China (Yunnan)


28.11.2016 - Anshang


Two and a half months I am already cycling through China and I passed by all kinds of environmental pollution. Everyday I see people carelessly throw away their litter. Trash on the side of the road. Trash in the rivers. Trash in the forests. Trash on mountain tops. Trash in the villages. Trash in the restaurants. Trash in the national parks. It seems like Chinese don't care at all about their environment.


Thankfully I had the chance to visit the 'Yunnan Econetwork', a Chinese NGO involved in environmental education as well as the promotion of sustainable development. Their innovative and creative way of displaying urgent ecological problems and their well-thought-out solutions to these challenges made me restore my faith in humanity.

Libo and Xuanyang

Yunnan Econetwork

Lijiang, China

Environmental education for a sustainable future



8km to the West of Lijiang lays Laishi Lake, a small wetland park surrounded by mountains. It's late November now and the lake is calm. A few rusty boats float softly on its surface, the sky is grey which lets the water appear even darker. It is hard to imagine that in summer uncountable tourists cover the short distance from China's major tourist town Lijiang for a day-trip to crowd the shores of Laishi lake or take a ride on one of the 15,000 horses.


It is here that the Chinese NGO 'Yunnan Econetwork' (YEN) constructed a Green Education Center to sensibilize youth and adults for environmental issues. 10AM - punctual as a stereotypical German I park my bicycle in the courtyard of the education center. Xuanyang, the organisation's IT-specialist, is greeting me and without much hesitation starts showing me around the place.

The educational exhibition takes place in two wooden rooms, fitting in perfectly with the traditional architecture of the surrounding village. 'Room A gives an introduction of the environmental challenges we are currently facing', Xuanyang tells me as we climb up the steep wooden stairs. Soon I realize how well thought-out this exhibition is: The room is divided into four small segments, displaying in a creative way the ecological problems from local scale to national.


In the first segment you can read about the pollution of Laishi Lake and its endangered species. The English translations are probably the best I have seen so far in China, which opens up the potential to edcuate even foreign school classes or passers-by. 'Last month we had a group of students from Singapore', Xuanyang is underlining my thoughts.


Next up we enter the regional segment displaying the environmental issues the Yunnan province is dealing with, and finally, in the third segment, we learn about ecological challenges on a national scale. Therefore, YEN created an interactive map of China that can be explored by clicking on the different numbers spread all over the country. Air pollution, industrial pollution of rivers, desertification, melting of glaciers, ... The amount of problems is huge. 'You could spend hours here reading through the texts but normally we tell the students to just have a look at three or four environmental issues.' This will not only save some time but also prevent visitors from total discouragement.


The last part of Room A is the so-called Dark Room. This narrow and completely dark segment is meant to provoke a feeling of opression while showing eight different pictures of how the pollution of nature affects the human health. A lamp is lightening up one of the framed pictures, then goes off and another picture appears to the right. The last frame displays a young woman two days before dying from cancer due to industrial pollution.



Now that the visitor is aware of the local, regional and national environmental problems and its effect on wildlife and humanity itself, it is time to move on to Room B where you can learn about solutions to these challenges. 'You can be an environmental hero!', an audio tape is already greeting us as we once more climb up the steep wooden stairs.


And again, the creativity with which the environmental messages are conveyed in this room leaves me speechless. For example, the Yunnan Econetwork built a CO² weighing-machine where the students can find out about how much emission the production process of their favourite aliment is generating. There you can find an empty plastic bottle because water is producing next to no emissions. A milk bottle, however, is filled with some stones and the cow and pig are formed out of heavy dough. When you put these things onto the weighing machine the heaviness shows you the amount of CO² used for the production - meat, of course, emits the most greenhouse gases.


Afterwards Xuanyang explains me about the 'Leave No Trash Behind'-campaign: My favourite part of the exhibition. Like already explained above I saw all kinds of littering during my two-and-a-half months cycling through China. This campaign aims at educating people in throwing their trash into garbage cans rather than into nature. But even if a Chinese person is willing to leave no trash behind, sometimes it can be very hard to find a trash-can. Therefore, YEN is collecting signatures to bring policymakers to improve the whole Chinese waste management system - especially in rural areas. Their aim is to collect one million signatures. So far around 500,000 people have signed and therefore promised to leave no trash behind. Needless to say they got my signature as well.

I, Simon Hillenbrand, promise to leave no trash behind.

The last part of the tour explains the function of a biogas cooker. First of all, the visitors get to know the composition of this sustainable heating method via a model provided by students from Yunnan University. Once the theory is understood they get to witness how a biogas cooker works in practice. The fermentation process takes place in a dump next to the toilet where manure as well as cooking waste is gathered. It is important to know that the organisation also collects the manure of the 15,000 horses around the lake and therefore never runs out of biogas.


As a last step, the students can cook their own egg on the biogas stove in the kitchen of the education center. I do the same and notice that there is no difference between cooking on normal gas or on biogas. Except of course that biogas is much more sustainable.

The egg tastes delicious.



You want to visit the Green Education Center? It is located in Anshang Village, next to the shore of Laishi Lake, 8km west of Lijiang. Minibuses are running there regularely or you can rent a bicycle to get there.


You can also have a look at their great online exhibition at

This way you can experience the education center without having to travel to China!


You want to become a volunteer at Yunnan Econetwork? Volunteerism at the NGO is possible for a period between one week and three months. If you are interested just contact me and I will forward your request.