Is Green Just a Color in China?

by Ufei Chan, MBA '13 (4/25/12)

Ufei Chan, MBA '13

SGE immersion team works with international cosmetics company to develop a sustainability-marketing plan to drive sales in China.

On March 17th 2012 a team of students from the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University embarked on an exciting journey from Ithaca, U.S. to Shanghai, China to complete phase 2 of our immersion project. The project team consisted of Emily Busch, Pratima Arapakota, and me, all MBA ’13, and Ying Song, MPA ’12 who was not able to join us in China.  We were also joined by our teaching assistant Schuyler Blackman, MBA ’12 and Professor Mark Milstein who joined us briefly at the start of the trip.

edited Amore teamOur project objective was to figure out a way to establish a growing international brand of skincare as a mass-market leader in China through improvements in the brand’s sustainability positioning. Phase 2 involved primary market research with the Chinese consumer as well as the brand’s front line employees – the Beauty Agents. An integral part of our research was to create the connection between the values of the Chinese consumer and sustainability, as it is understood in the U.S. Our team engaged in numerous conversations on issues surrounding air pollution, education, community involvement and other weighty topics. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with so many wonderful women to understand their pressing concerns and life goals. 

We visited four diverse cities in China - Shanghai, Wuhan, Xi’an and Beijing.  It was stunning to see the changes from one city to the next. Shanghai struck me as the most cosmopolitan of the four places filled with high rises. Wuhan is a city known for their industrial history and is a growing metropolis close to the center of China. Xi’an, I heard, is filled with scenic reminders of a rich history and is well positioned to be the next technology hub in China. Our trip ended in Beijing where we met with a group of enthusiastic and hospitable MBA students from Tsinghua University. In true Chinese style, we were treated to a delicious vegetarian feast and hilarious conversation. Despite traveling with three vegetarians, we were always able to find a delicious meal.

Cornell & TsinghuaIt wasn’t all fun and games. Working in collaboration with Tsinghua students, we buckled down to business everyday. The Tsinghua students were quick to understand the vision of the project and shared a great deal of insight from their own experiences growing up in China. The two teams conducted mall intercept interviews together and converged on a plan to have the Tsinghua team lead the final interviews through focus groups after the Cornell team flew back to the U.S. Many of these relationships will last far beyond the few days we spent in Beijing.  A classmate of mine plans study in an exchange program at Tsinghua next semester. You bet I’ll connect him to the new friends we made in Beijing.

This weeklong trip took place over spring break and was the accumulation of weeks of hard work since the start of the semester in January. Our efforts up to this point led us through insightful meetings with our clients, fiery discussion with each other, humbling presentations to our classmates and moments of inspiration with our advisor. We worked through textbook approaches to problem solving to understand the unique problem faced by our client which led to a creative solution to tease out the answer.  

We were heartened to learn that this project stemmed from the CEO’s dedication to build a business that is both sustainable in its operations and shares a message of responsibility to its stakeholders. The level of commitment towards environmental sustainability and community engagement as demonstrated by our client fueled our motivation to do the best job possible on this project.  We could not have fully understood the nuances of the Chinese market without this trip, nor could we have appreciated the values and concerns of the Chinese people without talking to them.