to Kee Wang Ziqi and Iris Li Yanjun for sharing their thoughts and insights on Shanghai and Milan.