Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (Shanghai, China)

Milk tea, goldfish, banana chips, and a russet potato lay scattered across two tables in the middle of an excited group of young Shanghai Girl Scouts from a local international school. “Which foods do you think are healthier?” asks Lucy Luo, the Program Director of JUCCCE (pronounced juice), captivating both the girls and their troop leaders with her enthusiasm and sincerity. She speaks with a slightly lilting accent, revealing her Australian upbringing. Several Girl Scouts raise their hands, excitedly calling out ideas when called on by Luo or the JUCCCE interns aiding in the presentation.

Lucy Luo presents to the Girl Scouts on the different food groups
Lucy Luo presents to the Girl Scouts on the different food groups

This is part of “A New Way to Eat,” a project begun in 2013 with the aim of improving food and nutrition education and, through it, supporting sustainability. Through “A New Way to Eat,” JUCCCE is writing a curriculum for elementary school children about healthy and sustainable eating that it will provide open source for teachers everywhere. JUCCCE does most of its current work on sustainable eating with international groups in Shanghai, but in the future it hopes to reach children across the country by including the information in the Chinese government’s elementary school curriculum, teaching kids from all walks of life how they can be a “Food Hero.”

We met with Luo three days before the event to discuss the organization, its goals, and its impressive reach. Located in Shanghai’s central Jing’an district, the cozy JUCCCE office is covered in promotional material and colorful graphics of fruits and vegetables. As we sit down to begin the interview, Luo’s proficiency and passion is evident as she speaks about JUCCCE and the work they do.

Colorful “A New Way to Eat” mock-ups covering the walls of the JUCCCE office.

JUCCCE, or Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, was founded in 2007, when Peggy Liu, JUCCCE’s internationally prominent chairperson, helped organize the MIT Forum on the Future of Energy in China. “It was the first time US and Chinese governments had had a dialogue about… sustainable forms of energy… and they realized there wasn’t any platform for decision-makers to speak in an informal manner.” JUCCCE “was a way to facilitate dialogue [and] best practices and allow people to communicate in an informal manner.” Luo began with JUCCCE for a short three-month stint as an intern, but she was easily convinced to come back as the Program Director by Peggy Liu. Luo says she “loved the pace of it” and “loved what [she] was able to do in such a limited amount of time.”

“I loved the pace of it and loved what I was able to do in such a limited amount of time.”

-Lucy Luo

These august beginnings and close connections with governments as well as top universities help explain some of JUCCCE’s outsized influence. In 2008, JUCCCE began teaching energy sustainability at Chinese government trainings, granting it access to policymakers that other organizations can only dream of. Through these trainings, JUCCCE was the first to introduce the idea of smart grids to China. JUCCCE now conducts sustainability training at “three of the eight government training schools in China.” This allows JUCCCE to not only help set the agenda, but also gives them influence in suggesting solutions.

While the “basic ethos behind the organization has not changed,” JUCCCE has transitioned over the past years. Since 2010, JUCCCE has switched focus from clean energy to eco-livable cities and human-centered development. They work on “promoting China Dream [a phrase later adopted by Xi Jinping] through sustainability… redefining the concept of China Dream around harmonious society, around personal prosperity as opposed to one that is based on conspicuous consumption.”

JUCCCE Project Director Lucy Luo shows Girl Scouts how they can make a healthy, sustainable meal from the assembled foods
JUCCCE Project Director Lucy Luo shows Girl Scouts how they can make a healthy, sustainable meal from the assembled foods

When asked whether their close connection to the Chinese government limited JUCCCE’s ability to approach controversial issues such as the hukou system in their analysis of sustainability issues, Luo is, for the first time during our interview, somewhat less confident in her overwhelming belief in JUCCCE’s ability to enact change. “Because it is such a big thing, and they are aware of it, it’s something that we don’t really address. As a relatively small organization, it’s not something that we have the capacity to do.”

JUCCCE does, however, try to address some of the ancillary problems brought about by such monumental issues. In regards to the hukou system in specific, JUCCCE has addressed and offered potential solutions to the housing and nutrition problems caused or exacerbated by the current system.

Luo told us that JUCCCE does not feel limited by its relationship with the government. “We realize we need the government on our side, and we try to help them… A lot of these other things that may be deemed as too controversial… we don’t actually feel like we have the capacity to do anything about it [sic], so we don’t address it anyway. Not because there’s censorship or because we have to be PC; it’s more about practicality to be honest.”

It should be noted that while JUCCCE does not feel restricted by the Chinese government, this is the exception rather than the rule. Two other environmental NGOs declined interviews with On The Ground, writing that “the space for NGOs feels pretty restricted these days and we must be cautious about how we choose to showcase our work.” Meanwhile, about 80% of organizations in China receiving grants from the Colorado-based Global Greengrants Fund choose to remain anonymous for fear of attracting government harassment.

“The space for NGOs feels pretty restricted these days and we must be cautious about how we choose to showcase our work.

-Environmental NGO working in China

In recent years, JUCCCE has expanded beyond government training, realizing that “if [they] really want[ed] to promote sustainability en masse, [they] need[ed] to look at bottom-up initiatives.” This has led to programs like the “A New Way to Eat” with the Girl Scouts, which JUCCCE uses not only to spread the message of sustainable eating but also to test run lessons and activities for the “A New Way to Eat” curriculum.

JUCCCE achieves all of this with less than ten full-time staff, based in offices in Shanghai and Beijing. At any one time, roughly half of workers in the office are interns found mostly through partnerships with top universities in the US, the UK, and Australia. That eternal challenge of NGOs, funding, is taken care of by Peggy Liu and comes from grants from “corporations and governments… some in China and a lot international as well.” In general, they “run it fairly lean.”

This has not stopped JUCCCE from achieving a truly remarkable amount in the eight years since its inception. In our interview with Lucy Luo and our attendance at the “A New Way to Eat” activity, we were continually impressed with both the good work JUCCCE has done and its ambitious goals for the future. And while we look forward to being proven wrong, it is hard to imagine an NGO achieving the level of impact of JUCCCE in the realm of sustainability in China.

JUCCCE intern presents on food groups to the Girl Scouts
JUCCCE interns present on food groups to the Girl Scouts

If you are interested in getting involved with JUCCCE, you can contact JUCCCE here. Currently, they find themselves with the greatest need for graphic designers and computer engineers to help create the colorful curriculum of “A New Way to Eat,” but they welcome help of all sorts.

(Author: Dylan Kolhoff, Editor: Ida Knox)