Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2008

Peggy Liu

Three years ago, Peggy Liu was your typical overachieving MIT graduate. After leaving a job at consulting firm McKinsey, she cofounded a venture capital firm in Shanghai with her husband. One day Liu attended an alumni association meeting to hear a speech by MIT's new president, Susan Hockfield. Concerns about climate change were rising, and Hockfield's message was simple: unless China got a grip on its energy use and mounting environmental troubles — and unless the developed world helped it in that effort — everyone was going to be in a world of environmental hurt.

Convinced that Hockfield was right, Liu helped organize an MIT-sponsored conference on global warming in the spring of 2007. Thanks partly to her Rolodex, it brought together high-powered business and government types from both the U.S. and China. Building on those discussions, Liu set up the Joint U.S.-China Cooperation on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), an NGO focused on bringing practical solutions to big problems. Liu's business background is critical in realizing that goal. Whether dealing with mayors or real estate developers, the one thing "they all respond to," she says, "are numbers" — above all, projections on "how to make green by going green."

Liu's key role is to connect people, bringing Western entrepreneurs with green technology, say, face-to-face not just with Beijing policymakers but with people she sees as "implementers" — the players "who actually get things done." One of her first recruits was Rob Watson, who founded a widely recognized environmental rating system for buildings in the U.S. and elsewhere. With China expected to add some 50,000 new skyscrapers by 2030, the energy-conservation potential is enormous — but so is skepticism among developers that it's worth investing more to make a building energy-efficient. The number of buildings under development in China that meet Watson's standards has increased significantly just in the past year, he says, "and that would not have happened just through our efforts. Peggy and JUCCCE have been critical in spreading the word, at getting developers and local officials to look at green projects."

"We're not about pilot projects," says Liu. "We want to be here for 10 years, and have a demonstrable record ... of having accomplished some things." So far, so good.