Tao Zhang is bullish on sustainability in China—especially when it comes to livestock emissions. The founder of U.S.-China impact investing consortium Dao Ventures has spent much of the past year looking to accelerate investment in more environmentally friendly plant-based or lab-grown meat for Chinese consumers through a new company, Dao Foods.
Climate change activists are worried that China’s increasing appetite for meat is further straining natural resources and causing methane emissions to soar. Yet Zhang and a new crop of impact investors believe that this, and China’s many other environmental and social concerns, can be solved with capital.
“China lacks water and natural resources, so this is something that needs to happen,” says Zhang, who splits his time between Beijing and Washington, D.C. “China’s a big consumer market, so we’re always thinking about ways to make Chinese consumers part of the solution.”
Being an impact investor in China isn’t as lonely as it used to be, says Zhang, whose firm has made or facilitated more than $200 million in China-focused environmental and social investments over the past decade. They include projects to develop clean refrigeration technology and to convert agricultural waste into cooking charcoal.
Impact investing, a trend that’s growing worldwide, seeks to address societal concerns while still trying to make a market-rate return. In China, the most populated and polluting country on the planet, there’s the extra benefit that solving local challenges will make a significant dent in global efforts to lower carbon emissions or build sustainable agriculture.
The Chinese government’s ambitious environmental goals are creating some of these opportunities. It’s targeting the sale of 2 million alternative-fuel vehicles in 2020 to combat pollution. The People’s Bank of China is pushing incentives for green finance. The central bank said in June it would broaden the range of collateral it accepts in its medium-term lending operations to include debt instruments tied to the green economy.